We’re in the prime of summer and I know the heat and humidity has many of us looking forward to cooler weather, but it’s not quite here yet so make sure you’re still thinking about keeping those creepy crawly critters off your pets. The critters I’m referring to are fleas and ticks. In addition to just being a nuisance these parasites can also carry diseases that can affect the health of your pet.
Fleas are the most common ectoparasite of dogs and cats and are the cause of the most common skin disorder of dogs and cats; flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). The flea life cycle involves 4 life stages consisting of egg, larval stages, pupa, and adult. Adult fleas lay eggs that fall off the host (your pet) and into the environment (your house and yard); these eggs then hatch into larvae. The larvae go through two molts and the third stage larvae spin cocoons around themselves and then become adult fleas. This life cycle from egg to adult can take as little as 14-28 days. However, under certain environmental conditions third stage larvae can remain in their cocoons for months, waiting to emerge as adults when the right host comes along.
Fleas feed on the host’s blood, and in cases of heavy infestation, can cause severe anemia. Flea anemia is most often seen in young puppies and kittens, or debilitated animals. Fleas also serve as the intermediate host for tapeworms, an intestinal parasite the dog or cat contracts when ingesting an infected flea. Fleas can also carry mycoplasmal parasites that infect red blood cells and can cause severe anemia and illness in infected cats.
Ticks are another ectoparasite, and like fleas, feed on the host’s blood. Ticks are arachnids, like spiders, mites, and scorpions. Ticks have 4 life stages; egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Depending on the species of tick, and environmental conditions, the life stage can take anywhere from 2 months to 2 years to be complete. Adult female and male ticks will engorge themselves on the host’s blood and then mate. The female tick then lays eggs, often as many as 3,000 to 6,000. The eggs then hatch into larvae. The larvae find a host, take a blood meal, and molt into a nymph. The nymph finds a host to feed on and molts into an adult. Ticks cannot jump or fly, they can only crawl. Ticks crawl onto tips of grasses or shrubs and wait for a host. When the animal brushes past the grass or shrub the tick crawls onto the host.
There are a lot of different species of ticks, but only a few that are commonly encountered in the United States. These include the American dog tick, the Lone Star tick, the Deer tick, and the Brown dog tick. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis are the more commonly encountered tick borne diseases in animals.
There are several flea and tick preventatives on the market, and some work better than others. It is very important to make sure that any product you plan to use on cats is approved for use in cats. Cats are sensitive to certain flea products and improper use can result in severe toxicity and even death. Vectra 3D, Advantix(dogs only) and Frontline are the most commonly recommended topical flea and tick preventatives, and are applied to your pet on a monthly basis. There are some new oral products on the market for flea and tick control, such as NexGard and Bravecto. There are also some collars that are effective for tick control alone (Preventic) or flea and tick control (Seresto). It is important to treat all animals in the household every month, all year. Flea infestations in particular are much easier to prevent than they are to treat. Talk to your veterinarian about what product is best for your pet.