Here’s a pet health primer on ticks, fleas and mosquitoes
There’s a new tick in town.
The longhorned Asian tick has now joined the long list of tiny critters that can pose a threat to your fur babies – and maybe even yourself. There’s not a lot known about the new six-legged U.S. resident or how it ultimately made the long trip from Asia, but the new tick is reported in multiple Eastern states from Connecticut to Tennessee. It’s a tenacious little parasite that can reproduce without a mate. Asian longhorned ticks have killed cattle, mainly because their sheer numbers can literally suck the life out of some animals. There’s no need to panic, but pet owners will want to keep up with the latest research and information regarding the little bloodsuckers. It’s also a good reminder that pet parents need to aggressively combat and prevent the summer pests that pester your pets.
Mosquitoes and heartworms
They are the most obvious, obnoxious and in-your-face summer pests. While they are annoying and can transmit disease to humans, mosquito bites can harm dogs. Mosquitoes transmit heartworm larvae to our furry friends, and the infestation can be fatal without expensive treatment regimens. The bites can also get infected if your pawed pals scratch them to the point they break the skin, but transmission of heartworms by mosquitoes is by far the greatest risk. Make sure your dog is on preventative medication, which is available from your veterinarian. Cats can get heartworms, too, but it’s far more common in dogs. Don’t allow standing water to accumulate anywhere on your property, including in empty flower pots or planters. You can also apply a vet-approved bug repellent to your pup if you are hiking in a mosquito-infested area or just hanging around outside.
Is it an earthquake? An off-kilter washing machine? Knocking at the door? No, it’s just the jarring rhythm of your dog scratching himself furiously in the living room. A lot of things can irritate your pup’s skin, including dry or infected skin, but fleas are generally a prime culprit.
Signs a dog or cat has fleas include scratching, chewing or whining and the presence of flea “dirt,” which is actually flea waste. You might even see the little buggers. Act quickly – the scratching and discomfort can drive both pets and their parents a little crazy. Untreated flea outbreaks will not only make your home unbearable, common flea problems include skin infections, hair loss and severe reactions in dogs or cats who may be especially sensitive to their bites or saliva. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms to dogs and cats.
Your veterinarian can confirm your dog or cat has fleas and suggest the best flea treatment options for your pets. Some oral medicines work immediately and kill all fleas on your cat or dog within a day. Other medications interrupt the reproductive process in fleas. These prescription products are generally better than store-bought flea shampoos and treatments. It’s important to treat other animals in a home ASAP, and only a thorough cleaning of bedding, furniture and carpets will get fleas out of your house. Your vet can also recommend a good pesticide for use in your home, but protect yourself during application and limit its use around animals and children.
Fleas are most active in summer and early fall but can present themselves all year depending on weather and climate. That means you need a preventative medicine to keep fleas off your dogs and cats in the first place. Dogs and cats get fleas from either the natural environment or via other animals, so prevention and prompt treatment is the best medicine.
Turn the tide on ticks
Let’s turn our attention back to blood-sucking ticks. As is usually the case, prevention is the best remedy. Talk to your veterinarian about preventative topical, oral or collar options; you can usually prevent ticks and fleas at the same time with some medications.
The ramifications of a tick infestation can be severe. A dog or cat heavily loaded with ticks can actually develop anemia from blood loss, and there are a range of tick-borne diseases you or your pets can contract. The most well-known diseases transmitted by ticks are probably Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. Both can make humans very sick, but remember, you can’t catch it from your dog. You can, however, catch Lyme disease from deer ticks your dog may introduce into your home.
To avoid flirting with these diseases, follow these tick prevention tips:
- Make sure your cat or dog are on a long-term preventative anti-tick medication.
- Check your pets often for ticks, especially on bellies, behind ears and between legs.
- If you find one of the critters on your pets, here’s how to remove a tick from a dog or cat.
- Understand the life cycle of ticks, and what tick-borne diseases may be present in your area.
Cattle-eating ticks. Disease. Flea bites. It’s enough to make a pet parent bug out. Focus instead on getting the bugs out and preventing their presence in the first place. Happy summer!