Every pet owner shudders when they imagine fleas and ticks crawling over their furry friend—and possibly themself. These blood-sucking critters are a constant threat, and keeping your pet safe and healthy includes waging a year-round battle to keep them at bay. Fleas and ticks are already out in full force, so don’t let your guard down this year. To ensure you know what you’re up against, we’ve compiled a list of our most frequently asked questions about fleas and ticks.
Question: How can my pet pick up fleas and ticks?
Answer: Fleas and ticks live outside, hiding out in leaf litter and brush piles. Fleas are highly tuned to recognize a warm body is nearby, and use their powerful back legs to jump onto an unsuspecting host. Female fleas lay approximately 40 eggs per day, so a few fleas can quickly reproduce and cause a full-blown infestation—on your pet, and in your home. Eggs drop off your pet onto furniture and flooring, where they develop as larvae and pupae, before emerging as adult fleas a few weeks later.
Pets commonly pick up ticks in the woods, or in areas with tall grass. Ticks practice questing, where they climb onto the top of a grass blade or shrubbery, and hold on with their front legs outstretched. When a potential host brushes past, they grab on, burrow through their fur, and find the perfect spot to feed.
Q: What happens when a flea bites my pet?
A: Fleas frequently feed on your pet’s blood, and can bite as often as every five minutes. When a flea bites, it leaves behind a tiny amount of saliva, which causes an itchy reaction. A flea bite appears as a small, red bump on your pet’s skin, and although you probably won’t notice flea bites on your pet, you will notice your pet scratching and biting. Severe infestations can cause continually red, itchy skin and hair loss, which typically occurs over the rump.
Q: What happens when a tick bites my pet?
A: Ticks also feed on blood, and require a blood meal to grow, molt, and progress to their next life stage. Females must also feed in order to lay eggs. Once a tick finds a good feeding spot, it latches on, and feeds continuously, becoming engorged with blood. Ticks typically feed from 3 to 10 days, then drop off their host. Ticks release a numbing agent as they burrow their mouthparts into the skin, which is why most pets, and people, aren’t aware of an attached tick.
Q: Can pets become allergic to fleas?
A: All pets are somewhat sensitive to flea saliva, although a small number of pets are allergic to a protein found in the saliva. Their allergic reaction can cause intense itching, skin redness, secondary infections, and hair loss. Although a few flea bites are only mildly annoying to most pets, they can trigger weeks to months of severe inflammation, itching, and misery in allergic pets, so year-round flea prevention is critical.
Q: Can fleas transmit diseases to my pet?
A: Fleas feed most commonly on wild animals, and can pick up a number of diseases from these hosts that can be passed on to your pet, including:
- Murine typhus
- Mycoplasma haemofelis
Small pets, especially tiny kittens and puppies, can lose enough blood from a flea infestation to become anemic, and can potentially die.
Q: Can ticks transmit diseases to my pet?
A: Ticks can also serve as disease vectors, since they often pick up infections from wild animals that can be passed to pets. As ticks feed, bacteria can migrate from their body into the bloodstream of their host, transmitting diseases such as:
- Lyme disease
Most tick-borne diseases require significant attachment time for transmission, and are passed after more than 24 hours of feeding. Although tick preventives cannot repel ticks, they kill ticks shortly after they latch onto your pet, significantly reducing the likelihood of disease transmission.
Q: How can I know if my pet has been exposed to a tick-borne disease?
A: Despite year-round protection, ticks can find their way onto your pet, so we recommend annual tick-borne disease screening for all at-risk dogs, which includes those who go hiking, camping, or spend a significant amount of time outdoors. Some tick-borne diseases can cause long-term effects, and death, if not treated promptly to eliminate the infection, so if you have ever found a tick on your pet while hiking in the woods, or after playtime in your own backyard, disease screening is a good idea.
Q: How can I protect my pet from fleas and ticks?
A: Providing year-round flea and tick prevention is the best way to protect your pet. We carry a number of pet-safe preventive products, and a Leawood Plaza Animal Hospital team member can help you decide which product best fits your pet’s needs. Never use a flea and tick product without first consulting our veterinary team, as many products purchased at warehouse and pet stores can cause severe reactions, and death, if used incorrectly. In addition to using parasite preventives, discourage fleas and ticks from choosing your pet as a host by cleaning up leaf litter and brush piles in your yard, and avoiding tall grass while walking or hiking.
If it’s time to refill your pet’s flea and tick preventive, or schedule annual disease screening, give us a call. We’re also here to help if you have further questions about fleas and ticks, and your pet’s risk.