FLEAS AND TICKS

By

Karen "Doc" Halligan

Fleas

Flea-related diseases comprise more than 50% of all skin cases in certain areas of the country. Fortunately, common household fleas are easily controlled with preventative measures, and today there are a lot of great products out there to help prevent, kill, and control fleas.

Because the length and severity of flea and tick season varies across the country and changes from year to year depending on the temperature fluctuations and humidity, I recommend some form of flea control all year long. At the very least, you should start flea prevention in the spring to head off an infestation.

Learning more about fleas and their life cycle will help you understand why they become so prolific in such a short period of time and how to avoid an infestation. Although fleas thrive at 65 to 80 degrees F with humidity levels at approximately 80%, they have been known to survive indoors during the winter, even in cold climates. Fleas also travel—as much as one mile in an hour. They will hop inside through an open door or window and are often small enough to come through a window screen. Once inside your home, there's no place a flea can't go. Fleas can be miserable for you and your pet, and not just from the bites. They can bring about a host of serious problems such as:

  •       Severe anemia: This condition is most commonly seen in very young or small pets with high numbers of fleas. Every year, kittens, puppies, and small dogs and cats suffer significant blood loss from fleabites that can actually lead to death from anemia. Signs include pale gums, weakness, and fatigue.
  •       Tapeworms: Cats and dogs develop tapeworms from ingesting a flea that is carrying the tapeworm larva.
  •       Flea Allergy Dermatitis: FAD is the most common allergic skin disease of dogs and cats. Animals that have flea allergy can develop a severe allergic reaction to a protein in the saliva of certain fleas that is left behind from fleabites. This condition causes severe itching, rash, and more. In dogs, it leads to hair loss and infection, usually on the rear legs or at the base of the tail; cats get scabs around the head, neck, and body. Medical treatment is needed.
  •       Plague: In rare cases, cats or dogs can get the bacteria that cause the plague from a rat flea or by ingesting a dead, infected animal. Symptoms include high fever, lethargy, and enlarged lymph nodes. Luckily, the disease is highly treatable if caught early.

Flea facts

  •       Worldwide, there are more than 2,400 species of fleas.
  •       In the perfect environment, a flea can live for up to two years.
  •       The female cat flea consumes 15 times its own body weight in blood daily.
  •       A flea can jump 150 times its own length.
  •       Fleas have been around for 100 million years.
  •       Fleas can live without food for more than 100 days, but on average they live two to three months.
  •       Fleas can go through an entire life cycle, from egg to adult, in as little as 10 to 14 days.
  •       Unlike the mosquito, which eats once and goes off to digest its meal, fleas continue to repeatedly bite their hosts long after their hunger is satisfied.
  •       The most common flea on dogs and cats is the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis.
  •       Cat fleas have been found infesting more than 50 different hosts throughout the world.
  •       In North America, a wide variety of non-domesticated hosts have been reported harboring cat fleas, including coyotes, red and gray foxes, bobcats, skunks, rodents, raccoons, opossums, and ferrets.
  •       Once on the host, the cat flea will initiate feeding within seconds and mating will occur on the host in the first eight to 24 hours, with most females having mated by 34 hours.
  •       Female cat fleas begin egg production within 36 to 48 hours of taking their first blood meal, reach maximum production between four and nine days, and are capable of producing eggs for over 100 days.
  •       Female fleas can lay 2,000 eggs in their lifetime, but the average is 1,348 eggs during their first 50 days on the host, equivalent to producing their body weight in eggs daily.
  •       The life cycle of the fleas involves an egg, larva, pupa, and adult, just like a butterfly.
  •       The pupa stage is the most difficult to kill, as it's very resistant to most chemicals and can stay in this state for up to one year waiting for the proper conditions to hatch.
  •       Cat fleas lay their eggs while on the host, your dog or cat, not in cracks and crevices. Flea eggs are not sticky and readily fall from the host and into their environment.
  •       Once flea eggs are in the environment, they will usually hatch in one to 10 days, depending on the temperature and humidity.
  •       Cat fleas spend their entire lives on your pet. They feed, sleep, and lay eggs, thousands of them, all on the back of your pet.
  •       For the cat flea, no life cycle stage (egg, larva, pupa, or adult) can survive for 10 days at 37.4 degrees F, or five days at 33.8 degrees F.

It's important to realize that only 5% of the total flea population is in the form of adult fleas on your pet. The other 95% is in various stages: 50% eggs, 35% larvae, and 10% pupae that are not readily visible to the naked eye but are in your carpet, furniture, bedding, lawn, and anywhere else your pet walks or lies down.

During feeding, female cat fleas excrete large quantities of incompletely digested blood known as "flea dirt" which dries within minutes into reddish-black pellets that look like pepper. If you place some of this flea dirt on a white paper towel and apply water, it will turn the towel red.

The key to controlling fleas is to interrupt their life cycle at an immature stage so they don't develop into adults. All pets in the household must be treated. When using preventative medication, always read all of the instructions prior to usage and never use on debilitated, very young, sick, or elderly animals without directions from your vet. Never use dog products on cats and vice-versa.

Ticks

Ticks are just plain nasty! They're not insects, they're arachnids (like spiders), and are considered ectoparasites, which means they live on the outside of your pet. There are several hundred different species of ticks in the U.S., with the problematic species varying from region to region. The most commonly encountered tick is the brown dog tick. Ticks are parasites and spend their entire lives looking for an unwilling host. Ticks don't jump or fly; rather, they position themselves on grass, shrubbery, or underbrush so they can hitch a ride with a passing victim, and then dig their heads in and start sucking their food of choice: blood. During feeding, ticks can swell up to more than 50 times their normal size and, like fleas, can cause a life-threatening anemia by bleeding their hosts dry. They can also transmit potentially fatal illnesses to your pet.

Ticks are most often found in and around the pet's ears, on the belly, or on the shoulders, but they can attach anywhere. A tick feeds by burying its head into the host's skin, leaving its body exposed. As it feeds, its body becomes engorged and swollen with blood. Although the body is pretty disgusting, the real danger is the tick's head, which is embedded in the skin. If you remove the tick improperly, you may end up leaving the head behind and putting your pet at risk for infection or abscess. That's why prevention is always the best approach in protecting your pets from ticks. Spring and fall are the two most active times for ticks.

A tick titer is a blood test performed on your pet's blood serum that measures the production of antibodies against disease-causing organisms transmitted by ticks. The titer will help determine whether your pet has been exposed to a tick-borne disease, and if so, which ones. This is important because there are many different types of organisms that ticks can carry and not all of them spread disease. The three most prevalent diseases that are spread by ticks are Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It takes about 24 to 72 hours for ticks to transfer their diseases, so that gives you time to intervene and remove the tick before it has time to hurt your pet.

Tick facts

 

  •       Ticks can transmit many deadly diseases to your pet and family, including Lyme disease, erlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
  •       A female tick can produce up to 20,000 eggs. That's roughly 10 times as many as a flea.
  •       There are more than 80 species of ticks in the U.S.
  •       Ticks secrete a cement-like substance to help them stay attached to the host.
  •       The longer a tick feeds, the greater the risk that it will infect its host with a disease. Removing a tick within 12 to 24 hours after it has begun feeding will reduce the chance of it passing on infectious disease.
  •       A tick will drink up to 100 times its body weight in blood in one feeding.
  •       In severe cases of tick infestation, pets can become seriously ill and even die from severe blood loss.

 

   
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