Fleas & Ticks
Flea And Ticks: Is My Pet At Risk?
Fleas and ticks can attach themselves to your pet as they go about their daily routines–they are present in nearly all 50 states, from tropical Florida to chilly Washington. Pet owners may already know that fleas and ticks thrive in one of your pet's favorite and most frequent playgrounds–the backyard (fleas thrive in moisture and shade of grass, and ticks enjoy tall grass they can hide in), but some pet owners may be unfamiliar with other places these parasites could be pouncing on your pets.1 Fleas are capable of jumping close to a foot in the air vertically to jump onto your pet, and ticks can latch on to their victims for up to five days to feed without the victim even knowing.2,3 Fleas also jump from animal to animal. Because it is so easy for a pet to pick up fleas and ticks, it is also easy for these parasites to hitch a ride on your pet and begin to infest your home as well. Anytime your pet goes out into the world – even if only for short walks around the block; play dates at the local park; a visit to the veterinarian; a stint at the boarding kennel; a trip to the groomer; a ride in the car; etc.–he or she is being exposed to the opportunity for parasites to hop aboard.
How do I know if my pet has fleas and/or ticks?
- The first sign of fleas on a dog or cat is often unrelenting scratching. If you have a light-colored pet or one without a lot of fur, check it for very small flat brown insects and little brown flecks. Scrape a couple of those brown flecks onto a paper towel, add a few drops of water and smear them. If the result causes red dots or smears on the paper towel, that is a sign of fleas.
- Symptoms of a severe flea infestation can include bumps, a rash, raw red wet areas, hair loss around the base of the tail and an unpleasant odor.
- If you suspect your pet has fleas, consult your veterinarian. If she confirms their presence, all of your pets and the environment you share will need to be treated for fleas.
- Ticks attach to their host and take a blood meal for hours and sometimes days, so you may find an attached tick with its head burrowed under your pet's skin. The tick may have already bitten and detached, so it's not uncommon for pet parents to miss tick bites on their pets.
- You can read more about identifying ticks and fleas
How do pets get fleas/ticks?
- Fleas are the most common external parasite found on pets. They are capable of jumping close to a foot in the air vertically, making it easy for dogs, outdoor cats, and you to carry fleas home. 2
- When a flea jumps onto your pet, it will start feeding within 5 minutes and may suck blood for up to 2 ½ hours. A single flea can live on your dog or cat for almost 2 months! 3
- Cats and dogs aren't the only ones who suffer once a flea hitches a ride. They can propel themselves onto humans, in our hair and our bedding, carpets and furniture cushions, causing an infestation in your home. Because fleas reproduce so abundantly, a single flea can cause an infestation. The key to stopping a flea outbreak is to stop the flea life cycle.
- Spring and summer are prime time for flea infestations. Fleas thrive in warm, humid climates at temperatures of 65 to 80 degrees.
- Ticks hang out in grass, shrubs, bushes, and trees and then catch a ride on the nearest warm body. You may not be able to tell at first if a tick has bitten you or your pet.
- When a tick latches on, it spits out a local anesthetic so the victim doesn't feel it. Once attached on your pet, can feed for up to five days.3
Why are fleas and ticks a danger to our pets?
Flea infestations can quickly get out of control because fleas lay eggs in such large numbers. At a rate of 40 to 50 per day for around 50 days, a single female flea can produce 2,000 eggs in her lifetime.3,4 Some pets develop severe allergies to flea saliva, called Flea Allergy Dermatitis, and develop signs, such as itching, that may last long after the fleas have gone.3 Fleas are also responsible for transmitting the dog tapeworm, Dipylidium Caninum, to dogs, cats and even humans. In addition, fleas can spread bacterial diseases, too.1,3 Huge numbers of newly developed adult fleas can then remain dormant inside cocoons or nests in your home for weeks to months. When the conditions are right–a combination of heat, carbon dioxide and movement–will they emerge from these cocoons as young and hungry adult fleas, which will bite your pet.1,3
Ticks can cause serious disease, including Lyme disease, paralysis and anemia.5 Ticks can be found in most states across the US.
How can we prevent fleas/ticks?
To avoid infestations, many veterinary professionals recommend using an oral or spot-on flea and tick product, all year long to break the flea life cycle and limit bloodsucking ticks from hitchhiking into your living room. Many flea and tick preventatives products kill adult fleas in your pet's immediate surroundings, and some products may also makes sure that any newly hatched fleas that jump onto your pet won't last long. Consult your veterinarian to select the best products to protect your pets from fleas and ticks.
How do we treat our pets for fleas once they've been infested?
- Help your pet break the flea life cycle with a flea treatment. It's important to treat your pet for at least 3 consecutive months, to break the flea life cycle.
- Clean the house meticulously on the same day
- Flea larvae burrow deep into fabrics, bedding and carpeting, so wash all of these items at a high temperature.
- Vacuum your carpets and furniture to remove eggs, larvae and cocoons, and discard the vacuum cleaner bag.
Should I protect my indoor pets from fleas/ticks?6
- Indoor pets are also at risk to get fleas and ticks. Pet owners may think that because their pet stays inside they do not need to use a flea & tick preventative, but cats love to relax on the windowsill and many pets investigate areas of the home that may pose some risk, such as the garage, porch and entryway.
- Fleas and ticks affect pets in both cold and warm climates. When it gets cold outside, indoor fleas continue to thrive with help from central heating, making year-round protection extra important.
- Living in an urban area isn't insurance against fleas and ticks. Access to outdoor spaces, coming in contact with visiting pets and taking trips outside of the city can all put your pet at risk.
- Fleas and ticks can hitch a ride on clothes, shoes and other objects coming in from outside, so humans and other pets might be bringing these pests indoors unintentionally!
- If your pet visits a boarding facility or daycare, she may be exposed to other animals and situations where risk for contracting fleas and ticks are high.
So yes, nearly all dogs and cats are at risk of picking up fleas & ticks! Your risk increases in households with more activity and pets with a busy social calendar. Since most dogs and cats will pick up fleas at least once in their lifetime, be sure to know what to look for and how to prevent your dog or cat from catching these parasites. Your veterinarian can help you determine which products will work best for your pet.
Written by Katryna Peart, proud pet parent to Ichigo, an 8 year old Yorkie, and Oliver, a very fluffy 3 year old Ragdoll cat.
- Rothschild, Miriam, et al. "THE FLYING LEAP OF THE FLEA." Scientific American, vol. 229, no. 5, 1973, pp. 92–101. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/24923246.
- Blagburn BL, Dryden MW. Biology, treatment, and control of flea and tick infestations. Vet Clin N Am Small Anim Pract. 2009; 39(6):1173–1200.
- Dryden M, Rust M. The cat flea: biology, ecology and control. Vet Parasitol. 1994; 52:1–19.