Fleas and ticks aren’t just a nuisance, they’re a serious health threat to pets and people. Every year, illnesses and even deaths occur from the diseases these parasites carry, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fleas can transmit bartenellosis, known as cat scratch disease, and tapeworm, while ticks transmit illnesses such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Take these steps to keep your pets and your home safe from fleas and ticks.
Protect every pet
“One of the biggest misconceptions I hear is ‘My pet doesn’t need flea protection because he’s indoors all the time,’” says Professor Mark Stickney, DVM, at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in College Station, Texas. “But if your pet ever goes outside—or if you ever go outside—you’re at risk for bringing in fleas because they are expert hitchhikers.” In addition, some pets may suffer from an allergic reaction after a single flea bite, leading to constant scratching, chewing, skin sores and bacterial infection.
People often stop using flea and tick control around Thanksgiving, but your pet needs year-round protection. In fact, your cozy house is the perfect environment for infestation. One flea can lay up to 30 eggs per day that fall off your pet and hatch in your carpet. “Once fleas get a foothold indoors, their population grows exponentially,” says Stickney.
Outdoors, the threat of ticks is always present because they can lay up to 5,000 eggs at once and they’re extremely hardy. “They’re more resistant to humidity and temperature variations than fleas, so any time of year is tick time,” says Stickney. Even the harshest winters do not obliterate ticks.
Choose the right products
There are a variety of options to kill and repel fleas and ticks available through your veterinarian’s office, including oral medications, topical spot-on treatments and collars. Discuss with your vet which option is best for your family, and ask about the vaccination to prevent Lyme disease in dogs (there is no vaccine for cats).
Although over-the-counter flea treatments are available, they often contain older formulas that are less effective because over time fleas have developed a resistance to them, says Stickney. Most importantly, always read labels before using any treatment or medicine on your pet because some products are toxic to cats.
Inspect your pet regularly
Finding evidence of fleas enables you to deal with an outbreak immediately. “Use a fine-toothed flea comb on your pet to look for flea dirt,” says Debbie Chew, DVM, practicing veterinarian and owner of East Greenbush Animal Hospital in East Greenbush, New York. “If you find black specks, place them on a damp white paper towel. If they turn red when wet, fleas have been taking a blood meal on your pet.” As for ticks, examine your dog daily from head to toe after a romp outdoors, looking and feeling for ticks, which can be as tiny as a poppy seed.
Avoid home remedies
No matter what you may have read on the Internet, home remedies such as garlic collars, citrus sprays, herbal concoctions and ultrasonic devices do nothing to repel or kill fleas and ticks, says Stickney. In fact, some ingredients, such as garlic, can be toxic to pets if ingested. “None of these home remedies have been through any sort of controlled study to prove they work,” says Stickney. “If home remedies did work, we would have figured out how to kill these parasites hundreds of years ago.”
By Arricca SanSone