As veterinarians, one of the most common concerns we hear from animal owners is how to protect their furry friends from fleas and ticks. These parasites not only cause discomfort and itching, but they can also transmit diseases and infest your home. Without proper treatment, they can make your four-legged family members (and other members of your family) downright miserable, and that’s nothing no loving animal owner wants! In this blog post, we will discuss the importance of flea and tick prevention along with some helpful tips on how to protect your pets and home from these pesky pests.
Understanding Fleas and Ticks
Before we can discuss prevention, it's important to understand the biology of fleas and ticks. Fleas are tiny, wingless insects that feed on the blood of mammals, including dogs, cats, and even humans. These pests have an impressive jumping ability and can travel surprisingly far in a single leap. This is one of the many things that makes them difficult to control. Fleas reproduce quickly, laying hundreds of eggs in a short period of time. They lay their eggs in pets’ fur, and they can also fall off onto carpets, furniture, and bedding, leading to a potential infestation in your home.
Fleas can cause severe itching and discomfort for your pets. They also transmit tapeworms and other diseases. Many animals are sensitive to flea bites and prone to flea allergy dermatitis.
Flea allergy dermatitis causes several uncomfortable symptoms:
- Red, itchy, and/or inflamed skin
- Excessive scratching, biting, or licking of the skin particularly at the rump or back half of the pet
- Hot spots and hair loss
- Secondary skin infections
Taking preventative measures to protect your pets from fleas, such as using topical or oral medication, grooming your furry companions regularly, and controlling the environment is crucial. And despite what many folks think, flea prevention is necessary year-round. If you suspect your dog or cat has fleas, it is important to consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible.
Ticks, on the other hand, are arachnids (spider family) that are typically found in tall grass or wooded areas. They attach to the skin of their host and feed on their blood. Ticks are well-known for transmitting Lyme Disease, but that isn’t the only harmful disease they carry.
The most common tickborne diseases in the US include:
- Lyme Disease
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Tickborne Relapsing Fever
- Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness
Tickborne disease is more common in some areas than others. However, regardless of where you live, protecting your beloved companion from these nasty parasites is vital. Fortunately, most flea preventatives also keep ticks at bay.
Flea and Tick Preventatives
The best way to protect your four-legged family member and home from fleas and ticks is through preventative measures. Topical and oral medications are the most common options. These medications work by repelling or killing fleas and ticks before they have a chance to attach to your pets.
Keep in mind, though, that not all of these products are the same. Many over-the-counter options are ineffective and sometimes even unsafe. There is also a risk of harming your pets if you use them incorrectly. We strongly recommend that you only purchase flea and tick preventatives directly from your veterinarian. This ensures that you will receive a safe and highly effective product that is safe for your pets.
Regular grooming is another way to protect your pets from parasites. This includes brushing their fur to remove any loose fleas and ticks, as well as checking for any signs of infestation. Regular baths are also an important part of grooming. Flea shampoos and dips are out-dated and typically not necessary with the newer highly effective flea and tick preventatives today.
A messy, unkempt coat provides plenty of spots for parasites to hide. This is especially true among long-haired dogs and cats. Keep your furry friend as tangle and mat-free as possible to make it harder for fleas and ticks to take up residence in their coat.
In addition to using preventatives, it's also important to control the environment to prevent fleas and ticks from infesting your home and property. Vacuum your carpets and furniture and wash your pet's bedding regularly. You can also use an insecticide specifically designed for flea and tick control in your home, such as those that contain pyrethrin or permethrin. Be careful if you have cats! Products made for dogs are often toxic to cats, so do some research or give us a call before choosing an insecticide to use in your home.
Another aspect of environmental control is keeping your yard free of debris and tall grass. Ticks thrive in wooded areas, so it's important to keep your yard well-manicured and free of any potential hiding spots.
Signs of Infestation
Even with preventative measures, flea and tick infestations can occur. It’s up to you to regularly check your companion for any signs of infestation, such as excessive scratching or biting at their skin. You may also notice small, black flecks on their fur, which is the feces of adult fleas, also known as flea dirt. If you suspect your pet has fleas or ticks, it's important to consult with your veterinarian as soon as possible to get the situation under control.
Fleas and ticks are a major concern for animal owners, but with the right preventative measures and environmental control, protecting your pets and home from these pesky pests is possible. By understanding the biology of fleas and ticks, using preventative medications, grooming your pets regularly, and controlling the environment, you can reduce the risk of infestation. In some areas of the country, pets need to be on year-round prevention.
If your dog or cat has fleas or ticks, we encourage you to schedule a veterinary appointment as soon as possible. We also recommend reaching out to your primary care veterinarian if your pet is not currently on a flea and tick preventative or if you have any questions about protecting your furry friend from parasites.