If you’re happy to get outside after a long winter, you can bet fleas and ticks are, too. As we head into peak flea and tick season, here are some tips to keep in mind for your pets:
DO take the health risks of fleas and ticks seriously. In addition to transmitting tapeworms and bacteria, fleas can cause intense itching. Even worse, some pets are allergic to flea saliva, so the bite of a single flea can lead to severe itching, inflammation and hair loss. Ticks aren’t innocent either; they can transmit the organisms that cause dangerous diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
DON’T assume fleas and ticks only impact your pets. Although you can’t catch a tick-borne disease directly from your dog, pets can carry ticks into your house. Those ticks, in turn, can bite members of your family, potentially causing disease. Flea feces can carry the bacteria Bartonella henselae, and if transmitted to a wound through a cat bite or scratch, these bacteria can cause cat scratch fever in people.
DO recognize that indoor pets can be at risk, too. Mice can carry fleas into your house, and feral cats, raccoons and opossums can drop flea eggs in your yard. Ticks can hitchhike on urban wildlife such as deer and coyotes and drop off along the paths you may walk with your dog. Even when your pet spends most of its time indoors, it’s pretty easy for fleas and ticks to hitch a ride.
DON’T use your dog’s topical flea and tick medication on your cat. Many spot-on canine flea and tick medications contain permethrins or pyrethroids, which are synthetic compounds derived from pyrethrins, extracts from Chrysanthemum plants. This class of drugs can be extremely toxic for cats, leading to drooling, seizures and, in some cases, death.
DO check your pet for ticks before it comes back in the house. Even with tick medications, ticks may not be killed immediately. The sooner you can find and remove ticks, the less chance the ticks have of transmitting disease-causing organisms. Before bringing your pet inside, run your hands over their body and check around the ears. Remove ticks with tweezers and dispose of them properly.
DON’T rely on natural flea and tick treatments. Some topical products rely on essential oils such as peppermint or lemongrass oils to kill fleas. And feeding pets garlic is supposedly a natural way to eliminate these pests. Unfortunately, these approaches are usually not effective and can actually be toxic to pets. For safe, effective control, it’s always best to rely on your veterinarian’s advice.
DO be aware that your pet can have fleas, even if you don’t see one. Only 5 percent of fleas are actually on the pet — the rest are in your environment in various stages of development. Cats, especially, are experts at grooming themselves and can quickly eliminate evidence of fleas. You may not see actual fleas, but if you find small black specks that look like pepper, that may be flea dirt (feces). If you place the black specks on a wet paper towel and the towel turns red, that’s a sign of digested blood in flea feces.
DON’T split doses of flea and tick medications among your pets. Most of these products provide a specific dose for the weight of the pet. If you split the doses, your pet may not receive an effective dose to help ward off fleas and ticks.
DO be aware that fleas and ticks aren’t just warm-weather problems. Experts on the Companion Animal Parasitology Council (CAPC) recommend year-round flea and tick control for several reasons. There can be microenvironments inside your house that can support the flea life cycle over the winter. Some tick species can become active anytime there’s a warm spell in the winter. And the brown dog tick can live its entire life cycle on dogs, reproducing in houses all year long.
It’s not easy keeping your pet free of these annoying parasites. But if you follow these ten tips, you can minimize the danger.
The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.