Fleas and Ticks
After a long day at work, you come home, kick off your shoes and curl up on the couch with Fluffy. You snuggle into her warm, soft fur and feel the stress oozing out of you like jelly out of a donut. Suddenly, you notice a dark brown speck appear (from seemingly out of nowhere) on your arm. Only mildly alarmed, you reach out to brush it away and before you can get there, it bounces into the air and seems to disappear. Your sense of alarm grows, as you sit up and suspiciously begin to ruffle through Fluffy’s fur…another dark dot appears and leaps straight at you. What was that?!? The sickening realization hits hard – fleas! Not in my home, you tell yourself. Not on my pet! How could this have happened to me? Fluffy never goes outside! I bathe her weekly…this just can’t be true! Unfortunately, this scenario is not uncommon. The threat of fleas and ticks in our region is ever present. But, knowing more about how these ectoparasites operate and what can be done to prevent and treat infestations is as easy as reading this blog.
Why worry about fleas and ticks?
Well, for starters, they’re gross! They can also pose a serious problem for your pet’s health. In addition to being a nuisance on your pet that cause them to itch, scratch and chew (and drive you crazy), fleas can cause other health problems such as tapeworms, allergic skin disease, and anemia (particularly in smaller pets with extreme infestations). Ticks transmit serious diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Ehrlichiosis, to name a few.
How do fleas and ticks become a problem?
Fleas-The cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is the most common ectoparasite on domestic dogs and cats. Because fleas are so tiny, you likely won’t even notice when your pet first picks one up. And how might this happen you may ask? Fleas from the environment (your yard, the dog park, a grassy patch in your apartment complex, etc) can jump onto your pet directly. Or, they are happy to hop on your shoe/pants and hitch a ride into your home. One thing is for certain, fleas find a way!
Once in your home, a female flea can produce up to 50 eggs per day, so even a few fleas can quickly turn into a severe infestation. The eggs are small and readily fall from the pet and land on surfaces such as bedding and carpet. The larvae transform into pupa inside a silk cocoon – and though the adult usually hatches out within 3-5 weeks, it can remain in the cocoon for up to 350 days, waiting for just the right conditions to emerge and start wreaking havoc in your home. This is why it’s important to treat fleas as quickly as possible and to make sure your pet is protected even before she encounters fleas.
Ticks- An adult tick can hang out in the environment for many months without eating. A tick is attracted to a host that wanders into its territory. They perform a behavior known as questing in which the tick will crawl out on the edge of a leaf or limb… extend its spindly little front legs …and GRAB its host as it walks by! They can be found lurking in grass, shrubbery, leaf piles, etc. A particular threat to homes and buildings is the Brown Dog Tick – it can be found in cracks and crevices in houses, garages, and dog runs. These ticks often crawl up walls in homes and kennels and can be found in false ceilings.
What can be done to prevent these hideous creatures from invading your home?
The first step is to see your friendly veterinarian for recommendations of products that can be administered directly to your pet. There are many safe and effective choices available. Make sure to check labels carefully – some products that are safe for dogs can make cats very ill. Use caution when seeking alternative products such as natural flea remedies – many of the essential oils that are used in that type of product can be irritating to pets and cause adverse reactions. Generally speaking, your vet is the best source for learning what products might be most appropriate (and safe) for your pet.
It is important, also, to realize that in our region fleas and ticks are a year-round problem.
Environmental measures that help deter flea and tick populations include: periodically washing your pets bedding on a high heat, make your yard less appealing to ticks by keeping lawns short and eliminating brush piles, vaccum frequently, cover up all outside crawl spaces and garbage cans to deter wildlife that may carry fleas and ticks.
Sarah K. Sprayberry, DVM
July 1, 2016
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