Spring and summer are the two seasons that bring fleas and ticks out of hiding and provide optimal breeding environments for these pesky bugs. Not only are they annoying, but they can carry pathogens that are not only harmful to humans but also our furry friends. Protecting pets from fleas and ticks will prevent a number of dangerous diseases, such as Lyme disease and tapeworms.
Fortunately, various preventatives and medications can protect our pets from fleas and ticks, while also promoting long-term health and wellness.
Protecting Pets from Fleas and Ticks
Fleas and ticks are the most common in the spring and summer months when the temperature is between 65°F and 80°F. During these weather conditions, these bugs come out of the ground, breed, and populate.
Fleas are the most common external parasite that affects cats and dogs, with ticks following closely behind. Although these bugs are more common in the spring and summer, they can survive indoors during the winter, so it is important to protect your pet all year around.
Flea and Tick Preventatives
Flea and ticks can carry harmful pathogens that lead to serious diseases, some of which can be fatal. These diseases do not just effect dogs but can also be transmitted to humans, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever, and tapeworms. For this reason, preventatives are not just beneficial for your dog, but they protect you and your family, as well.
Many brands of tick and flea preventatives for pets are on the market, but they are not all created equal. For example, dog preventatives contain a synthetic compound called permethrin. Although this is very safe for dogs, it poses serious risks for cats, including seizures, comas, and even death.
Your veterinarian can help you select the best preventative for your pet. Preventatives can be topical, oral, or injections. How long each dose remains effective varies, so your vet can suggest one that fits with your lifestyle.
It is important to keep in mind that preventatives can expire and lose effectiveness. Pet owners should keep up with the dose and check expiration dates before administering the preventative to their pets. Additionally, new products and brands are being launched all the time, which are usually more effective.
Diseases Caused by Fleas and Ticks
Failure to give your pet a flea and tick preventative yields alarming risks. Fleas and ticks carry pathogens that develop into parasites or other diseases that effect both pets and their owners.
Cat fleas, or Ctenocephalides felis, infect both cats and dogs, causing skin irritation and anemia. Cat fleas can even lead to death if a young animal gets a large infestation. Symptoms include itchy, irritated skin, pale gums, excessive or persistent scratching, and hair loss, among others. These fleas can also carry pathogens that lead to tapeworms and cat scratch fever.
Tapeworms are caused by the ingestion of larvae by the host. Tapeworm infestation causes intense itching for the host, and tapeworms are present in the animal’s feces.
Cat scratch fever does not affect cats directly, but instead, it is transmitted to humans by a cat scratch. It is a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae, which many cats carry at some point in their lives. The disease is carried from cat to cat by flea or tick bites. Humans acquire the disease after being scratched or bitten by a cat. Symptoms of cat scratch fever in humans include bumps or blisters at the bite or scratch, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, headaches, fever, and body aches.
Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium that is transmitted to humans and pets through the bite of an infected black-legged, or deer, tick. Signs of Lyme disease in pets include lameness, fever, lethargy, and enlarged lymph nodes. Lyme disease is more common in dogs than cats.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is rare but is also transmitted by ticks. Cases of this disease have been found in humans, dogs, and cats. Clinical signs in pets include fever, anorexia, swollen lymph nodes, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and edema of the face. Since this disease is rare, it is difficult to diagnose; however, antibiotics are used for treatment.
Other Tips for Protecting Pets from Fleas and Ticks
In addition to using preventatives, pet owners can protect their pets from fleas and ticks with the following tips.
- Regularly check your pet for ticks, especially if they spend a significant amount of time outdoors. Inspect their skin, ears, and armpits.
- If you do find a tick on your pet, carefully remove it while wearing rubber gloves. Use tweezers or a tick removal tool to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. With slow, steady pressure pull the tick away from your pet’s skin.
- Dispose of ticks by placing them in alcohol or flushing down a toilet or keep in a sealed container if you want to take it to the vet for testing.
- Don’t crush or twist the tick, because it will expose the pet to more pathogens.
- Not every tick or flea bite will transmit disease, but it never hurts to alert your vet and monitor for any symptoms.
- Regularly grooming your pet will make it easier to look for ticks on their body.
- Cleaning your yard will help prevent ticks and fleas from attaching to your pet. Bugs are more common in tall grass. Raking leaves, brush, and clippings will give fleas fewer places to live and breed.
- Taking your pet in for routine checkups will benefit their overall health and wellness. Most vets will test for diseases caused by ticks, fleas, and other bugs.
It is always easier to use preventative measures when protecting your pets from fleas and ticks. However, if you notice any signs that your pet is carrying fleas or ticks, take your pet into your veterinarian as soon as possible.