What Every Pet Owner Should Know About Preventing Fleas and Ticks

Ticks: Expanding Their Disease-Carrying Reach

Like fleas, ticks can now be found throughout most of the country. Though the severity of tick infestations varies by region, ticks are now spreading into areas that previously had very limited tick problems.

Unlike fleas, ticks may not cause dramatic irritation when they attach to your pet’s skin. This lets the tick slowly fill with blood without interference. Before feeding, ticks are often small and easily overlooked; once a tick has eaten and is engorged with blood, it grows in size and often looks bloated. These bloated ticks are usually easier to spot (depending on species—some of them can still be very small), but can be difficult to remove —especially if you aren't used to doing it. If you see a bloated tick, your best bet is to visit your veterinarian so she can remove it and check for any additional ticks.

There are several species of ticks that pose a risk to pets and people. Ticks can be hosts to several types of disease-producing organisms that can be transmitted to pets or people while the tick is feeding. These organisms can cause illnesses like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Again, the lesson here is that it’s best to protect your pets — and yourself — from ticks rather than react to them after the fact.

Most ticks lurk in tall grass or low-hanging bushes and crawl onto pets or people as they walk by. The tick can then travel on the host — that’s you or your pet — to find a suitable place to attach and feed. Considering how stealthy these travelers are, the most reliable plan is to keep your pet on an effective tick preventive all year. Conveniently, many products combine protection from ticks with flea protection. Your veterinarian can recommend a product that is safe and appropriate for your pet.

You can also help prevent ticks by keeping the grass and bushes in your pet’s outdoor area mowed and trimmed. If you’re hiking, camping or playing in untended and possibly tick-infested outdoor areas, wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts and headgear to help prevent tick exposure. Afterward, be sure to check both your pets and your family for ticks.

The Risk-Free Myth

Some circumstances may seem like they’d be guaranteed flea and tick free, but this is not so. There is no such thing as a completely risk-free situation. Pets need prevention in every situation.

Think your indoor pet is safe? Think again. You’ve seen bugs inside your house — fleas and ticks can sneak indoors, too. Even pets who don’t venture outside — such as an indoor cat or a dog who only goes in the yard for potty breaks — are at risk of flea and tick infestation. Granted, their infestation chances are lower than those of outdoor pets, but you can help protect them by using safe and effective flea and tick control products year-round.

And don't assume that there's a flea- and tick-free season. Fall and winter may seem like distant memories at this time of year, but they’re not to be forgotten when it comes to parasite prevention. Fleas and ticks have a way of popping up in the colder months. In fact, flea numbers can surge in the fall in temperate climates.

What’s more, fleas enjoy a wonderful, climate-controlled environment inside your house year-round. They can gain inside access by hitching a ride on outside sources, such as you and your pets, or adult fleas can develop from eggs or larvae that were already hiding in your house. Don’t forget that ticks are extremely tough, too, and can often survive outside even during the winter months. The only way to ensure your dog or cat is safe from fleas and ticks is to keep him on a parasite preventive all year.