Bad Things Come in Small Packages – Ticks, Fleas, and Your Pet

General Discussion Mar 20, 2013 No Comments

Bad Things Come in Small Packages – Ticks, Fleas, and Your Pet

By Erica Gledhill, cert AHT

Once again, spring is just around the corner!  As the snow starts to melt away (or at least we hope it will….) and the temperatures rise, we all start spending a lot more time outdoors, our pets included. Because of this, we need to start thinking about the prevention of parasites for our four legged family members. Firstly, it is vital to know what types of parasites your pet may be exposed to and how we can help prevent them from bringing these insects into your home! This blog will focus on Fleas and Ticks, their life cycles, what diseases they can carry and how to prevent them.

Ticks

In the past few years the incidence of ticks and tick-borne diseases has risen dramatically even in the West Island of Montreal. Warming climate conditions, urban infiltration into wildlife habitat and increased “hitchhiking” of infected animals from the United States are the main reasons for this.

The life cycle for the tick starts with an adult biting a deer, dog or raccoon. They lay their eggs, which hatch into larvae. These larvae turn into nymphs. At both of these stages they feed off of small mammals (which harbor the diseases that the ticks may acquire). Next, the nymph feeds on a dog, leaves that host, and then develops into an adult. These ticks also latch onto birds, which can carry these ticks to areas where we wouldn’t normally find ticks…and this is one of the reasons that even in the city, we need to focus on prevention!

Tick_before_and_after_feeding

Ticks find their hosts by sensing body heat, vibrations, moisture and body odors. They tend to hang out in grasses and on shrubs waiting for the next host to walk by. Ticks can’t jump but, they do what is called ‘Questing’. They position themselves with their front legs outstretched to grab onto the next host that walks by. Once they are on their host they attach themselves by cutting the skin and inserting a feeding tube. The dog or cat doesn’t feel this because there is an anesthetic property in the saliva! The tick may feed for several hours or slowly for several days.

Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis. These are transmitted in the saliva of an infected tick. Your veterinarian can provide you with an annual screening blood test to see if your pet has been exposed to any of these diseases. Early detection is very important for a lifetime of good health as antibiotic treatments can be started right away. It is important to know that these diseases may be fatal to your pet. When I first became an Animal Health Technician in the Montreal area, we rarely saw cases of Lyme disease. Now we see positive Lyme’s blood test results weekly at our hospital during tick seasons (spring and fall).

Fleas

Now for fleas…they are a whole different kettle of fish!

A flea can live for 30 to 40 days on your pet and a female flea can produce anywhere from 20-50 eggs per day! Holy moly!! These eggs are smooth and round and fall off of your pet. They will develop in the environment to form larvae. These larvae like to live in warm dark places, like in your carpet or your pet’s bed, for another 2-3 weeks. They will then spin themselves into a cocoon, called the pupae stage, where they will develop into adult fleas. At this stage a flea can stay alive in its cocoon for up to 12 MONTHS, until they are stimulated to hatch. They especially like to “wake up” in the cool spring weather.

flea

Fleas are not just a nuisance. They can cause medical problems as well. An adult flea can bite your pet up to 400 times per day. So, if your pet has a severe infestation, he may become anemic, develop flea allergy dermatitis and fur loss. Your pet may also get tapeworm if they ingest a flea that has a tapeworm cyst!

 

 

 

So where does your pet get fleas?

    1. An infested environment (a home, boarding facility, groomer, your garden, the woods, the park…)
    2. Other animals (dogs, cats, raccoons etc.. )

Did you know that even your indoor cat can get fleas??? Fleas can infest your indoor cat from your dog carrying them and from neighbouring cats that come to your door (where carpets, door mats, grass, etc can become infested and fleas jump onto your cat under the door!).

Prevention is key

So how can we help our pets stay safe and parasite free?

      1. It would be a good start by checking your dog or cat regularly for external parasites and call your vet immediately if you find a parasite.  Fleas are hard to see, and once you see one flea on your dog or cat, you likely have thousands on and around your pet! Ticks are often found on the head, neck and chest of your dog or cat (this is the area that is first to hit the high grasses etc that the ticks are hanging out on). Ticks are difficult to remove completely and if removed partially (the biting head remaining in the skin), then it could lead to infection and further transmission of Lyme or other tick-borne diseases. Your veterinary team can help show you how to remove a tick properly or will be happy to do it for you.
      2.  Be prudent, and check your dog and cat every day for ticks and fleas.

      3. Some veterinarians are including Lyme disease vaccines as part of the core vaccine schedule for dogs. This vaccine will help protect your dog from Lyme disease if they happen to come in contact with an infected tick (please note that vaccines are never 100% effective).
      4. Research has come a long way in the field of flea and tick prevention and treatment. The icky shampoos, toxic animal and environmental sprays, etc. are no longer necessary. Phew! Veterinarians can provide you with oral or topical medications for your pet that are effective and safe.  While these medications do not stop the transmission of disease, they will stop the life cycle of the parasite.  Some medications kill the adult ticks and fleas, while other medications break the life cycle of the fleas by preventing the flea eggs from developing into adult fleas.
      5. If your pet has been exposed to fleas and treatment has begun, one needs to do a super cleaning of the home…  vacuum more frequently and throw out the vacuum bags, wash your own sheets in hot water (if your pet goes on your bed) and wash or throw out your pet’s bed if it isn’t washable.
      6. Please be extremely wary of products sold without prescription at stores carrying pet supplies, etc. Some of these products are toxic to your pets, especially to cats, and may not be effective. Your veterinarian is the best person to ask for advice on what products are best and safest for your pet.
My own story

As a technician I have had my own experiences with both fleas and ticks. One of the greatest lessons that I learned was from my own little dog ‘Sassy’. She is an old girl and only roams in my backyard in TMR and goes for short walks around the block. I was shocked to find out that a tick that I found on her (which was dead because of a preventative product that I used) was positive for Lyme disease. Miss Sassy had not been feeling well and I thought that it was due to old age. In the end, after a blood test confirming that she actually had Lyme disease and after a six week treatment of antibiotics, I finally got my little friend back to her healthy and happy self.

Happy Spring Everyone!!

For more information about ticks in your area and what to do about keeping your animals safe, please visit www.dogsandticks.com or give us a call at 514-674-2004.

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