Few pests are more irritating to our furry friends than fleas and ticks. Not only do these insects cause discomfort for our cats and dogs, but they can also cause a wide range of health problems. The best cure for fleas and ticks is prevention. Methods for preventing fleas and ticks include reducing exposure to environments where fleas and ticks are known to thrive in, good pet hygiene, and preventative medications or treatments. In this article, we’ll examine the habits of fleas and ticks, their health risks, and how to keep them from making life unpleasant for you and your pets.
What Do Fleas Look Like?
Fleas are parasites which need a “host” to survive. They are small, reddish-brown insects that have a flat, long body. While there are thousands of types of fleas in the world, each type of flea prefers a different type of host.1 Some fleas target dogs, some prefer cats, and some fleas seek out humans. Unfortunately, even though fleas may target dogs or cats, they can still spread diseases to humans.
How Do Your Dogs and Cats Get Fleas?
Fleas thrive in warm, humid environments which make your pet’s coat an ideal place to be. Dogs usually get fleas through contact with another flea-infected dog. Indoor cats are also at risk of becoming infested from another animal because fleas can easily jump from host to host. A flea’s life cycle can range from 16 days to 21 months depending on various factors like temperature and humidity. On average, female fleas lay 40 to 50 eggs a day, which means there is no such thing as a “little” flea infestation. Fleas are most active in warm climates and during the summer months, but these pesky insects can be annoying year-round if they find their way indoors.2 Once fleas invade your home, they are difficult to eradicate and often require costly and repetitive pest control remedies.
Health Issues from Fleas
To survive, fleas feed off the blood of the host. While fleas are only one to three millimeters in length, they feed twice a day and consume 15 times their body weight in blood.3 The result can be a life-threatening loss of blood that can cause anemia, particularly for puppies and kittens. Other medical issues include itching, skin damage, allergies and parasites such as tapeworms. In addition, pets that are allergic to flea bites can suffer excessive scratching, hair loss and skin conditions such as dermatitis.2
What is a Tick? What Do Ticks Look Like?
Like fleas, ticks are parasites that need a host to survive. Ticks are oval-shaped creatures and can range in size from anywhere as small as pin head to as large as a marble. As ticks eat more blood, they grow in size. Ticks thrive in tall grasses, thick brush, and fallen leaves, but can also be found in yards or any outdoor area. They are most active in the late spring and summer. As a dog or cat walks by, a tick can sense the warmth from the pet’s body and cling onto its coat. Most often a tick will attach to your pet’s head, neck, ears or feet. From there, the tick will start feeding on the host’s blood and producing eggs.4
Health Issues from Ticks
While ticks can cause anemia, the primary concern is tickborne diseases. There are more than a dozen tickborne diseases, which vary by tick species and geographical region.5 In the U.S., Lyme disease is particularly dangerous for dogs and can cause serious medical problems such as swollen joints or lameness.6 Cats are less susceptible to Lyme disease, but can contract other harmful diseases.
Since ticks can harm pets and humans, and can be transferred from one to the other, these diseases can be harmful to multiple members of your family. Be on the lookout for tick bites which are red and cause irritation of the skin. Consult a medical professional to determine if you or your pet has been bitten by a tick. While cats and dogs will scratch if they have been bitten by a tick or flea, be aware that cats may excessively lick the affected area.
How to Remove a Tick from Your Pet
If a tick bites your pet, it’s important to remove the tick as soon as possible to lessen the chance of illness. Be sure to use rubber gloves to prevent touching the tick directly and putting yourself at risk of contracting any tick-transmitted diseases. The proper method for removing a tick requires a fine-tipped tweezers or a tick-removal tool. Part the hair on your pet’s coat to better locate the entire tick. Use the tweezers or tick-removal tool and grab the tick by its head and steadily pull the tick away from your pet’s skin. Pulling close to the head makes it more likely that the whole tick will be removed without releasing any of its bodily fluids. A female tick can have eggs inside her body, so drop the tick into a bottle of isopropyl alcohol and tightly seal the bottle.7 It’s a good idea to dab an antiseptic on your dog’s skin where the tick was removed and reward him with a healthy treat for behaving during the tick-removal process. Lastly, wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water.
Flea and Tick Prevention Tips
By following these flea and tick prevention steps you’ll reduce the risk of your pet becoming infested:
- Regularly inspect your pet’s coat for fleas and ticks
- Comb pets regularly with a flea comb
- Wash all bedding once a week
- Keep your home clean
- Vacuum in corners, dark crevices, under furniture, under beds, and around baseboards
- Use flea and tick prevention products recommended by your pet care professional
Flea and Tick Treatments for Dogs and Cats
There are many types of safe flea and tick prevention products available. These come in different forms that can reduce the risk of infection. Note that flea and tick medicine for dogs should NOT be used on cats and vice versa.
- Oral medication in the form of pills or chews
- Topical insecticides
So next time you are out adventuring with your furry family members, don’t get “ticked” off. With a little prevention, the right treatments, and a sharp eye, you can keep your pets safe from the nuisance and dangers of fleas and ticks. Pet insurance can also be helpful as many companies offer optional routine care coverage. These plan options pay up to a certain amount annually to help reduce the overall cost of planned treatments like flea and tick preventatives.
1 How Many Different Types of Fleas are There? [online article], Retrieved on March 2, 2020, from https://www.terminix.com/pest-control/fleas/types/
2 Don’t Let Fleas Take Over Your Home [blog article], Retrieved on March 2, 2020, from https://animalhealth.bayer.com/blog/fleas-take-over
3 Hinkle, N. C., Koehler, P. G., Kern, W. H. & Patterson, R. S. Hematophagous Strategies of the Cat Flea (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae). The Florida Entomologist 74, 377 (1991).
4 How Ticks Spread Disease [online article], Retrieved on March 2, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/life_cycle_and_hosts.html
5 Tickborne Diseases of the United States [online article], Retrieved on March 2, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/diseases/index.html
6 Lyme Disease (Lyme Borreliosis) in Dogs [online article], Retrieved on March 2, 2020, from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/dog-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-dogs/lyme-disease-lyme-borreliosis-in-dogs
7 Tick Removal [online article], Retrieved on March 2, 2020, from https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html
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Pet insurance offered and administered by Pets Best Insurance Services, LLC is underwritten by American Pet Insurance Company (APIC), a New York insurance company or Independence American Insurance Company (IAIC), a Delaware insurance company. Please see www.americanpetinsurance.com to review all available pet health insurance products underwritten by APIC. IAIC is a member of The IHC Group, an organization of insurance carriers and marketing and administrative affiliates, please see www.ihcgroup.com for additional information. Please refer to your declarations page to determine the underwriter for your policy. Each insurer has sole financial responsibility for its own products.