Dr. Al Townshend
Both fleas and ticks are a world-wide problem for many different species of animals including beloved pets and their human Guardians. They are much more than an irritation or nuisance. Both fleas and ticks are carriers of some of the most serious diseases seen in humans and pets.
Fleas are wingless external parasites that live off the blood of their animal host. There are over 2,000 different species of fleas. They lay in wait for a potential host to walk by and they can jump as high as two feet. Once on the animal or human host, they begin feeding on the host’s blood quickly. A female flea can consume up to fifteen times their weight in blood. After feeding they drop off in the home or yard and begin to lay eggs at a rate of 40-50 per day. In a very short period of time, they can completely infest the home and yard. Flea season is generally in the warmer months in the north; however, if they have invaded the home, they can be an all-year- long problem.
Fleas are much more than an environmental nuisance; they can do significant harm to their host and they are known as carriers of both human and animal diseases.
- Flea Allergy Dermatitis is an immune reaction to flea bites causing intense itching and scratching. Affected dogs and cats can be so sensitive that just one flea bite can cause a pet to scratch their skin raw.
- Anemia can occur, especially in smaller and young animals.
- Tapeworm larvae that are contagious to dogs, cats, and humans are carried by fleas. The flea has to be swallowed to infect the host. This can easily occur while a dog or cat is grooming. Young children in close contact with a pet can accidentally ingest a flea.
- Fleas are carriers of serious human and animal diseases such as Human Plague and Typhus, Cat Scratch Fever, and Feline Infectious Anemia.
Like fleas, ticks are wingless, external parasites that live off the blood of their host. Unlike fleas, ticks are arachnids, which have eight legs, similar to spiders. There are thousands of species of ticks, some of which carry specific diseases that can affect humans and pets.
A tick will crawl up on a bush or shrub and lay in wait for a typical host to brush by, and they climb on board. Once on the host they gorge themselves with the blood of the host. Soon after, they drop off to mate and lay their eggs. A single female tick can lay a thousand eggs in a single season.
A tick bite can inflame the skin and cause significant irritation, resulting a pet or Guardian scratching, which can increase the risk of damage to the skin. Tick-borne diseases are a significant threat to humans and their pets.
Certain species of ticks are known to carry and transmit specific diseases. If pets and their Guardians spend any time out of doors, it is important to check with their veterinarian or public health office to learn about the ticks in the area and the potential for disease.
- Lyme disease is the best-known disease carried by ticks. It occurs more frequently is specific areas of North America and can affect humans, dogs, and cats. The Black-Legged tick (more commonly known as the Deer Tick) is the most common carrier. It is an extremely debilitating disease in humans and can severely affect pets too.
- In addition to Lyme Disease, ticks can transmit Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, and Bob Cat Fever.
Ehrlichiosis, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesiosis, Bartonellosis, and Hepatozoonosis are all canine tick-borne diseases, and some are human diseases too.
Learning the potential for specific disease in your area and the symptoms is essential to catch problems early to assure the best recovery.
Prevention and Control
A well-manicured lawn, keeping grasses short and shrubs trimmed goes a long way in discouraging fleas and ticks around the home.
Natural prevention and control begin with close, hands-on observation for signs of fleas and tick.
- Increased itching and scratching
- Hair loss around the head and tail
- Hot spots from excessive scratching
- Regular grooming. Rolling the hair back looking for fleas and tick as well as small black flecks of flea dirt
- Red spots on the skin from flea bites
- If a tick is found on the pet, care should be taken to completely remove all the tick and a through washing of the area and the hands of the Guardian removing the tick are essential
- Many diseases carried by fleas and ticks cause a significant fever which can make the pet appear listless and not eat
Effective natural flea and tick control products are very limited. Visit your favorite Pet Planet store to see what natural products are available in your area.
These pests are difficult to control without the use of chemical insecticides, growth inhibitors and repellents that are applied topically, given orally, or worn as a collar. Their use can be daily, weekly, monthly, and even longer. Many are multipurpose to control heartworms and internal parasites too.
Before using any chemical control products, be sure to check with your veterinarian for the best products to use in your area, and whether they should be used all year long or seasonally. Depending on your lifestyle, your pet’s lifestyle, and your needs and preferences, your veterinarian will help you choose a product that works best for you and your pet.
The correct use is essential because many of these products have significant side effects, especially if they are improperly applied.
Fleas and ticks have tremendous potential to do harm to pets and the Guardian family. Prevention and control of these pests are essential to the health and well-being of the entire family.