Dog itching himself in a field
Fleas and ticks are more than just annoying pests — they can cause real health problems for your pets. But with some simple steps, you can help protect your furry friends from these parasites and prevent any discomfort. Here are the top seven ways to do it.

1. Treat for fleas and ticks year-round.
While it’s true that fleas and ticks are more common in the summer months (they thrive in temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees), some can also survive indoors during the winter — even in cold climates. For this reason, many veterinarians recommend year-round preventive measures to protect pets. There are many products from which to choose — check with your vet for the best one to meet your pet’s individual needs. Make sure you read and carefully follow your veterinarian’s instructions for how and when to use the product. This is the best way to guarantee that it will effectively protect your pet.

2. Do not use old preventive products.
If you’ve been hanging onto old flea or tick products, it is probably time to trade them in for something new. Old products, especially ones past their expiration date, can lose effectiveness. And you always want to check with your vet about new brands or products in the marketplace that may work better than what you’ve traditionally been using.

3. Do not use a canine product on cats. 
Some flea and tick preventives that are formulated for dogs contain an ingredient that is toxic to cats. It can cause very severe reactions in cats, which require immediate veterinary care. The product label will clearly indicate the species for which it has been approved. Be sure to use products only as intended.

4. Do regular tick checks.
If you and your pet have been in an area that might have ticks, be sure to do a tick check once you’re indoors, inspecting your pet’s skin, ears and armpits for ticks. Deer ticks, for example, have to bite your pet and be attached for approximately 24 hours in order to transmit the pathogen that causes Lyme disease, so the best way to prevent transmission is finding and getting rid of any ticks as soon as possible. And though not every tick bite transmits a disease, it’s a good idea to alert your veterinarian that your pet has been bitten. You’ll also want to monitor your pet’s behavior for any changes, such as lethargy, limping or loss of appetite.

5. Groom your pet regularly.
Grooming is a great way to spend quality time with your pet. It also helps you keep an eye out for any external parasites that may be hiding under your pet’s haircoat.

6. Clean up your yard.
Along with keeping a well-maintained house, be sure to clean up your yard, too. Mow your lawn regularly, as ticks tend to like high grasses. Fleas prefer warm, moist, shady areas with organic debris. Raking leaves, brush and clippings from your yard will give fleas fewer places to hide and breed.

7. Get regular checkups.
One important thing your veterinarian does during your pet’s routine checkup is examine him for any signs of parasite problems to help ensure that the preventive product you are using is working effectively. However, you should contact your veterinarian right away if you have questions at any time about the product.

Conditions Caused By Fleas and Ticks

Fleas and ticks can cause a number of health problems in pets. Keeping your pet flea- and tick-free not only makes him comfortable, but it also helps him stay healthy, by avoiding these problems:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis is an allergic reaction to flea saliva. It can cause itching, inflammation and hair loss.

  • In very young or very small pets with extreme flea infestations, significant blood loss from flea bites can lead to anemia, the signs of which include pale gums, weakness and fatigue. Readily apparent fleas and scratching should alert you to contact your veterinarian.

  • Although they are not transmitted directly by flea bites, fleas commonly cause tapeworms. This occurs during grooming if a pet ingests a flea that is carrying tapeworm larva. Contact your veterinarian if you notice your pet itching around his anus, or if you spot what looks like rice around his anus or in his feces.

  • Lyme disease is one of the biggest tick-transmitted threats in certain areas of the country and can cause swollen joints, lameness, poor appetite and fever in pets.

  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a serious infection that can cause fever, decreased appetite and painful joints and muscles in pets. Despite its name, Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be transmitted by infected ticks in other areas of the country.

  • Ehrlichiosis can be a mild or serious infection. Your pet may experience depression, appetite loss, a high fever, or bleeding problems.
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