Fleas and ticks can be active all year long, and can cause significant health issues for your pet. Preventing these external parasites is much easier than treating the diseases they transmit. Our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital wants to explain the benefits of year-round flea and tick prevention for your pet, to ensure they are protected.
#1: Flea and tick prevention protects your pet from flea allergy dermatitis
Many pets are allergic to the flea’s saliva, and a single flea bite can cause an extreme reaction. Signs include constant scratching, rubbing, licking, and chewing. In addition, pets may develop hair loss, starting at their tail base, and skin lesions, such as red papules and skin excoriations. If your pet is extremely itchy, and you find a flea, they likely have flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). However, many pets groom excessively to remove the bothersome parasites, leaving no visible fleas. The presence of flea dirt (i.e., flea droppings) on your pet or in their bedding also suggests that your pet has this condition. The most important aspect of treating FAD is to completely remove all fleas from your pet and their environment. A typical treatment protocol may include:
- Bathing your pet — You can bathe your pet using a medicated product to kill the fleas. Read the label closely, to ensure the product is pet-safe, because some products made for dogs are toxic to cats.
- Combing your pet — After the bath, use a flea comb to remove all fleas from your pet’s coat.
- Discarding their bedding — Discard your pet’s bedding, or wash thoroughly to remove the fleas.
- Vacuuming — Use a high powered vacuum to remove fleas from any area where your pet spends time.
- Medicating — Apply anti-inflammatories and anti-itch medications that your veterinarian may recommend to calm down the skin, and give antibiotics to address secondary bacterial infections.
#2: Flea and tick prevention protects your pet from tapeworms
Fleas can transmit tapeworms to your pet if they ingest an infected flea while grooming. When the flea is digested, the tapeworm egg hatches, and the parasite attaches to your pet’s intestinal wall to leach nutrients. In puppies and kittens, these parasites can cause malnutrition, although they rarely cause apparent health issues for healthy adult pets. You may notice tapeworm segments on your pet’s hindquarters or in their feces. You should also be aware that you and your family can be infected by tapeworms should you ingest an infected flea. Children are at highest risk for tapeworm infection, which can be treated with a specific anti-parasitic medication. Removing all fleas from your pet and their environment is also important to prevent reinfection.
#3: Flea and tick prevention protects your pet from anemia
Fleas can consume about 13.6 microliters of blood per day—about 15 times their body weight—and a female flea can produce up to 50 eggs per day. A pet with a severe flea infection can lose enough blood to become anemic, with signs including weakness and pale mucous membranes. Puppies and kittens are at the highest risk since they are so small. Your affected pet will need immediate intervention to remove the fleas, and may require a blood transfusion and supportive care to correct the anemia.
#4: Flea and tick prevention protects your pet from Lyme disease
The blacklegged tick can transmit Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria that causes Lyme disease in pets and humans. An infected tick can bite your pet or hitch a ride on your clothing when you are both out walking, and transmit disease after being attached for 36 hours. Signs include lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, shifting leg lameness, swollen joints, and decreased appetite, and kidney damage in serious cases. Pets aren’t affected by the bull’s eye rash commonly seen in people bitten by infected ticks. Clinical signs typically manifest about two to five months after infection. Blood tests can be performed to help diagnose Lyme’s disease, and treatment involves administration of a particular antibiotic family. A Lyme vaccine is available for dogs, and our veterinary professionals will be glad to discuss whether this vaccine is right for your pet.
#5: Flea and tick prevention protects your pet from Rocky Mountain spotted fever
In the eastern United States, the American dog tick can transmit Rickettsia rickettsii, a bacterial parasite that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). An infected tick must stay attached for at least five hours to transmit the disease, and once inside your pet’s bloodstream, causes inflammation and constriction of their blood vessels. Clinical signs typically take from two days to two weeks to manifest, and include fever, lethargy, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and swelling of the face or limbs. Blood tests can be performed to diagnose RMSF, and the disease treatment involves a 7- to 21-day antibiotics course.
#6: Flea and tick prevention protects your pet from tick paralysis
A pregnant tick’s saliva can transmit a neurotoxin to your pet that results in an ascending paralysis. Signs typically start in the lower limbs and ascend up the pet’s body to include their upper extremities. If left untreated, your pet could also experience gastrointestinal upset and respiratory distress. The most important treatment factor is the tick’s removal. Most pets start to recover a few hours after the tick is removed, and are typically back to normal in two to three days, although they may require supportive care until they are fully recovered.
Providing year-round flea and tick prevention will protect your pet from these dangerous conditions. If your pet is exhibiting signs that indicate a disease caused by fleas or ticks, contact our team at Town and Country Animal Hospital, so we can address the problem.