Fleas and Ticks and why it’s vital to treat your pets regularly to prevent illness or infestation
Flea bites are just as itchy for our pets as they are for us humans and some animals can develop allergies to their saliva too, with extreme irritation and itching as a result.
As we are coming into the warmer, sunnier weather fleas and ticks will become more prevalent so here’s what to look out for and how best to minimise the risk of your pet being affected.
Fleas are dark brown parasites that are approximately 1-2mm long. You’re most likely to notice black specks (or flea dirt) in your pet’s fur when combing them or separating the fur on the back of the neck or on the back near to the base of the tail. You may also find flea dirt, or fleas themselves, on your pet’s bedding, where they lay, or even in the carpet.
Fleas can spread very fast – one flea can lay up to 250 eggs which can hatch in 7 days, so it doesn’t take many fleas to start an infestation!
Fleas thrive in warm, humid environments which means late summer is the peak season for fleas on pets, although central heating in winter means you’ll need to de-flea them throughout the year. If your cat is a hunter, if you have a working dog or your pet spends a lot of time outside then they will be more susceptible to getting fleas.
To test whether your pet has fleas, put some of the black specks onto a damp piece of tissue. The specks will turn red because of the blood they contain.
Flea treatments are usually given monthly although there is a new oral treatment that lasts for 3 months. You will need to treat all the animals in the household at the same time as fleas can jump from one animal to another.
The only effective treatments are either spot on products or oral tablets. Up to a few years ago, the only available spot-on product was one containing Fipronil, which was very effective in its day but has now become ineffective. The licence for the product has been sold to a wide range of companies and most over-the-counter products are just Fipronil. We treat hundreds or animals whose owners thought they were doing the right thing by applying these useless chemicals to their pets.
Several of the newer oral products are very well accepted by pets and in fact it is important to make sure they cannot find the packet and eat all of the tablets at once.
We have changed our recommendation to owners so that treatment for fleas also includes tick control after a number of dogs developed Babesiosis (a malaria-like parasitic disease) last year and in fact the most effective oral products are also effective against ticks.
If your pets should show signs of fleas, then it is important to remember that the house will also have thousands of flea eggs in the carpets, cracks in the floor, under the skirting, etc.
Most household sprays are very effective in killing the adult flea, but do nothing though the flea eggs, which will then hatch in a week or so. It is important to use a spray that has a growth inhibitor. To date, only 5 of them do. Using the other sprays is a futile exercise. Hoover the area first to bring any eggs and larvae to the surface, treat the area then hoover again to get rid of the debris. Please remember to ventilate the room well and don’t use sprays in a room where there is a fish tank.
Unfed ticks are the size of a pin-head. They have 8 legs and vary in colour from red to tan coloured or dark brown. They burrow their heads underneath your pet’s skin and feed on their blood. Once fed, ticks can swell to the size of a pea.
You’ll usually find ticks on your pet’s head or neck area – they can look like a wart but on closer inspection, you can see the legs. If your pet has thick fur, you can check for ticks by parting their fur and running your fingers along their skin. Ticks can often be found in tall grass or plants in wooded areas and are more common in the early Spring.
The range of tick species is rapidly increasing in the UK as a result of climate change and the movement of pets overseas. The range of tick-borne diseases is also increasing and we are starting to need more advanced products to prevent them.
Your Veterinarian will be able to advise which is the best treatment for your pet.
How are ticks removed?
It is important to use a tool to get under the tick’s mouthparts in order to remove them. Don’t be tempted to pull the tick off your pet as you could leave the head and mouth part inside the skin. Squeezing the tick with fingers or the wrong appliance can result in the contents of the tick, including any disease they carry being ‘injected’ into the pet. There are a number of suitable tools available to remove ticks safely and effectively.
Once the tick is removed, double check you have the head and all 8 legs.
Can fleas and ticks be fatal?
The simple answer is yes. The incidence of deaths in the UK is low, but both parasites can transmit lethal diseases. Of equal importance is the suffering they cause to countless dogs and cats. Sadly, heavy flea infestations can cause anaemia and death in kittens. Fleas transmit potentially lethal diseases in animals and humans, so it is vital to spot the early signs of fleas and get them treated to prevent further problems. Ticks are equally as painful and able to put your pet’s health at risk by transmitting diseases such as Lyme disease, Babesiosis and Mycoplasma felis which can cause conjunctivitis and respiratory infections.
Did you know?
We have a VIP scheme available to all customers. The scheme allows you to pay in small monthly instalments towards the cost of regular, preventative flea and tick treatments as well as other services at the practice.
You can find more information about our VIP Scheme here or ask at the surgery for more information.