Fleas and Ticks on Dogs and Cats

Warm weather is the perfect environment for the breeding cycles of fleas and ticks. Fleas and ticks are just waiting to jump on our pets, and then pets can bring them into our homes. If the conditions are right, fleas and ticks will attack cats and dogs at any time of the year. It’s important to treat not only fleas and ticks on dogs and cats, but any areas your pets frequent.

Fleas on Dogs and Cats

Fleas are tiny wingless insects that get around by either jumping or hopping from one area to another. Fleas can climb up to two feet high. This is high enough to land on your pet with hardly any effort. On top of that, a flea can jump 10,000 times without taking a break. They have a unique springing mechanism which lets them get into places many winged insects can’t.

The most common flea might be called the cat flea, but it can be found on humans and dogs too. These fleas are usually picked up outside, but can also be picked up in kennels. They can hitch a ride on other dogs or cats, clothes, or bedding. Any materials that contain flea eggs, larvae or fleas, can be transport these bugs into your home.

Even just a few fleas on dogs and cats can cause your pet to scratch. This scratching can cause a skin rash or irritation and, if left untreated, these irritations can become infected. If the flea infestation is severe enough, it can lead to anemia in your pet. Your pets can develop an allergy to the protein that a flea secretes to prevent blood from clotting, which can lead to a condition called severe allergic dermatitis. This can cause symptoms such as loss of appetite, fever, and incessant scratching, which can lead to further damage to your pet’s skin.

When Fleas Can Strike

A flea has four part life cycle: the egg, larva, the pupa, and the adult. The adult flea lays eggs on the host. When eggs hatch into larvae, they stay out in their environment, feed and molt several times. Then they spin a cocoon and pupae. Adult fleas emerge from the pupae and look for a warm-blooded host for a meal. This entire process takes about 21 days it the conditions are ideal.

If the conditions aren’t ideal, the flea’s life cycle is flexible. If conditions aren’t perfect, the flea will stay on hold until conditions improve. The more moist and warm it is, the faster the life cycle will move. If it’s cool and dry, the cycle process will slow down. A breeding female flea can lay about 50 eggs a day. Usually it’s only 20, but one female flea can give you a major infestation in a little less than two months.

Fleas can carry parasites that are transmitted to their host. Cats and dogs groom themselves, and will swallow them. If the fleas are carrying tapeworms, the most common parasite carried by fleas, then your pet will end up with tapeworms in their intestinal tract.

If the flea infestation is severe, your pet can become very ill. Fleas can drink so much of your pet’s blood that your pet can develop iron deficiency anemia. If your pet is a small pet, such as a kitten or a small dog, they could even need blood transfusions.

How to Get Rid of Fleas

There are ways to avoid a flea infestation and to keep them from taking over your pet and your home.

  1. Always check your pet’s coat for fleas, especially after they have been outdoors. When brushing your pet, check for flea dirt, which looks like little flecks of dirt. It can be found around the base of the ears, base of the tail, and especially under the chin.
  2. Wash your pet’s collar, toys, and bedding often.
  3. Make it a point to talk to your vet about getting your pet on a flea prevention program.
  4. Keep your home clean and vacuum often. Run the vacuum over floors, furniture, and carpets frequently. Wash bed linens and pillows and blankets on the couch regularly to remove any eggs and fleas.

A vet can recommend the best flea treatment for your pet. But if you have fleas in your home, you may need to contact a licensed pest professional to control your flea issue.

Ticks on Dogs and Cats

Ticks are another type of parasite that feeds off the blood of a warm-blooded host. Ticks can readily transmit a variety of diseases when they bite. When and how often you see ticks depends on where you live and the time of the year. It also depends on your pet’s habits and how often and when you use tick prevention products. A tick can even infect a dog that only spends a short time outside.

It’s good to keep in mind that just because you keep your cat inside all the time doesn’t mean they’ll be disease-free. If you visit other homes with cats, or go hiking or walking where there are feral cats, you can bring that bacteria home on your shoes and clothing. Vaccinating your cat is the best way to keep them safe.

How Ticks Attach

A tick will attach itself to your pet by inserting parts of its mouth into your pet’s skin. Some ticks also produce a glue-like sticky substance that helps them stay attached to their host. Once it’s attached, the tick starts feeding on your pet’s blood. A tick prefers to attach itself close to the ears, feet, neck, and head.

A tick is visible to the naked eye. They’re small at first, about the size of a pinhead until they swell with blood. Ticks live in tall grass or brush and are most active in the late spring. It transfers onto an animal or person when they walk through the long grass and brush.

A tick can transfer itself from one pet coming in from outdoors to an indoor pet. A tick causes only a mild irritation to the animal but their bites can carry severe diseases for both pets and humans.

A human can’t catch any tickborne diseases from an infected pet. However, the same tick that bit your pet can then bite you, so you could get these illnesses. Also, a tick can live up to three years without blood and can live on three different hosts during its lifetime. A tick spends the majority of its life off the host animal and living in its environment.

Diseases Caused by Ticks

There are some serious diseases which can be caused by ticks to both humans and their pets. Two are:

  1. Lyme Disease: This disease is caused by a bacterial infection that can affect dogs, cats, humans, and other mammals. The primary carrier is the deer tick. Signs of Lyme disease are depression, loss of appetite, fever, swelling of the lymph nodes, kidney failure, and swollen painful joints.
  2. Cytauxzoonosis: This is a lethal infection carried by tick bites. It’s common in the South, and the disease is transmitted by bobcats. Ticks fed on bobcats which then transfer the infection to domestic cats. The disease is fatal for domestic cats. Clinical signs of the infection are difficulty breathing, high fever, loss of appetite, jaundice, coma and then death. There isn’t a known cure, and the disease progresses rapidly from onset to death in a matter of weeks.

For a full list, visit the CDC website.

How to Remove Ticks from Dogs and Cats

Removing a tick isn’t tricky, but you do have to take precautions. If you get any of the tick’s blood on you, you or your pet can become infected, so stay calm and don’t rush. First, put on rubber gloves to avoid having contact with the tick or your pet’s area where they’re bit. Be sure to have a jar of rubbing alcohol handy to place the tick in, because flushing it won’t kill it.

Using a pair of tweezers, pinch the tick as close to the pet’s skin as possible. Pull upwards steadily and with even pressure, and place the tick in the jar. Don’t twist or jerk the tick while pulling it off because this could leave parts of it embedded in your pet. it might cause the tick to regurgitate fluid, which is infectious. Don’t squeeze or crush the tick’s body because the fluids of its body could contain contagious organisms.

Disinfect the bite area on your pet and wash your hands. Sterilize your tweezers with alcohol or over a flame and monitor the site for infection. If you see infection, being your pet and the jarred tick to your vet.

Talk to your vet about both tick and flea prevention for your pet to guard against any future occurrences.

Here are more resources for you to learn about ticks and fleas in your pets:

11 Facts about Fleas – PetMD

Fleas 101 – PestWorld

Ticks – Pets & Parasites

Fleas and Ticks – ASPCA