Flea & Tick Season
With the warmer temperatures we are now experiencing, it looks like Spring is
around the corner. And with the change in weather, it brings out into the open
insects and parasitic arachnids.
They’re creepy, they’re crawly, and they can carry diseases. Fleas and ticks are not
just a nuisance, but pose animal and human health risks. They suck your pet’s
blood; they suck human blood, and can transmit diseases.
Some of the diseases that fleas and ticks can transmit from animals to humans (a
zoonotic disease) include the Plague, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted
Fever, and Bartonellosis (better known as Cat Scratch Fever). That’s why it’s
critical to protect your pets from these pesky parasites and keep the creepy crawlies
out of your home.
Your pet can pick up fleas wherever an infestation exists, often in areas frequented
by other cats and dogs. Adult fleas are dark brown, no bigger than a sesame seed,
and able to move rapidly over your pet’s skin.
Once the flea becomes an adult, it spends virtually all of its time on your
pet. Female fleas begin laying eggs within 24 hours of selecting your pet as a host,
producing up to 50 eggs each day.
These eggs fall from your pet onto the floor or furniture, including your pet’s bed,
or onto any other indoor or outdoor area where your pet happens to go. Tiny,
worm-like larvae hatch from the eggs and burrow into carpets, under furniture, or
into soil before spinning a cocoon.
The cocooned flea pupae can lie dormant (inactive) for weeks before emerging as
adults that are ready to infest (or re-infest) your pet. The result is a flea life cycle of
anywhere from 12 days to 6 months, depending on environmental factors such as
temperature and humidity.
You may not know that your pet has fleas until their number increases to the point
that your pet is obviously uncomfortable. Signs of flea problems range from mild
redness to severe scratching that can lead to open sores and skin infections (“hot
One of the first things you may notice on a pet with fleas is “flea dirt”—the black
flea droppings left on your pet’s coat. You may not actually see the fleas
themselves, but they can still be on your pet and in the environment. Fleas bite
animals and suck their blood; young or small pets with heavy flea infestations may
Some pets can develop an allergy to flea saliva that may result in more severe
irritation and scratching; these pets can become severely itchy from just one or two
flea bites. This is called “Contact Flea Dermatitis.” Also, pets can become infected
with certain types of tapeworms if they ingest fleas carrying tapeworm eggs (a pet
using its teeth to scratch the flea bites and often eats the fleas).
Treatment and Control
Because much of the flea’s life cycle is spent off of your pet, treating only your pet
will not eliminate the problem. If you kill the adult fleas and do not kill the eggs,
larvae and pupae, your pet will become re-infested when these fleas become adults
and the cycle will start all over again.
Therefore, in addition to treating your pet, reduce the flea population in your house
by thoroughly cleaning your pet’s sleeping quarters and vacuuming floors and
furniture that your pet comes in contact with frequently. Careful and regular
vacuuming/cleaning of the pet’s living area helps to remove and kill flea eggs,
larvae, and pupae.
You may be advised to treat your house with insecticides to kill the fleas; consult
with your veterinarian about products safe for use around pets and children. Flea
larvae are more resistant than adult fleas to insecticides. With moderate and severe
flea infestations, you may also be advised to treat your yard. Your veterinarian can
recommend an appropriate course of action and suggest ways to prevent future flea
Ticks are commonly found in wooded areas, brush, shrubs and wild undergrowth,
and any animal (or human, for that matter) that enters these environments is at risk
of becoming a tick’s host. Immature ticks often feed on small, wild animals found
in forests, prairies, and brush. Adult ticks seek larger hosts like dogs and cats
which venture into these habitats. Tick exposure may be seasonal, depending on
geographic location. There are many different species of ticks that can affect dogs
and cats. Ticks are capable of spreading serious infectious diseases.
Diagnosis, Risks and Consequences
Ticks are most often found around your dog’s neck, in the ears, in the folds
between the legs and the body, and between the toes, but they can be found
anywhere on the body and are usually easily seen or felt. Cats may have ticks on
their neck or face. Tick bites can cause skin irritation and heavy infestations can
cause anemia in pets.
An adult female tick can ingest up to 100 times her weight in blood! Ticks are
capable of spreading serious infectious diseases (such as Lyme disease, Rocky
Mountain Spotted Fever, and others) to the pets and the people on which they feed.
They can also cause tick paralysis. Disease risk varies by geographic area and tick
Treatment and Control
Prompt removal of ticks is very important because it lessens the chance of disease
transmission from the tick to your pet. Remove ticks by carefully using tweezers to
firmly grip the tick as close to the pet’s skin as possible and gently and steadily
pulling the tick free without twisting it or crushing the tick during removal.
Crushing, twisting or jerking the tick out of the skin while its head is still buried
could result in leaving the tick’s mouth parts in your pet’s skin; this can cause a
reaction and may become infected. After removing the tick, crush it while avoiding
contact with tick fluids that can carry disease.
Do not attempt to smother the tick with alcohol or petroleum jelly, or apply a hot
match to it, as this may cause the tick to regurgitate saliva into the wound and
increase the risk of disease if the tick is infected.
Owners who take their pets to tick-prone areas during camping, sporting, or hiking
trips should examine their pets for ticks immediately upon returning home and
remove them from their pets. If your pet picks up ticks in your backyard, trimming
bushes and removing brush may reduce your pet’s exposure and risk of infestation.
And, if you find ticks on your pet, don’t forget to check yourself for ticks, too!
Your veterinarian will recommend an appropriate flea and tick control plan for
your pet based on your needs, your pet’s needs and the severity of the flea and tick
Kevin A. Rushing, DVM