Fleas and ticks—simply uttering their names may make your skin crawl, so imagine how your pet feels about them. These creepy pests can cause a laundry list of problems for your furry friend, from allergies to life-threatening diseases. Fortunately, preventing fleas and ticks, and the problems they cause, is relatively easy, with help from the Johnson County Animal Clinic team. Let’s review facts related to each of these pests, including the problems they can cause, what to do if you find a flea or tick on your pet, and how to prevent future problems.

What are fleas?

Fleas are tiny (i.e., 3 millimeter), wingless insects that use their powerful back legs to jump up to 30 mm, onto passing pets. Fleas are the most common external parasite of cats and dogs, with the cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis, responsible for most infestations. Once on your pet, a flea feeds repeatedly—as often as every five minutes—each time leaving behind a tiny amount of saliva, which causes an itchy reaction. Fleas reproduce quickly, and although fleas rarely leave a warm host once they settle in, their eggs drop off onto furniture and flooring, where up to 95% of the flea population lives as eggs, larvae, and pupae.

What problems can fleas cause for my pet?

In addition to itchy bites, which can cause your pet to scratch their skin raw, fleas can cause a number of health problems, including:

  • Anemia — Fleas feed on your pet’s blood, ingesting a tiny amount with each bite. In small pets—especially tiny puppies or kittens—a severe infestation, with tens to hundreds of feasting fleas, can deplete their critical oxygen-carrying blood.
  • Allergies — Some pets are allergic to flea saliva, and only a few bites can cause a full-blown allergic reaction, complete with severe itching, skin redness, and hair loss. Year-round flea prevention is essential to keep these pets comfortable.
  • Diseases — Fleas can transmit dangerous diseases, such as bartonellosis (i.e, cat scratch disease), murine typhus, and Mycoplasma haemofelis infection, as they feed on your pet’s blood.
  • Tapeworms — Pets acquire a common tapeworm by ingesting fleas as they groom, or bite at their itchy skin. The tapeworm larva requires the flea for transmission, and once inside your pet’s intestinal tract, it latches on, and sucks nutrition from your pet’s body.

What should I do if my pet has fleas?

If you see any fleas on your pet, or if your pet is itchy, contact us immediately. One or two fleas can quickly multiply to cause a serious home infestation, which prompt action can prevent. Our Johnson County Animal Clinic team will advise you about safely eliminating fleas from your pet and home. Never use any products, including those purchased at a pet store, without consulting our team of veterinary professionals first, as many products can cause severe reactions, and death, if not used properly.

How can I prevent a flea problem in my pet?

Using year-round flea prevention is the best way to protect your furry friend from a flea problem. We stock a variety of flea prevention products, and our team will help you choose the product that best fits your pets needs. Although fleas are most active in the warmer months, Kansas weather can be unpredictable, and fleas can emerge on warm winter days, so year-round protection is best.

What are ticks?

Ticks are arachnids, meaning they belong to the same family as spiders and mites. Many tick species are found throughout Kansas, with the American dog tick, lone star tick, and blacklegged tick (i.e., deer tick) the most common. Ticks are mainly found in tall grass, where they practice questing—they climb to the top of a grass blade and hang on with their front legs outstretched, waiting for an animal or person to brush against them, so they can grab on. Ticks feed on an animal’s blood for several days before dropping off, and become progressively engorged as they feed. 

What problems can ticks cause for my pet?

Although ticks do not consume enough blood to cause anemia, and do not cause itchy bites like fleas, they can transmit several dangerous diseases as they feed on pets, including:

These diseases are caused by bacteria that ticks can pass on as they feed, although the pathogens are not typically transmitted until the tick is attached for a significant amount of time. Tick preventives do not repel ticks, but using one that kills ticks soon after attachment, before disease transmission occurs, is the best method of protecting your pet from infection.

What should I do if my pet has a tick?

If you find a tick on your pet, remove it carefully with tweezers, and destroy it. Never apply heat, or another unpleasant stimulus, to the tick to encourage it to back out on its own. Not only can you injure or burn your pet, but the irritation can cause the tick to eject its stomach contents into your pet, thereby increasing the chance of disease transmission. 

After removing the tick, call us to schedule an appointment for tick-borne disease testing. We can run a simple in-office test to screen for the most common tick-borne diseases, so you can have peace of mind, knowing your pet is not harboring a life-changing, or life-threatening, infection. We recommend annual screening for dogs with the 4Dx test, which tests for Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and heartworm disease, to ensure they are infection-free.

How can I protect my pet from tick-borne diseases?

The best way to protect your pet from ticks, and the dangerous diseases they carry, is to use year-round tick prevention. Many of the flea prevention products we can prescribe for your pet also protect against ticks, and regular use will protect against both pests, and the diseases they carry. Ask a Johnson County Animal Clinic team member for help choosing the best product to fully protect your pet.

If your flea and tick prevention supply is getting low, or your dog is due for annual tick-borne disease testing, give us a call to schedule an appointment.