feral dog scratchingWhile the phrase “flea-bitten hound” may make you grin, fleas crawling all over a hapless dog or cat is no laughing matter. Fleas carry serious diseases and can make life miserable for animals and humans alike.

Leaping Beasties

Meet Ctenocephalides felix, also known as the “cat flea”. The cat flea is a parasite that, despite its name, preys on virtually every mammal in North America. In addition to siphoning blood from their host, flea bites cause virulent itching, flea-allergy dermatitis, and if not controlled, a severe infestation can lead to anemia and even death.

If your pet happens to eat a flea harboring tapeworm larvae during grooming, your pet will get tapeworms, which can then be passed on to other pets — and even to you and your family. Tapeworms enjoy a singularly revolting lifestyle: they bury their heads in the lining of an animal’s intestines and divert nutrients from their host to themselves. Tapeworms measuring as long as two feet in length have been found clogging the digestive systems of unlucky hosts. If these parasites become too numerous, it can result in malnutrition and even starvation.

There’s more bad news: one pregnant flea can produce prodigious numbers of offspring. Under the right conditions, thousands of blood-sucking insects can infest your entire home. Getting rid of them will be nasty, expensive, toxic, time consuming, and work-intensive.

Crawling Beasties

Ticks are even more disgusting than fleas and are certainly more dangerous. Dermacentor variabilis, the American dog or wood tick, is not an insect but an arachnid. Ticks are attracted to carbon dioxide and warmth; when they sense these they may drop onto passersby from above or crawl onto the feet of a standing animal. Once aboard their host, ticks bury their heads into the host’s skin and begin to suck blood. While that would be bad enough, ticks can also transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis – diseases that, if not promptly treated, can cause organ damage, debilitation, and even death.

Prevention is Fast, Easy, and Effective

Luckily, advances in flea and tick prevention make keeping fleas and ticks off your pet and out of your home easier than ever. Your veterinarian has powerful flea and tick preventatives that not only kill all varieties and stages of fleas and ticks, but keep them off for extended periods.

Not all topical flea and tick preparations are the same, however. Beware over-the-counter flea and tick treatments from the drug store. Not only do they not all work the same way, some can be dangerous – for instance, preparations for dogs can be deadly to cats! Pregnant or lactating females, and very young, old, or sick pets also require special handling. Your vet will make sure your pet receives the most effective and appropriate preventative available.

If you find fleas, ticks, or other nasty hitch-hikers on your pet this summer, call us and come in. We will create a flea and tick prevention program tailored especially to your pet’s needs. We’re always happy to answer questions, pest-related or otherwise.