how to protect pets from fleas and ticks

Australian Blue Heeler in field | How to protect dogs from fleas and ticks
Posted by Dr. Jules Benson on Oct 16 2009

Summer may be out but fleas and ticks are still in (and possibly on your pets). Many pet owners tend to forget about these irritating little creatures once the weather gets cooler and the leaves begin to change color, assuming that fleas and ticks are only a problem during the warm weather months. The misconception is that they are “summertime risks” for your dogs and cats. The truth is, your pets can be exposed to these parasitic critters throughout the entire year. Our pets’ natural curiosity, proximity to ground-level and love of exploration make fleas and ticks (not to mention the diseases they spread!) an important issue.

Ticks

When it comes to keeping an eye out for ticks, remember that they can be found not just in wooded areas and meadows but also in backyards and urban parks, especially if they are in proximity to woodlands. Although tall grass and the woods tend to be higher risk areas, city and suburban areas also harbor ticks. The key points in preventing tick-borne disease are:

1) Finding and removing these aggravating arthropods immediately. Check your pet regularly, especially after a romp in the park or a day spent outdoors. Ticks can make their way onto your pet even after a routine trip to your own backyard so PetPlan vets recommend checking for ticks daily.

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2) Use a tick preventive. Applying your veterinary-recommended anti-parasiticide is an easy step and can help you avoid those hated instances of engorged-tick removal. While many of the products like Frontline and Advantix are effective in tick-borne disease, it may take a while for the products to kill them. So, don’t be surprised if you still find a few ticks on your pet right after a walk. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends year-round use of tick preventives.

3) Follow your vet’s advice on appropriate vaccines and testing. Vets avoid over-vaccination whenever possible, so when they recommend a vaccine to protect your pet, it’s usually for good reason. I routinely recommend Lyme vaccine to many of my clients here in south-east Pennsylvania and have had excellent results when combining this with the two points above. However, even with the best intentions, no preventive or vaccine is 100% effective and it’s important to perform annual testing for tick-borne diseases like Lyme, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. Based on your geographic location and the relative risk to your pet, the best strategy is to be guided by your veterinarian in matters of testing and treatment.

Fleas

The word alone spreads fear into the hearts of pet parents everywhere. The last thing anyone wants is a flea infestation taking over your home and attacking everyone inside, canine, feline and human, alike. The most common problem associated with fleas in our pets is flea allergic dermatitis (FAD). This disease is routinely seen in cats and dogs and is caused by your pet’s reaction, not to the actual flea bite, but to the saliva that is injected into the skin. While many pets can harbor fleas and show minimal scratching, FAD-affected individuals only need one or two bites to set them itching and scratching like a wild thing.

To make things even worse, fleas don’t just cause itching and irritation, they can actually carry and transmit bacteria and other parasites. Specifically, fleas can spread the bacteria that causes cat-scratch disease (CSD) in people as well as carry tapeworm eggs that they can spread to our pets.

The key to flea-free living comes down staying current with the prevention regime your vet recommends. Fleas can easily jump from host to host, which is how they spread so easily from an infected pup to your unsuspecting pooch. Because of their rapid life-cycle and the hardiness of flea eggs, an infestation can be very difficult to get rid of; in the words of Ben Franklin, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

To keep your pets healthy, happy and parasite-free, be informed and smart about appropriate prevention measures and don’t hesitate to ask your vet about increased risks that might be local to your area.

 

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