Cut Your Pet's Flea and Tick Risk in Summer

Puppy Itching
Warm weather means pets and pet owners are more likely to deal with fleas and ticks.

Warm weather brings with it the increased likelihood that pets and pet owners will have to deal with fleas and ticks and the problems they can cause. The milder temperatures and increased humidity in the summer provide ideal conditions for survival and increased reproduction rates for both of these problem pests. Also, pet owners and their pets are more likely to encounter fleas and ticks during warm-weather strolls or outdoor events. Fortunately, there are many safe and effective flea and tick preventive products that can help us control these parasites. 

Fleas are insects and are related to ants and beetles. Adult fleas feed on our pets’ blood, then mate and produce eggs that fall from the pets’ coat into the environment, and the cycle can continue. 

Flea bites can cause irritation and induce skin allergies in pets. Fleas can also transmit other parasites, such as tapeworms, and diseases to pets and pet owners. Cat scratch disease is a disease of humans caused by a bacteria present in flea feces. The disease is transmitted between cats by fleas. Cats accumulate the bacteria under their claws when they scratch themselves. People are infected when they are scratched by cats whose claws are contaminated. One way to prevent cat scratch disease is to keep fleas from transmitting the agent from cat to cat. Successful flea control can help prevent this and other flea-transmitted diseases.

Ticks belong to a different group of parasites (arachnids) and are related to mites, spiders and scorpions. The most common ticks in the United States include the brown dog tick, American dog tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick, deer tick and Lone Star tick.

Ticks feed on many different animals during their life cycle, including rabbits, squirrels, opossums, dogs, cats, cattle, deer and humans. And for that reason, ticks are very good at transmitting disease: they feed for long periods of time, take in large amounts of blood and are usually distributed over wide areas of the country.

Diseases transmitted by ticks in the United States include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, cytauxzoonosis, ehrlichiosis, hepatozoonosis and tularemia. Some of these diseases can occur in dogs or cats and humans. In fact, Lyme disease is the number one vector-borne disease –– a disease transmitted from one host to another by an insect or arachnid –– of humans in the United States.

Controlling Fleas and Ticks

Flea and tick control is best achieved by placing pets on a preventive product. There are numerous product choices available and your veterinarian can help you determine which is the best option for your pet.

Flea and tick products are available in many forms, including topical spot-ons, oral tablets or liquids and collars. Many products are called "adulticides" because they kill adult fleas or ticks. Most of these products work by paralyzing the nervous system of the flea or tick, resulting in rapid death.

Some products contain ingredients called insect growth regulators (IGRs) that prevent immature flea growth and development. Several products contain both adulticides and IGRs.

Tick-control agents usually prevent ticks from feeding or limit their feeding to as little time as possible. Not only will these products kill the tick, but they will also decrease the probability of disease transmission –– at least, for some diseases.

Choosing an appropriate flea- and tick-control product depends on several factors, including numbers and types of pets in the household, their indoor/outdoor status, the region of the country you live in, whether fleas and/or ticks are the problem, the capability of the pet owner to administer products safely and accurately and other existing pet health conditions. Many professional veterinary organizations, such as the Companion Animal Parasite Council, recommend that all pets be on flea- and tick-control products year-round. 

Your veterinarian is your best source of information; he or she can help you decide which product is best for your dog or cat. This summer, knowing your pet is protected against these pests can help you enjoy your time together that much more.

Additional Control Measures for Fleas and Ticks

  • Vacuum indoor carpets and solid surfaces using a vacuum with a rotating bar.
  • Vacuum furniture using appropriate attachments.
  • Wash bed linens, pet bedding and rugs frequented by pets.
  • Mow lawns regularly.
  • Clear brush, leaves and tall grass from around houses, gardens and walls at property margins.
  • Stack wood off the ground in a dry location away from the house.
  • Clear gardens, including remains of perennial plants, after the growing season.
  • Consult with your veterinarian and a licensed pest-control specialist to assess the need to use pesticides in selected areas in and around your home.

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