Tactics to Keep Pets Flea and Tick Free

Cat Itching
Prevention is the key to stopping fleas and ticks from infesting your pets.

Fleas and ticks are constant threats to pets, whether our animals live indoors or outdoors. Fortunately, there are measures we can take to arm our pets — and ourselves — against these relentless enemies.

Fighting Fleas

The occasional flea found on your dog or cat may not seem like much of a burden. However, if left untreated, a few fleas quickly give rise to more fleas and before long, your pet will be crawling (or jumping!) with them.

Animals with fleas may develop  flea allergy dermatitis, which is an allergic reaction to flea saliva. The resulting lesions are extremely itchy, and hair loss (caused by the pet’s licking, chewing and scratching to relieve the itching) may be noticeable. In addition to suffering from physical discomfort, heavily infested animals are particularly vulnerable to excessive blood loss and can develop anemia, which can be life-threatening if left untreated.

As well as being physically aggravating to your pet (and you), fleas can cause other problems. For example, fleas can transmit bacterial diseases, and ingestion of fleas by you or your pet may lead to tapeworm infections. To determine if an animal is suffering from a flea problem, veterinarians look for characteristic lesions and scabbing, fleas and “flea dirt," which is adult flea feces. Fleas and ticks can transmit diseases to your pets that, in turn, can be passed on to you. By controlling these parasites, you protect your whole household.

Several fleas can quickly become a flea infestation. Flea larvae (immature fleas) hide in floor cracks, along baseboards, under rug edges and in furniture or bedding. The larvae develop to form a pupa (sort of like a cocoon) and can emerge as adults after a few weeks. Adult female fleas can produce thousands of eggs, which then hatch. This cycle will continue unless it's interrupted.

Managing an established flea problem in your home can be challenging. Clearly, flea prevention is the better choice.

A variety of products safely control fleas on pets. Several topically applied products offer a safe and convenient method of flea control and generally last for up to a month after treatment. These products kill adult fleas and some also prevent flea eggs from hatching and kill larvae. Effective oral medications and collars are also available. Your veterinarian can advise you on which product or combination of products is best for your pet.

Tackling Ticks

Ticks are another group of dangerous invaders. It's possible you may find only one tick feeding on your pet, but regardless of their numbers, ticks can carry serious diseases, including:

  • Lyme disease. One of the biggest tick-transmitted threats in certain areas of the U.S., Lyme disease can cause fever, lameness, loss of appetite and swollen or painful joints in pets. 
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever. A serious infection that can be transmitted by infected ticks throughout the country, it can cause arthritis, bruising, decreased appetite, fever and swollen or painful joints in pets. 
  • Ehrlichiosis. In pets, this potentially chronic infection can cause decreased appetite, weight loss, bleeding, depression and fever.

It's critical that you deal with a tick problem before it exists, not after you notice feeding ticks on your pet. And ticks are not just active in the warmer months, which is a common misconception. For that reason, tick preventives should be used year-round in some regions.

Many of the products recommended for flea prevention are also effective against ticks. Work with your veterinarian to devise the most effective regimen for your pet. Used correctly and regularly, these products can keep your dog or cat safely protected against fleas and ticks. If you notice a tick feeding on your pet (or you), remove the tick by grasping it with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently plucking it straight out, being careful to not leave the mouthparts behind.

My Pet Is on a Preventive Product, so Why Do I Still See Fleas and Ticks?

If you've just started your pet on a flea-control product, especially if you had a severe infestation, it may take a while to completely rid your pet — and house — of fleas. Flea infestations may require thorough treatment of all affected areas, and several treatments may be required. To ensure success, it's also essential to have all pets in the household treated.

If your pet is on a preventive regimen, don’t be alarmed if you find an attached tick. It doesn’t mean the product isn’t working. Although some preventive products repel ticks before they attach, some products don’t actually prevent ticks from attaching. If you have concerns, discuss options with your veterinarian.

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