As the days grow longer and warmer and our furry friends are spending more and more time outdoors, it’s time to talk fleas and ticks: yuck! Ticks are already a big problem this year and it is very early in the season to have to deal with these foul blood suckers. Fleas are smaller and easier to miss, but they can infest a poor dog or cat by the hundreds. Both of these skin parasites can spread disease and itchy misery, reproduce, and then do it all over again. Their ability to adapt and survive countless years of insecticide bombardment is a testament to their hardiness and success as parasites.
By their sheer numbers and the volume of blood they can consume, fleas can cause dangerous anemia, especially in puppies and kittens. Their ability to spread disease is horrific. Diseases like, oh, THE PLAGUE (granted that is the Rat Flea)! Fleas carry blood parasites and infectious diseases that can severely affect our cats. They are the most common source of allergies in both the dog and the cat. They can cause severe infestations of the home and outside environment. It is the adult flea that feeds, breeds and lays eggs on our pets. Repeated environmental treatments are necessary to destroy emerging young adults.
The most common flea on dogs and cats is the Cat Flea. It is a large flea that is comfortable both outdoors and in our homes. They survive the winter by living in the warm confines of our humble abodes. That is why it is so important to keep using flea products all year long. When treating your home, make sure you are using a product that contains an insect growth regulator or natural products that contain desiccants that will dehydrate and destroy the eggs.
Ticks have a more complicated and varied life cycle than fleas. It is the adult female tick alone that becomes engorged with blood, increasing their weight by more than 100-fold. After detaching, it can lay approximately 3,000 eggs! These eggs will develop into larvae, then nymphs, and then back into the sexually active adults. Unlike fleas, both the larvae and nymphs must take a blood meal before they can molt. Ticks love motion, warm temperatures (especially from body heat), and are drawn to the carbon dioxide exhaled by their hosts. They will crawl to the tips of leaves or up grass blades searching for their next victim. Remember, they must bite and feed in order to either molt or mate. The bite from a tick is usually painless, but it can transmit diseases and can cause a debilitating paralysis.
Ticks carry an incredible number of diseases. Many of the diseases that humans can contract from ticks can also affect our canine companions. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease in affected dogs will portray similar clinical signs as humans. Dogs can also acquire red blood cell parasites, Ehrlichiosis, and other Rickettsial diseases. A hind limb ascending paralysis can also occur when injected with a neurotoxin by the tick. The cure is quick and complete with the simple removal of the offending arthropod from the dog’s body. Unfortunately for our feline friends, there is a blood parasite, Cytauxzoon, that is almost always fatal, unless diagnosed early. Keep those ticks off of the cats!
There are no great natural remedies for the treatment and prevention of flea and tick infestations on your pets. Not tea tree oil, not garlic, not Dawn dishwashing liquid, not citrus oil, and especially not Brewer’s Yeast. There are so many new, safe and convenient options that have been added to our arsenal of products, many of which are over the counter and easy to acquire. Let’s keep up the good fight against these marauding, blood sucking, disease filled bugs!
Mel Cown, DVM is the owner of Athens Animal Hospital. He is an ‘87 graduate of the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine. His practice is limited to companion animal medicine and surgery. Dr Cown is an avid supporter of the Athens music scene.