If you've ever watched your pet contort its body and scratch incessantly, you probably know that fleas are an uncomfortable affliction. You may also know that momentary feeling of panic when your pet returns from a romp in the woods with a tick buried in its fur. The first step in preventing and treating these pests is to know the enemy.
Both fleas and ticks feed off mammals by injecting coagulants and sucking out body fluids. Fleas are perhaps the most common pet nuisance. There are more than two hundred species in this country, but the major troublemaker for pets is the cat flea, which is happy to feed on dogs, cats or anything else with fur. The fur provides a warm camouflage as the breeding ground. The main problem with fleas, itching, is due not only to their bites, but also to their crawling over the skin. Some pets are extremely allergic to flea bites. In these pets, fleas may cause a rash, inflammation and hair loss. In response, cats may compulsively over groom.
To effectively kill fleas and prevent further infestations, you need to be sure your applying effective treatments properly and at the correct intervals. Not all animals can tolerate the same kind of treatment, so be sure to always use treatments meant specifically for your pet. Finally, you'll also need to treat the environment- it does little good to treat a dog or cat for fleas if it then returns to a flea-infested house or backyard.
Shampoos and sprays that contain pyrethrums, which are derived from chrysanthemums, are effective for dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits and other small pets. When applying sprays to a pet, you must rub the spray through the pets fur with your hands so it gets to the animal's skin. Spray some into your hands and work it into the fur on your pet's face and head, since pets dislike being sprayed on those areas.
You must treat the environment too. You must wash the pet's bedding regularly and vacuum frequently to help keep the flea population down. The vacuum bag should be changed after vacuuming and the used one burned, if possible, to prevent it from serving as a flea incubator (check your local regulations before burning garbage). Vacuum your rugs as often as possible. Use carpet spray as needed, since fleas will breed in carpets. Keep you pet out of brushy areas.
Your veterinarian offers a range of good flea controls: The first is a brand known as Program, which is a pill that you give to your pet once a month. This treatment interrupts the flea's life cycle. Upon biting the pet, the female flea ingests a poison that stops her eggs from developing and renders the flea sterile; when it jumps off your pet, it will not be able to breed in your house. A product known as Top-Spot is a chemical that you put on your pet's skin; it is absorbed into the pet's skin, but not the blood stream and fleas are killed as they touch your pet's skin. The treatment known as Advantage is quite effective for dogs that do not swim. A similar product, Frontline, is not water-soluble, so it can be used on animals that go in the water.
Ticks are not insects, like fleas, but are arachnids, like mites, spiders and scorpions. The United States has about two hundred tick species. Habitats include woods, beach grass, lawns, forests and even urban areas. A tick has a one-piece body. The harpoon like barbs of its mouth attach to a host for feeding. Crab like legs and a sticky secretion help hold the tick to the host. When attempting to remove a tick, to prevent the mouth part from coming off and remaining embedded in the skin, grasp the mouth close to the skin with tweezers and pull gently.
Ticks may carry various infectious organisms that can transmit diseases to cats and dogs, including the following:
• Babesiosis, which results in lethargy, appetite loss, weakness and pale gums.
• Ehrlichiosis, which produces high fever and muscle aches.
• Lyme disease, whose symptoms include lameness, swollen joints, fever, poor appetite, fatigue and vomiting (some infected animals, however, show no symptoms).
• Tick paralysis in dogs, which results in gradual paralysis, seen first as an unsteady gait from uncoordinated back legs (some infected animals, however, don't develop paralysis).
To combat ticks, mow your lawn regularly, since ticks can attach to animals from the grass, and examine your pet daily. When you find a tick, remove it quickly. Always use tick treatments intended specifically for a dog or a cat. Cats are especially sensitive to such treatments, and a treatment designed for dogs might be too strong.
Left uncontrolled, fleas and ticks can infest not just your cat or dog, but your entire house. Take the necessary precautions and you and your pet will enjoy the warm months ahead pest free.