The Problem of Fleas and Ticks
Fleas and ticks can be an issue all year long, so learning how to prevent them is important. Not only they are an annoyance for you and your dog, but they can also cause a host of health concerns for both of you – from simple itching and scratching to serious issues like anemia and Lyme disease.
Thankfully, there are many things you can do to protect your pup from fleas and ticks, beginning with understanding where they come from in the first place. Awareness, prevention, and quick action are crucial. Here’s a look at how fleas and ticks affect your dog and the steps you can take to keep him safe.
How Fleas Affect Your Dog
Fleas are one of the most common dog parasites that pet parents will have to deal with. These tiny insects are reddish-brown in color and they have a long, flat body.
Many people don’t realize that there are thousands of different types of fleas throughout the world. They all need a host animal to survive. Some prefer dogs and cats, while others prefer other mammals, including humans.
How do Dogs Get Fleas?
Dogs get fleas from their environment or by coming in contact with another animal that has fleas. Fleas easily move from one host to another, so they can enter the home on pant legs or shoes and then find their way to your pet for a meal. They can also hitch a ride into your yard on wild animals, such as squirrels and small rodents, and then jump onto your unsuspecting dog.
Why are Flea Infestations So Common?
Fleas can live up to 21 months if temperatures and humidity levels are ideal. Even worse, a female flea lays about 50 eggs a day, which is why infestations are more common than seeing just one or two fleas here and there. In warm climates, fleas are a problem year-round. And once they enter the home, they’re very difficult to eradicate because they’re so prolific.
Why are Fleas Such a Big Problem for Dogs?
Fleas must feed off the blood of their host to survive. They feed twice a day and consume 15 times their body weight each time. As you can imagine, when a dog is severely infested with fleas, the result is extreme blood loss and potential anemia, which is especially dangerous for small dogs and puppies.
Even mild flea infestations can result in severe itching, rashes, sores, hotspots, and allergies. Some dogs will even develop hair loss and skin conditions like seborrhea and flea bite dermatitis. Fleas also transmit tapeworms, another parasite that is dangerous to your dog’s health.
How Ticks Affect Your Dog
Ticks must also have a host animal to survive. These oval-shaped insects range in size from very tiny to as large as a marble, depending on the variety. The more blood they eat, the larger they get.
How do Dogs Get Ticks?
Ticks love to hang out in tall weeds and grass, bushes, and fallen leaves. They are most active in warm weather. When an unsuspecting dog (or any mammal, including humans) walks by, the tick can sense its warmth. It attaches itself to the new host animal and begins to eat its blood and lay eggs.
Why are Tick Infestations So Common?
Ticks love to hang out in warm, moist areas. They prefer to attach themselves in between the dog’s toes, in the pads of the feet, in the armpits, around the genitals and anus, or inside the ears.
Therefore, they often go unnoticed until the problem becomes severe, especially if you’re not checking for them regularly. Even worse, tick saliva can have anesthetic properties, so your dog may not clue you in to a tick’s presence by licking or scratching either.
Unfortunately, once a tick becomes engorged with blood, it drops off the host animal into its environment. Ticks that fall off your dog inside the house begin to reproduce at a rapid rate and can infest an entire home before anyone even realizes they’re around. When this happens, you may need the help of an exterminator to eradicate them.
Why are Ticks Such a Big Problem For You And Your Dog?
Heavy infestations of ticks can cause anemia, just like fleas. Even worse, just one small tick can transmit a host of tick-borne illnesses, depending on the type of tick and the region it occupies.
One of the most common health issues transmitted by ticks is Lyme disease, which can affect dogs and humans. It causes a variety of serious problems, including chronic fatigue, pain, and swelling in the joints.
Since ticks easily move from one host to another in search of a meal, they’re a problem for both humans and pets. If you find a tick on yourself or your pet, remove it immediately and consult with a healthcare professional.
How do I Remove a Tick From My Dog?
If your dog gets a tick, removing it promptly will reduce the chances of him getting a tick-borne illness. Always wear gloves and use tweezers to remove the tick. Grab the tick close to its head and pull it off steadily and slowly to ensure that you get the entire insect.
Dispose of the tick in a cup of alcohol to ensure that it can’t get back on your pet. Then, clean the bite with antiseptic and wash your hands thoroughly.
How to Protect Your Dog from Fleas and Ticks
Now that you know how your dog gets fleas and ticks and why they’re such a big problem, let’s dive into what you can do to prevent them.
- Talk to your vet about a monthly flea and tick preventative
There are a variety of highly effective flea and tick preventatives available in topical, pills, sprays, and even collars. Talk to your vet to find out which one works best in your area. If you have multiple pets in the home, be sure to treat them all at the same time to prevent the parasites from simply hopping back and forth between hosts.
Types of Flea & Tick Preventatives to Consider:
Topical: Topical flea and tick medication is applied directly to the dog’s skin, usually by parting the hair between the shoulder blades. It’s easy to apply, readily available through most vets, and kills fleas and ticks on your pet for about a month. Some topicals do not repel fleas and ticks. They often leave a residue or odor on your pet’s coat, so keep that in mind when making your purchase. Be sure to keep children and other pets away until the solution is completely dry. It is recommended to avoid washing a dog and keep it from swimming within 3 days after you apply a topical, to let it absorb completely.
Pills: Pills are usually available through your vet, and most are effective for about a month, some of them up to three months. They don’t leave any residue or odor on your pet’s coat, which is a huge plus. However, if your pet hates to take pills, they may be tough to administer. Most oral medications do not repel fleas and ticks, which means the parasite has to bite your pet before it dies.
Sprays: Flea & tick sprays are readily available at any store that sells pet supplies. Depending on the product you choose, they often kill and repel fleas and ticks. However, most sprays will have to be reapplied frequently. Sprays may cause irritation in pets with sensitive skin. They also leave a residue on your pet’s coat that may be toxic to children and other pets. Flea & tick sprays should always be applied in a well ventilated area. They are good extra protection for forest walks, even if a dog takes pills or treated with topicals.
Collars: Flea and tick collars are readily available and easy to use. They usually repel and kill fleas and ticks for up to to 6 months, depending on the manufacturer. However, they may not be as effective as other preventatives. Some dogs may experience irritation from the collar, and the collar should be kept out of reach of children and other pets.
- Inspect your dog for fleas and ticks regularly
Even if your dog is on a monthly preventative, you should still inspect him regularly for fleas and ticks.
Fleas are easy to spot by parting the hair and looking down by the skin. If you see tiny, crawling insects or little black specs (flea excrement), there’s a good chance your dog has fleas.
Check your dog for ticks anytime he’s been in tall grass or overgrown areas, or anytime he’s been to the dog park or kennel. Pay special attention to warm, moist areas as described above.
In many cases, the first sign of fleas or ticks that pet parents see is skin irritation and scratching. If your dog seems to be licking and scratching more than usual, check him over carefully.
- Act quickly to prevent secondary illnesses
If you notice fleas or ticks on your pet, you should act quickly to reduce the risk of secondary illnesses. If you suspect fleas, give your pet a flea bath. Ticks should be removed as described above. Once the parasites are removed, apply a monthly preventative to prevent future issues.
- Keep your dog out of tall grass and overgrown areas
When you take your dog for walks, always use a leash and keep him out of overgrown areas where fleas and ticks love to hide. Tall grass, leaf litter, brush, and mulch are also excellent habitats for fleas and ticks, so keep your yard free of debris and your grass mowed short at all times.
- If you discover an infestation, treat the environment and your pet(s) at the same time
If you do discover an infestation of fleas or ticks on your pets or in your home, it’s important to treat the environment and your pet at the same time. In addition to treating your pet as described above, you should treat the inside of your home and your yard all on the same day.
Don’t forget to wash your pets’ bedding, too. If your dog rides in the car, be sure to vacuum it out thoroughly. Don’t hesitate to call in a professional exterminator if the infestation is severe.
Removing all parasites from the environment and your pet at the same time is the only way to prevent re-infestation.
Wrapping It Up
No pet parent wants their dog to be uncomfortable or become sick. Thankfully, with a sharp eye and a proactive prevention strategy, you can keep your dog safe from the discomforts and dangers of fleas and ticks. And, if the worst does happen, your quick action will greatly reduce your dog’s chances of developing any serious health problems due to these annoying parasites.