Fleas and ticks cause pets serious problems, and they can transmit dangerous diseases. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends all pets receive year-round, lifelong prevention to protect against common external parasites, including fleas and ticks. Our Woodinville Veterinary Hospital and Mobile Services team explains why your pet should receive year-round flea and tick preventives.
Importance of year-round flea prevention for pets
The majority of fleas found on pets are Ctenocephalides felis (i.e., the cat flea). These parasites can ingest up to 15 times their body weight of a pet’s blood at every meal, and they have the ability to jump a distance of 100 to 200 times their size. While fleas are most active during the warmer months, they can find their way into your home during the colder months, typically by hitching a ride on rodents searching for a warm place to spend the winter. Fleas can also survive in warm areas, such as barns, animal dens, and under your home, and become active on a mild winter day. Pets’ body warmth, movement, and exhaled carbon dioxide attract adult fleas. A single adult female begins laying eggs shortly after her first blood meal, and she can produce up to 50 eggs a day and about 2,000 eggs over her lifetime. Fleas can cause pets these health complications:
- Anemia — Fleas consume a large amount of blood, and a heavy flea infestation can cause your pet to develop serious anemia, especially if they are small. Heavy flea infestations have killed animals as large as dairy calves.
- Flea bite dermatitis — Many pets are allergic to flea saliva, and flea bite dermatitis is pets’ most common skin disease. This condition causes severe itching and hair loss, and the excoriations a pet creates through excessive scratching can lead to skin infections. Affected pets scratch and groom constantly, and many remove all flea evidence, causing their owners to have problems identifying a flea issue, because they never find fleas on their pet. Being familiar with this situation, veterinarians typically first use flea control to treat a pet presenting with dermatitis.
- Tapeworms — Fleas are tapeworm hosts, and they can infect your pet if your four-legged friend swallows a flea during grooming.
- Additional diseases — Fleas can also transmit diseases, such as the plague, flea-borne typhus, and Bartonella henselae.
Importance of year-round tick prevention for pets
When you or your pet walks through grassy or wooded areas, ticks can attach themselves to your four-legged friend’s fur or your skin. Climate change, deforestation, and changing migration patterns of deer, birds, and rodents are broadening ticks’ geographic distribution, and they now exist throughout the United States, including urban areas. Many tick species can survive and remain active during the winter months. Disease-transmitting tick species commonly found in Washington include the Western blacklegged tick, the Western dog tick, and the Rocky Mountain wood tick. Adult female ticks can increase their body weight by more than 100-fold when they ingest a blood meal, after which they can lay 3,000 to 6,000 eggs. Similar to fleas, ticks are attracted to pets and humans by motion, body heat, and exhaled carbon dioxide. A tick’s bite typically goes unnoticed, and if the pest is not removed soon after attachment, your pet can contract diseases such as:
- Lyme disease — Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, and is transmitted through an infected blacklegged tick’s bite. Most affected pets exhibit signs such as fever, generalized pain, lethargy, and shifting limb lameness.
- Babesiosis — Babesiosis is caused by a protozoal parasite, and certain dog breeds, such as greyhounds and terrier breeds, have an increased infection risk. Infection can vary from mild illness that resolves quickly to severe disease, resulting in death. Signs include lethargy, fever, enlarged lymph nodes, weight loss, dark-colored urine, jaundice, and neurologic signs.
- Tick paralysis — Female ticks can secrete neurotoxins that cause a pet’s rapidly ascending weakness. Weakness and paralysis start in an infected pet’s hind limbs and gradually spreads to include the fore limbs. Cranial nerves may also be affected, causing facial paralysis, voice changes, and swallowing difficulty. In severe cases, the respiratory muscles may become paralyzed.
Flea and tick prevention for pets
Many flea and tick prevention medications, including oral and topical products, are on the market, and you should treat your pet monthly to prevent infection. To protect your pet from these parasites, follow these tips:
- Treating a flea infestation — If your pet has fleas, the parasites must be eradicated from your pet and their environment to prevent reinfection. Flea eradication recommendations include:
- Administer a veterinarian-recommended flea control product.
- Wash your pet’s bedding.
- Vacuum all carpets and upholstery in your pet’s environment, and immediately discard the vacuum bag in an outside trash bin.
- Remove your pet from the area, and spray the environment with an appropriate pest control solution. To eradicate fleas at every life stage, you may need to spray again 5 to 10 days after the first application.
- Treat your yard with a flea control product.
- Removing ticks — Check your pet for ticks after being outside. Ticks will commonly attach to your pet under their tail or collar, between their toes, in their groin and armpit region, and in their ears. If you find a tick on your pet, use tweezers to grasp the pest as close to the skin surface as possible, and remove the parasite using steady, even pressure. Clean the bite area thoroughly.
Providing year-round flea and tick prevention protects your pet from many dangerous conditions. Contact our Woodinville Veterinary Hospital and Mobile Servicers team, so we can help you determine the best flea and tick prevention product for your four-legged friend.
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