Summer can be a great time for you and your pet to enjoy the outdoors. Here’s some information to protect you and your pets against fleas and ticks.
What Are Fleas and Ticks?
Although there are more than 2,000 species of parasitic fleas, the most common ones feed off mammals, including dogs, cats, and humans. Fleas are wingless, dark colored bugs that are very small (1/16 to 1/8 inch). Since fleas do not have wings, they travel from host to host by jumping, and can jump up to 7 inches in the air and several thousand times in a row! Pets living in warm, humid climates and those living outdoors are most vulnerable to fleas.
Ticks are most often found around your dog’s neck, in the ears, in the folds between the legs and the body, and between the toes. Ticks are capable of spreading infectious diseases like Lyme disease, so quick removal is important.
Protecting Your Pet
Prevention is key. Talk with your veterinarian to determine the best available flea and tick prevention method for your pet. There are a variety of products on the market including monthly topical treatments and oral medications. It is much easier to prevent an infestation than to deal with a house full of unwanted pests.
Every pet responds to flea bites differently. For some dogs allergic to flea saliva, a bite can make them so miserable that they bite and scratch themselves raw. Other pets may have a less severe reaction. Left untreated, chronic infestations not only make your dog or cat miserable but also can lead to infections and more serious flea-related diseases. Being aware of the signs and symptoms of flea infestations, along with prompt treatment, will help you keep your pet and their environment a healthy one.
What to Look For: Signs of a Flea or Tick Infestation
Pets are first infested by fleas when they are outside or when they are in contact with another animal that already has fleas. Wildlife, including opossums, raccoons, and skunks, and even untreated cats and dogs can deposit flea eggs into a yard. It may be possible to reduce flea infestations by limiting the access these animals have around your house and yard.
Flea infestations are most easily confirmed by examining your pet. Your dog or cat itching more than usual may be an indicator of fleas or ticks. However, if you are unsure, check with your vet. Not all scratching is necessarily a sign of a flea infestation.
Although they are tiny, you can see fleas scurrying along the surface of your pet’s skin. Fleas do not like light and prefer hiding in your pet’s fur. Their favorite spots include the base of the ears and the rump (just in front of the tail). Look closely at places with less hair like on your pet’s belly and inner thighs; this will provide you with the best chances of spotting a flea.
You can also part your pet’s fur in several places and look for tiny black specks, like pepper scattered on the skin surface. These black specks are known as “flea dirt” and are actually flea feces left on your pet’s coat.
Ticks attach to the body and feed by sucking blood. They do not jump like fleas, but crawl around rather slowly. They climb up grass and plants and hold their legs up to sense passing hosts. When a warm-blooded animal walks by, the adult tick crawls onto them and begins feeding. Ticks can attach themselves to any part of the dog’s skin, but are generally found around the ears, between the toes, and sometimes in the armpits. It is important to promptly remove any ticks to prevent tick-borne diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Getting Rid Of Fleas: Indoor and Outdoor Control & Treatment Methods
Once you’ve established your pet is infested with fleas or ticks, time is of the essence. But be sure to take things one step at a time. First, treat your pet; consult with your veterinarian to find the best treatment option. While your pet is at the vet for its treatment, you will also need to check your home as there’s a chance the infestation may have spread. Your pet and home should be treated simultaneously in order to break the flea’s life cycle.
Fleas: hard to see, difficult to eliminate. Fleas are a formidable pest and have several adaptations making them difficult to kill. Adult fleas can continue to reproduce and thrive on your pet and in your home until you break their life cycle. Under optimal conditions, the flea can complete its entire life cycle – from egg to larva, cocoon, and then adult – in just 14 days. This results in tens of thousands of new fleas to combat! Flea eggs are typically left deep down in your carpet, in your bedding, upholstery, or cracks in the floor. After they hatch in two to 14 days, your problem starts all over again.
Understanding their life cycle is crucial to understanding the importance of treating both the host animal as well as the indoor and outdoor areas. Although many products are available to treat fleas and your pet’s surroundings, the most effective products are those containing both an ingredient to kill adult fleas and an ingredient to kill the other life cycle stages. Simply sprinkling some flea powder or placing a flea color on your pet will not work, as these methods just go after the fleas that you see. That’s not enough to prevent the infestation from repeating itself.
Treating Your Pet
There are many safe and effective products available that will help eradicate fleas and ticks. Consult with your veterinarian, who will confirm the diagnosis and discuss choosing the right flea treatment product and other appropriate treatment options. It is important to tailor your treatment to your pet and their environment, since certain products in combination can be hazardous to your pet’s health. With any treatment it is necessary to treat all of the animals in the home. It is very important not to use products on your dog that are intended for cats (and vice versa). Your veterinarian can also determine the best plan for preventing fleas in the future and ensure your animals’ health and well-being.
Secondly, you will need to thoroughly clean and treat your home – inside and out – especially those areas where your pet spends a lot of time. Fortunately, there are several safe and effective treatment options.
Treating the Indoor Environment
Treat the entire house.
- Thoroughly Vacuum. First, thoroughly vacuum the entire house, including hard surfaces. Be sure to get under everything – furniture, rugs, etc. You may also need to vacuum and treat furniture. Don’t forget your car, motor home, or anywhere else your pet has been. Once you are finished, immediately seal your vacuum bag in a plastic bag and discard it completely outside of the house and garage. This prevents the fleas from crawling back out and infesting your home or garage again. If your home has a central vacuum system, then you must empty the canister into a sealed bag and dispose of it outside the home and garage. Vacuuming and shampooing or steam cleaning the carpet can kill some of the larvae however it may also leave some live fleas. Some sort of chemical treatment may be necessary.
- Hot Wash. Make sure to wash all linens and pet beds in order to kill possible fleas. You should wash and dry any bedding at the hottest temperature it will tolerate or discard it in an outside trash receptacle if washing is not feasible.
- Call the Experts. If you continue to find more evidence of fleas, it might be time to call in a professionally trained pest removal expert. Flea infestations can be difficult to eliminate. It is a good idea to call your pest control expert in order to rid you and your home of fleas.
Treating the Outdoor Environment
Many people sometimes forget their pets also spend time outside in the yard. If your pet spends a lot of time outdoors, this will be where the majority of the fleas are located. In many parts of the United States, freezing weather helps to control outside flea populations. But in warm and humid climates, the flea battle may rage year-round. Fleas prefer cool, shady, moist places and especially like to hide in shrubs, leaf litter, the bark dust of trees, and underneath lawn structures. They cannot tolerate hot sun for long periods of time and don’t do well in open grass or in a sunny yard.
It is always best to consult a professional pest control expert to treat the surrounding areas with a chemical spray. There are some simple steps you can take to make your yard a less desirable habitat for fleas and ticks to hide and lay their eggs.
- Neatness Counts. Thoroughly clean your yard by removing yard and garden debris. Stacked wood, piles of bricks, and discarded pots are ideal breeding ground for fleas. The more clutter, the more places fleas can take refuge. Sweep off patios and lawn furniture. Don’t forget to check out your pet’s favorite places to hang out, including dog runs or kennels, spaces under decks or porches, beneath low-hanging shrubs, or along fence lines. Flea and tick larvae can remain within 50 feet of any cool, shady spots your pet favors.
- Mowing and Pruning. A cheap and easy way to reduce flea and tick populations in your yard is to keep the grass, trees, and shrubs trimmed. Mowing your lawn to the proper height exposes the soil to sun, keeping it dry, and removes the longer grass fleas and ticks prefer to hide in. Prune bushes and trim trees to increase the amount of sunshine in your yard. Both fleas and ticks prefer moist environments, so be sure to avoid overwatering.
Dangers / Flea Bites and Treatment
Fleas are generally not picky about their meals – any warm-blooded animal will do. Typically, the flea takes its blood meal around the ankles of its human host. These bites usually appear as small red bumps that can be itchy and uncomfortable. In rare cases they can transmit the bacteria that can lead to serious illness. They also carry tapeworms that can infest your pet. If you are bitten, clean the bite with warm water and soap and ice the location to lessen swelling. You can also use anti-itch creams to lessen the discomfort. If at any time you feel that the bite is serious, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
These little guys can be big trouble. But by taking these simple steps, you can prevent any unwanted guests from invading your home and attacking your pets, and enjoy a safe, healthy, and happy summer.