Fleas and Ticks 101

The summer’s winding down. In some parts of the country, the kids are getting ready to go back to school. If you’ve gotten this far without fleas and ticks feasting on your pets this summer, don’t get too comfortable yet.

The end of summer and early fall is still active for fleas and ticks, and the worst time of year in many parts of the country. If you live in a place that doesn’t get colder than 30 degrees for long periods, you can never get lax about these nasty parasites. Flea and tick season never ends for you.

If you’ve experienced fleas or ticks on your pets, you know it’s no fun. And it can be downright dangerous. These parasites carry disease and discomfort with them.

If you have been fortunate enough to be a pet owner who hasn’t experienced these annoying pests, you may not know the implications of an infestation… or even how to deal with it if it happens to your pet.

Now’s a good time to brush up on your flea and tick knowledge.

How do pets get fleas and ticks?

These little creatures are external parasites. They feast on the blood of your fur baby by biting them.

Fleas come from other animals that enter your pet’s environment. That might mean your yard, but it can also mean the woods where you hike. The park where you hang out with other dogs. Or a kennel where you’ve boarded your pet.

The animal that carries these pests could be a cat or dog. But it can also be a raccoon, rat, or other wild animal.

The female flea lays eggs on the host animal. Those eggs then fall off in your yard or where you’re dog plays. The eggs develop into adults and the fleas jump onto your pet looking for a place to get a good blood meal.

Once the adult fleas have found a home on your pet, they rarely jump to other pets. They’re happy to have a meal and will stay where they are. But the adult females will lay eggs on your pet. And those eggs could fall off in your home, turn into adults, and leap onto your other pets.

Ticks live 18 to 24 inches off the ground in tall grass or low shrubs. When your dog is walking by and brushes against the foliage, they dislodge the ticks that then climb onto your pet.

Can these parasites make your pet sick?

These bugs are not only annoying to your pet, they also carry disease.

The most common reaction to fleas is flea allergy dermatitis. The salivary protein in the fleabite causes an allergic response. Your pet will bite, scratch and even lose their fur.

It only takes a few bites to cause a reaction. And all the scratching can result in a secondary bacterial or fungal infection.

If your pet is infested with fleas, they can become anemic from all the blood loss. An old, ill or very young animal can become weak and even die.

Fleas can also transmit tapeworm to your pet… little rice-like worms found around the rectum, in poop, or on your pet’s bed.

Ticks can transmit more than a dozen very serious diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. These can kill your pet.

Tick-borne diseases vary from one area of the country to another. So talk to your vet about which diseases are prevalent where you live.

Are fleas and ticks more common in some parts of the U.S. than others?

Ticks and fleas are worse in some parts of the country. And they’re worse at certain times of the year.

Fleas like warm humid conditions. So they’re not common in dry places like the Southwest. But the Gulf Coast and Southeast U.S. are flea infested.

Fleas are worse during mid to late summer and early fall. Ticks are most prevalent early spring and late fall. But these critters are around any time of year.

Ticks are almost everywhere but are particularly problematic in the Upper Midwest and Northeast where Lyme-carrying ticks are the worst.

How do you know if your pet has fleas or ticks?

There are many species of ticks and fleas. The large ticks are easy to see or feel on your pet. Especially when they are engorged after enjoying a blood meal.

Deer ticks are very tiny… the size of a pinhead. They’re not so easy to find. It’s a good idea to do a careful inspection of your pet if they’ve spent time in an area that’s known to have ticks.

If you live in a tick prone area, do a check once a day.

If your pet has fleas, they’ll scratch incessantly. In cats, you may notice excessive grooming.

Run a flea comb through your pet’s fur. Dump the hair onto a white paper towel. Dampen it with water. Red stains mean fleas. The red is flea dirt—basically poop.  It’s digested blood. Yuck!

How do you get rid of ticks and fleas?

If your pet has ticks and you’ve never removed a tick before, get the help of your vet. You must grasp the tick with a pair of tweezers as close to the mouthparts as you can get. Then apply steady pressure until the tick lets go. You don’t want to pull the tick out and leave the mouth in your pet.

Never use anything to remove a tick that could hurt your pet, like lighter fluid or a match.

Fleas are a nightmare to get rid of. I know this firsthand.

Talk to your vet about treatment. You will likely have to treat several times. Not only must you treat your pet, you need to treat your home, any environment your pet spends time in, and all other pets in your home.

You can have an exterminator fog your house if the infestation is bad.   If it isn’t horrible, you can vacuum the rugs. Throw out old bedding. And launder all other items in hot water.

Can you prevent ticks and fleas?

There are many prevention products on the market. Talk to your vet about the best one for your pet.

Often, one product can prevent both ticks and fleas. They are usually topical treatments. You apply the fluid directly to the skin between the shoulder blades or on the back of the neck.

These products need a prescription from your vet and are generally safe if you follow the directions. But of course, a pet can react to anything applied to their skin.

Over-the-counter flea and tick preventatives are not effective.  Fleas are often resistant to the synthetic pyrethrins in these products. People over apply them because they don’t work. That’s dangerous for your pet, you and the environment.

Remember too, prevention products meant for dogs should never be used on a cat and vice versa.

Talk to your vet about whether you should treat your pet year-round. That will depend on where you live, where you travel with your pet, and what activities your pet partakes in.

There are natural prevention options on the market too. Some work better than others. If you use a natural product, you must also flea-proof your pet’s living environment.

Minimize brush and tall grass in your yard to prevent fleas and ticks from taking up residence. Remove leaf litter.

These bugs don’t like sunlight so don’t give them shady hangouts. Ticks will also hide under shrubs or porches. Try to prevent your pets from laying in those areas.

Keep your pets out of tick habitats like heavily wooded areas and tall grass.

If you live in an area with a lot of ticks, you may need to treat your property with a pesticide.

Fleas and ticks can cause serious illness and make your pet miserable. It’s important to check your pet regularly. And use the prevention methods I’ve mentioned to stay ahead of a serious assault.

Have you ever had a flea infestation? Have you had to remove a tick from your pet? Tell us about it in the comment section above.

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