So last week we covered heartworm disease and its prevention. Skipper and Lily line up on the first of the month, all year round, even if there are 4 inches of snow on the ground, to get not one but TWO very special treats. The first is a heartworm/intestinal parasite preventive, and the second is a flea/tick preventive. Whisper, the feline housemate, aka Boss of the House, is not so excited for her topical heartworm/flea/intestinal parasite treatment each month, but a little tuna makes everything better in her world.
Everyone’s familiar with these little jumpy, black bugs. Flea infestations can be quite nasty to control once they’ve taken hold. And this isn’t just a warm weather issue: a flea that hitch-hikes into your warm house with carpet, blankets, baseboards, or rugs to ride out the winter has hit the jackpot and will have no intention of vacating. They can live on wild animals (rodents, squirrels, deer, etc.) and jump on your pet from a shared yard/outside space. Fleas feed off the animal host and lay eggs which fall into the environment (most worrisome, the carpet/floor in your house). Fortunately, they won’t “infest” a human, but they may incidentally bite humans if they jump off their nearby animal host.
If you have seen live fleas on your pet, take care to thoroughly wash any bedding and vacuum carpets/furniture they frequent to remove all flea eggs. Talk to your veterinarian immediately about treatments to kill the adult fleas present on your pet quickly, and preventives to address future generations. A single female flea will start laying eggs within 24 hours of feeding on a pet and can lay 40-50 eggs per day. Eek!
A flea infestation can take months to get under control once it occurs. As the old adage goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!” Better to never see these guys than have to try to get rid of them later. Flea bites are exceptionally itchy to dogs, to the point that some quite literally pull their hair out and/or develop skin infections. Very small/young animals can suffer from anemia in severe cases. Fleas also happen to transmit tapeworms, among other diseases, which can rob an adult or juvenile animal of nutrients.
Ticks are nasty little creatures which can carry several different diseases, including Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Ideally, we prevent the ticks from attaching at all or kill them as quickly as possible once they do attach. Unfortunately, ticks are also fastidious bugs that can survive the winter, even under snow and during frigid temperatures. They tend to bed in leaf debris to survive these cold spells. For this reason, we need to keep all dogs on tick prevention year round. You can also make your yard less tick friendly, by keeping the grass cut short, and remove all leaf litter/debris regularly.
So, how do you prevent these?
I usually recommend giving flea/tick/heartworm prevention on the 1st or 15th of the month, as these dates are the easiest to remember. You can put reminders in your phone calendar to keep on track. Or go old school and use the monthly reminder stickers on the family calendar- super fun for the kids to do!
There are several options for flea/tick control: topical medications, oral medications, or collars.
Topical Medications: These are easy to apply and fairly effective. Just part the pet’s fur, and squeeze the contents of the tube onto the skin. There is an oily carrier (nontoxic to humans/pets) which can leave a little greasy spot for a few days. Some of these products also have the benefit of repelling fleas/ticks, rather than just killing them after they bite. Take care to use only veterinarian approved products. Store labeled products can be caustic and harm your pet’s skin.
Oral Medications: These medications are easy to administer, safe, and very effective. These products are labeled to kill quickly (<24 hours) after a flea/tick bites. They also have the benefit of not leaving that temporary greasy residue behind on the pet’s fur! These products are not designed with a repellant.
Collars: The Seresto collar is a reputable, effective product which kills and repels fleas/ticks. These collars should be replaced every 5-8 months. Frequent swimming/bathing can decrease the duration of coverage for this product, so for those water-lovers, we recommend changing them every 5 months.
Your veterinarian may even recommend a combination of the treatments, such as oral product combined with a Seresto collar for additional coverage, especially in peak tick season (March-September). Keep in mind, that even if a product has been proven to be 99% effective, if a dog is exposed to 100-200 ticks in a day (shockingly not unreasonable in some parts of our state!), 1-2 could easily attach and have a chance to transmit diseases.
It’s recommended to purchase these products through your vet’s office, or approved pharmacy to ensure quality control and avoid counterfeit products that can filter their way onto online markets. Please feel free to ask any of the Aldie vets about which product would best fit your pets’ lifestyle!