Longer days and warmer weather mean more time spent outside for families and their pets.
The last thing families want to think about when they’re having fun on a hike or picnic is the chance that creepy-crawlies like fleas and ticks might make them sick. Unfortunately, they are sharing the great outdoors with these nasty little creatures, especially in wooded areas and in gardens. Your fur babies, in particular, need you to look out for them and help keep them healthy.
Dr. H. L. “Skip” Nelson, VMD, clinician and owner of Glenburn Veterinarians for 39 years, said he sees patients several times a week for flea and tick bites in his small-animal practice that treats dogs, cats and exotics. Although flea season is most active from late June to January, depending on temperature and humidity, fleas are largely a late summer and fall issue. Ticks are most active in spring (nymphs) and fall (adults), he said.
“However, fleas and ticks can be found at virtually any time of the year,” said Nelson, the owner of a chocolate lab, Nova, and rescue cat, Allie.
He said fleas and ticks can cause great discomfort and disease for pets.
“Fleas can cause itching and anemia from blood feeding. They can also get established in homes, and bite owners if hungry enough,” he said. “Ticks transmit disease by taking a blood meal. Borrelia, Anaplasma, and erhlichia are common in this area. These bacterial diseases can cause a number of syndromes in our domestic animals.”
He said dogs, in particular, are potential victims.
“Dogs can be seriously affected by fleas and ticks,” said the veterinarian. “Tick disease can cause joint pain, lameness, and clinical signs of kidney disease in affected dogs. Lyme nephritis can be fatal.”
While disease brought on by ticks affects dogs for the most part, the veterinarian said that “cats seem to be resistant to tick disease locally.”
He noted that there is a fatal tick disease affecting cats in the southeastern United States.
Nelson pointed out your pets don’t have to accompany you on a deep-woods hike to be affected by fleas and ticks. He said fleas are often brought into your yard by rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks.
“They then jump on your pet to take a blood meal, lay their eggs, and drop off, possibly invading your home. Ticks quest on blades of taller grass, and wait for a large mammal such as a deer, dog or human to attach to, possibly transmitting disease after a blood meal,” he said.
“If ticks get established in the home, they can be very difficult to eradicate. Likewise with fleas, but effective house treatment will eliminate 90-plus percent of the invasion.”
Nelson said the best way to combat fleas and ticks is with prevention. Pet owners can start with awareness of the problem and where their pets are most at risk.
“Avoid tall grass and wooded areas, if possible,” he said.
He also recommended using a preventative flea or tick product on your pet that is going to be outside.
“Use an effective flea or tick product, preferably by prescription. Follow label directions,” he said.
Nelson added it is important to check your pet daily for fleas and ticks.
“These parasites can cause life-threatening disease. Consult your veterinary professional for more information,” he said.
Teri Lyon is a mom, grandmom and freelance writer who lives in Glenburn Township with her cat.