Fleas and ticks annoy our beloved pets, but these pests can be more than an itchy nuisance, causing adverse conditions ranging from an allergy to a life-threatening illness. Some diseases these parasites transmit can also affect humans, making infestation prevention a must. Remember, once established in your home, fleas are extremely difficult to eradicate, so proactively preventing a flea infestation is much easier. Your Colony Veterinary Hospital team members are flea and tick experts, and we want to help you choose the best flea and tick prevention product. Learn about fleas and ticks, and why prevention is key to your pet’s health this spring. 

The flea life cycle and your pet

Adult fleas feed on your pet’s blood and reproduce by laying eggs on their haircoat. The eggs fall off and usually land in your pet’s bedding, or on your furniture or floors. After the eggs hatch, they become larvae that pupate. The pupae, which are pesticide resistant, can remain dormant for long periods, becoming active under the right conditions to find a suitable host. Adults emerge from the pupal stage and infest their new hosts. 

Pet flea-related problems

Most pets scratch incessantly from itchy and irritating flea bites. Some pets develop more serious problems, including:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis — A single flea bite can induce a severe allergic skin reaction, causing hair loss, inflammation, and extreme itching.
  • Anemia — Young and small pets hosting numerous fleas lose blood with each flea bite, which can lead to anemia.
  • Infections — Fleas carry life-threatening diseases, such as plague, Bartonella (i.e., cat scratch disease), and murine typhus, which may be transmitted to humans.  
  • Tapeworms — Fleas are an intermediate host for one tapeworm type, a segmented intestinal parasite that sheds small rice-like pieces (i.e., proglottids) around your pet’s hind end.

The tick life cycle and your pet

Ticks are parasites that can at times be free living (i.e., independent of a host), but must feed on a host’s blood to molt to their next developmental stage. Their life cycle, from egg, to larva, to nymph, to adult, takes approximately three years. Adult female ticks feed to lay eggs, and die shortly after. A tick that has not completed its natural life cycle can easily survive winter by staying dormant until warmer weather arrives. Tick activity varies depending on their species, but most are more active during the spring and fall. One tick species—the brown dog tick—is active year-round, and may infest dogs’ homes and kennels. 

Pet tick-related problems

Ticks transmit a multitude of disease-causing organisms to their host. Some diseases can be transmitted in only a few hours, while others take up to 48 hours for transmission. All tick species carry disease, and their bites can also be dangerous to humans. In dogs, tick-borne diseases (e.g., Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever) cause similar signs, including:

  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Lymph node swelling
  • Eye or joint inflammation
  • Liver or kidney failure
  • Anemia
  • Low platelet counts

Cats affected by tick-borne diseases typically contract illnesses that are more serious and may be fatal. These include tularemia, cytauxzoonosis, and Haemobartonella. Signs vary, but may include:

  • Anemia
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Lethargy
  • Fever

Another consequence for cats is sudden death. 

Eliminating your pet’s fleas and ticks

Once your veterinarian detects fleas in one pet, all household pets must receive a minimum of six consecutive monthly treatments. You also must treat the house itself by frequently vacuuming all cracks and crevices to remove eggs, larvae, and pupae, disposing of the vacuum bag or canister contents after each cleaning. Area sprays are also beneficial to eliminate a home’s prolific flea population. Wash all bedding in hot water and dry on high heat. Continue this cleaning regimen until your veterinarian determines that all the household’s pets are flea-free.

Your veterinary professional can demonstrate tick removal—pull the tick from as close to your pet’s skin as possible, using slow, gentle pressure. Never burn or otherwise treat a tick attached to your pet. If many ticks are present, treat your pet with a medicated bath or dip, which kills and detaches ticks more quickly than manual removal. 

Prevention is best for your pet and you

Fleas and ticks pose a serious danger to animals and humans, but your pet’s monthly flea and tick prevention treatments can prevent these parasites from spreading deadly diseases. Preventives are available in oral and topical formulations, providing options that allow you to choose the preventive type that is best for your pets and you. 

A flea infestation is every pet owner’s nightmare, but this situation is avoidable when you ensure your pet receives their monthly preventive. Veterinary professionals recommend flea and tick prevention for all pets, including those who stay indoors, because parasites can enter your home through many means (e.g., windows, screens, pets who go outdoors). When you move to a new home, inspect for fleas, because you never know whether a previous inhabitant has left these parasites behind! 

Do not allow fleas and ticks to ruin your pet’s outdoor time this spring. If you have seen fleas or ticks on your pet, or you would like your Colony Veterinary Hospital team to begin your pet’s monthly flea and tick prevention, schedule an appointment today.