Fleas, Ticks, and Your Pet

As summer is winding down, you may think that the time to worry about fleas and ticks on your pet is also winding down. That is definitely not true! Fleas and ticks can live all year in our area, especially if we have a mild winter. Even if winter is cold, the main season for ticks is late summer and fall. Now is the time to be diligent about flea and tick prevention for your pets! Today we will share some fun facts about these creatures, as well as what you can do to keep them off of your pets!

Fascinating Fleas

How much do you know about fleas? Fleas are a type of insect, with 6 legs. They are typically about 1/8 inch long, with a very thin body. They are excellent jumpers, able to jump 150 times their own height. This is similar to a 6 foot tall man jumping 900 feet in the air! There are over 2500 species of fleas, but the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis, to be exact) is the most common species of flea to infest cats and dogs. The life cycle of the flea consists of 4 main stages—egg, larva (with 3 stages), pupa, and adult.

flea
Source: University of Wisconsin La Crosse

Adult fleas are the only life stage that lives on your pet. An individual adult flea can live from a few weeks to several months on one pet, and they typically live on the same pet their whole adult life. A female flea can lay up to 2000 eggs in her lifetime! After the eggs are laid on the pet, they fall off into the environment in which the pet is living. The eggs typically hatch in 2-5 days, into the larval fleas. Larval fleas develop into the pupal stage in about 1-3 weeks. The pupal flea is basically an adult flea in a hard shell. The pupal flea typically emerges as an adult in 1-2 weeks, although they can remain in the shell for up to 4 months. When the pupal flea senses your pet’s body heat and the carbon dioxide in its breath, it emerges as the adult flea to catch a ride on your dog or cat.

Adult fleas typically start feeding very soon after getting onto your pet. A flea can eat up to 15 times its own body weight in blood daily! The fleas biting to feast on your pet’s’ blood is what causes your pet’s intense itching. You may notice the fleas moving around on your pet, or you may notice the flea “dirt”, or feces. This appears as small black specks which turn reddish-brown when gotten wet.

In addition to making your pets miserable, fleas can also transmit diseases such as typhus, plague and intestinal tapeworms. Severe infestation can cause severe anemia (low red blood cell levels), and some animals are affected by an allergy to the flea’s’ saliva. Flea allergies can cause severe inflammation, hair loss, and secondary infection. To prevent all of these diseases, as well as to keep your pet comfortable, we recommend year-round flea prevention for all pets. We will talk more about prevention after learning about the other main external parasite to be concerned about—ticks!

Terrible Ticks

Ticks are a type of arachnid, related to spiders and scorpions. There are at least 850 tick species worldwide, but only 5-6 species that affect pets in our area of the country. All tick species have 4 stages of their life cycle—egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Unlike fleas, all stages of ticks (except the eggs) attach to and feed off of animals. The larval and nymph stages typically feed on birds or rodents, but they can be found on your dogs or cats as “seed ticks”, as small as the period at the end of this sentence. All species of ticks have this general life cycle, but the time of the year when they affect your pet varies by tick species. Here are pictures of the most common types of ticks in our area.

adult
Source: Centers for Disease Control

The nymph stage of ticks have 3 pairs of legs, while adult ticks have 4 pairs of legs. They cannot jump or fly. When the ticks sense your pet’s odor, body heat, and humidity nearby, they crawl up onto grass, bushes, or trees, and crawl onto the pet. The ticks imbed their mouthparts into the pet’s skin to begin feeding on the pet’s blood. The tick will remain attached to the pet for several days. When it is engorged with blood, it will fall off. The female ticks will then lay their eggs, from 3000 to 6000 at a time!

Ticks can transmit several serious diseases to your dog or cat. The most common diseases transmitted to dogs from ticks are Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Tick Paralysis. While these are usually treatable with medication, we’d rather keep the ticks from transmitting them in the first place! While cats are rarely affected by these diseases, they are affected by Cytauxzoon, a blood parasite transmitted by ticks. Unfortunately, Cytauxzoon (also known as Bobcat Fever) usually proves fatal, making it even more important to protect your cats from ticks!

Flea and Tick Treatment and Prevention

We are lucky now to have several great options for flea and tick treatment and prevention. This prevention is recommended year-round for all pets, since a mild winter can mean fleas and ticks are with us even in the coldest months. Frontline Plus and Nexgard are products that treat and prevent both fleas and ticks. Frontline Plus is for dogs and cats, is topical, and kills both adult fleas and flea eggs and larva. It is waterproof, but should not be applied right before or right after a bath—wait at least 24 hours for the skin’s natural oils to be replenished. Frontline Plus kills ticks on contact, so they don’t have to attach to your pet in order to be killed. Nexgard is a chewable prevention for dogs only. It is a great option when you have small children or multiple pets; you don’t have to worry about the topical medications rubbing off. Nexgard kills adult fleas before they have time to lay eggs. It does require the flea or tick to bite the pet, but after that it kills the parasites very quickly. Both of these products are given once monthly. There are also products available that kill and prevent fleas but not ticks, for pets that are truly not exposed to ticks. Please give our office a call at 618-526-7851 to learn more about all of these products.