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Dog Parasite Prevention - Fleas & Ticks!

Dog Parasite Prevention - Fleas & Ticks!
March 9, 2021

Bright colored clothing, fresh floral blooms, midday hikes in the warm weather, fleas and ticks. Ahhh, it’s finally feeling like Spring. Wait… FLEAS AND TICKS?! The spring and fall seasons in North Carolina are when we receive the most complaints about these pesky little bugs.

It is recommended all animals in the household stay current on flea and tick prevention year round. “But Doc, my dog, Andy, only goes outside to use the bathroom. My cat, Phyllis, stays indoors at all times.” Unfortunately, within seconds of being outside, Andy can be exposed to ectoparasites such as fleas and ticks, or even flea eggs, in the environment. Andy then brings the fleas into your home where they may take a liking to Phyllis. Indoor-only pets can also come into contact with fleas hanging by open windows and screen doors as well as when YOU happen to bring them home on your clothes.

Scratch. Scratch. Scratch. “Okay, so Andy is itchy, what’s the big deal? Okay, wait he just started scratching more - it’s keeping me up at night! Uh oh, his skin is red and he’s losing hair - maybe it’s time for a visit to All Animals Veterinary Hospital…” We treat a LOT of dogs for flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) here at AAVH. This is a common condition in which animals are actually allergic to flea saliva. Flea allergy dogs are excessively itchy and often develop skin lesions. Just ONE bite from ONE flea can cause a reaction in an animal who is allergic! Therefore, dogs do not need to be infested with fleas to exhibit signs of a flea allergy. The most common presentation for a flea allergy dog is hair loss and scratching/biting at the hind end, especially the area from the middle of the back to the tail base. Inflammation of the skin leads to infection -- sometimes bacterial, sometimes fungal, sometimes both. This is why it is important for us to run a skin cytology, a diagnostic technique during which we take a tape impression of your animals’ lesions and look at it under the microscope. Depending on the organisms found on cytology, antibiotics and/or antifungals are often sent home to help clear up the infections, in addition to medications for inflammation and a proper flea/tick preventative. In the long run, it is easier, more comfortable, and less expensive to keep animals on flea prevention than to treat infections secondary to flea allergy dermatitis.

“Alright, Doc so it’s really just the skin I have to worry about, right?” Unfortunately, no! Just like ticks (who carry zoonotic diseases such as Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever), fleas carry diseases that can affect both animals and humans too. Bartonella is the main flea-borne bacterial disease we worry about here in North Carolina. Bartonella, AKA Cat Scratch Fever, can cause mild to severe symptoms with a range of clinical signs including fever, lymph node swelling, and bone pain. Keep your fur kids and your human family safe by keeping all animals in the home up to date on a good flea and tick preventative year round -- not only are you preventing a nuisance, but you are preventing exposure to complicated diseases. Stay tuned for options later on!

Finally, fleas carry an intestinal parasite called tapeworms. Animals can get tapeworms from ingesting adult fleas -- via self-grooming, grooming others, or from the environment. Once ingested, the adult tapeworm develops in your pet’s intestines. You may find little segments of tapeworms in your animal’s stool or bedding -- they look like little grains of rice. Sometimes, you may not see the segments (termed proglottids), but you may notice your pet is scooting his hind end on the floor - excessive scooting can cause local inflammation and infection. Luckily, if you are suspicious your pet has tapeworms, they are easily treated with a medication containing Praziquantel.

“You’ve convinced me - Andy and Phyllis need to be on flea and tick prevention! What kind do you recommend?” There are plenty of products available to prevent fleas and ticks. Our recommendations vary from animal-to-animal so please feel free to call us and discuss what would work best for your specific pet! Over the counter products are available, but we tend to have MUCH better success with the preventatives we carry here at our hospital -- that’s why we carry them!

“I picked up a flea and tick preventative from AAVH, but I’m still seeing fleas - this stuff must not be working!” These medications really do help when given at the proper time intervals. It’s up to YOU to make sure each and every animal in the house remains on flea control and to treat your environment. After taking a blood meal, fleas drop off the animal and deposit their eggs in cracks, crevices and carpeting. A single breeding pair of fleas may produce 20,000 fleas in 3 months. This is why fleas are difficult to eradicate from the environment and why environmental treatment is extremely important in controlling flea issues in pets. Sometimes, you can treat your environment on your own by purchasing a flea spray (non-toxic to animals), vacuuming daily, and washing bedding in warm water at least 3 times weekly. Sometimes, a professional exterminator is needed to control infestations. Either way, be patient with the flea and tick preventative you picked up - AT LEAST 3 full months of treatment are often needed to completely eradicate fleas due to their life cycle as mentioned above.

Let’s save Andy and Phyllis from their itchy little friends together! Let’s keep them on an approved flea and tick preventative year round!