By Caroline Golon on Mar. 13, 2017
Preventing flea and tick infestations will keep your dog happy and healthy. Fleas and ticks can be difficult to handle once an infestation begins. Here’s how to prevent a flea infestation and what you should do to treat your puppy or dog if an infestation occurs.
What are fleas and ticks?
Fleas are external parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. Fleas can jump long distances in a short amount of time, which can make them hard to find sometimes. There are many types of flea species, but the most common type is Ctenocephalides felis or “cat flea,” which is ironically the most common flea found on dogs.
Fleas can cause great discomfort and other issues for dogs. First of all, flea bites itch. Some pets react more adversely to bites than others if they are allergic to a flea’s saliva. This condition is called Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD) or Flea Bite Hypersensitivity (FBH). Allergic reactions can also lead to excessive scratching, biting and licking, possibly leading to secondary issues like fur loss or skin irritation and infection. In some severe infestation cases, pets can lose enough blood to become anemic. Puppies and kittens can be especially prone to fleabite anemia. Fleas can also lead to tapeworm, another type of parasite that lives in the intestine. When pets lick their coat, they may ingest a flea that carries tapeworm larva.
A flea infestation can be equally bothersome to humans who are also susceptible to itchy bites. One telltale sign of fleas is the presence of flea dirt, which is the flea’s waste (and the substance flea larvae feed on). Flea dirt appears as reddish-brown specks on your pet or on his or her bedding.
Ticks are small, spider-like arachnids that, similar to fleas, feed on blood. They can’t fly or jump, so instead they wait and then attach themselves to a host to feed on. While many tick bites are harmless (albeit itchy) some can transmit disease, such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, in both pets and humans.
Ticks are often found in high grasses or wooded areas and attach themselves to you or your dog, even during a short walk.
Once a tick has embedded itself, it is difficult to remove and requires a hands-on approach. Most experts suggest using tweezers to remove the tick from pet’s skin. There are also some innovative products, such as the Tick Twister, that help remove ticks easily. If you do not feel comfortable removing a tick from your pet, consult your veterinarian.
It’s difficult to completely avoid areas where ticks may reside, so it’s important to take preventative measures to help keep ticks away from your pet in the first place.
Fortunately, a variety of flea and tick prevention products are available and offer different benefits based on each individual pet’s and family’s needs. Talk to your veterinarian to determine the best option for your pet. Also be sure to read packaging carefully as different products offer various benefits. Keep an eye on pets: some can develop side effects from certain medications.
While some details vary from brand to brand, the most common treatments include:
Also known as spot-on treatments, topicals are available in both prescription and over-the-counter options. These liquid medications are typically applied to the back of a dog’s neck, where they can’t lick or scratch. The ingredients absorb into the pet’s oil glands, and spread out to kill fleas and ticks all over their body. Some products are absorbed systemically.
Spot-on treatments either kill fleas and ticks on contact or repel them. Some treatments do both. Topical treatments are useful because once you apply them, they typically provide a full month’s worth of protection. They also work quickly to kill fleas and ticks that are already present. One very important note: Keep some distance between your pet and other pets and children until the solution dries completely.
Flea and tick collars are designed to kill and/or repel fleas and ticks from your pet. Collars need to be in contact with your dog’s skin so the medication transfers to their skin and fur. Collars are a low-maintenance way to prevent fleas and ticks, but they’ve also been known to irritate some pets’ skin.
Shampoos and Dips
Flea shampoos contain concentrated, medicated ingredients that kill or repel fleas and ticks on contact. While this solution is relatively inexpensive and is designed to kill fleas and ticks quickly, it’s labor intensive and requires treatment more often than other types of flea and tick protection.
Dips, which are even more concentrated than shampoos, are poured or sponged over a pet and not rinsed off. For optimal results, both shampoos and dips should be combined with a longer-term protection plan. Because it is not rinsed off, be sure to keep family members and other pets away until the dip is fully dried.
Flea and tick sprays work in a similar way to spot treatments by killing and/or repeling adult fleas and ticks and releasing growth inhibitors to prevent future generations from developing. Sprays are convenient, but it’s important to use them in a well-ventilated area away from children and other pets in order to avoid inhalation and physical contact.
Oral Prescription Treatments
Many oral prescriptions contain insecticides that kill adult fleas, as well as a hormone growth regulator, which targets a flea’s eggs and larvae.
While insecticides kill the adult fleas, hormone growth regulators kill fleas over long periods of time by disrupting the flea’s development and interfering with flea larvae growth.
Some oral prescriptions, however, contain only one or the other so it’s important to research products and determine whether or not they need to be combined with other treatments for full flea and tick prevention.
The benefits to oral flea treatments are that they are easy to administer and don’t expose other human and pet family members to the chemicals. However, rather than repel fleas, fleas die after biting the host and ingesting the pesticide. So even if the fleas and their offspring are killed, your pet is not protected from the initial bites and discomfort.
There are also natural products made with safe, non-toxic ingredients that kill and repel fleas and ticks, too. These products, which come in a variety of applications including topical, sprays, shampoos and powders, can protect your pet, home and yard. One downside of natural treatments is that some may require more frequent application.
Remember to talk to your veterinarian about options best for your pet and your family before starting any treatment. Regardless of which options you choose, you and your pet will be glad you have a protection plan in place to keep those pesky pests away.
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This article was written by Caroline Golon and is a frequent contributor to sites like Vetsteet, Catster, Dogster, Mother Nature Network, ASPCA Parents, Cuteness.com, Petfinder and more. She’s also the creator of Crayons & Collars, a site dedicated to busy families with pets and kids. You can find Golon many places online but she resides in Columbus, Ohio with her husband and two young daughters. The Golons are dedicated staff members to a fluffy black cat named Pugsley who, obviously, runs the household.