Fleas and ticks may be small—but they can cause big problems! These blood-sucking parasites not only make your furry friend uncomfortable, but they can also infiltrate your home, potentially causing trouble for humans, too.
“Getting fleas and ticks off the dog or cat quickly is key,” says Dr. Laurie Coger, veterinarian of HealthyDogWorkshop.com. Dr. Coger says that because these parasites are sneaky little buggers, an infestation isn’t always obvious until it’s a serious issue.
Fleas can leap up to two feet into the air and consume 15 times their body weight in blood. Fleas usually hide within the animal’s fur near the base of their tail, on their stomach, or on the head. Once fleas are on your pet, they may spread to fabrics such as bedding and carpets. They also bite humans, causing painful red bumps on legs and ankles.
Ticks are larger parasites that often attach to animals walking through tall grass or the woods. Ticks on dogs or cats hide near the head, ears or feet, swelling exponentially in size as they suck blood. Ticks can detach from your pet to feed on you. It’s important to remove and kill ticks quickly and carefully, as ticks can transmit a variety of harmful diseases, such as Lyme disease.
Here are five signs that your pet has fleas or ticks—and what to do about it.
Warning Sign #1 – Visual Confirmation
While there are many species of ticks, an unfed tick is typically the size of an apple seed, appears flat and oval, and has eight legs. Ticks come in many colors—ranging from gray to reddish-brown. “Owners often discover ticks on dogs while stroking their pet,” says Dr. Coger. “The owner feels a bump, brushes aside the fur, and then discovers the bump is actually an engorged tick.”
Fleas are smaller, wingless black bugs. You may see fleas on cats or dogs when they crawl across your pet’s belly or leap off your pet and onto your leg. It is extremely hard to catch a flea by hand. Fleas go through a complete life cycle in about 3 weeks, and to stop an infestation, you must kill the adults, the larvae and the eggs.
Frontline Plus Flea & Tick Treatment for Cats & Kittens addresses fleas on cats with two tough flea treatment ingredients. The first is fipronil, which attacks the adult flea and ticks. The second, called S-methoprene, kills flea eggs and larvae to break the flea life cycle.
Warning Sign #2 – A Sudden Itch
Flea bites on dogs can trigger sudden, intense itching. A dog with fleas may quickly whip around and start furiously biting herself at the base of her tail. Or she may constantly lick her groin area. Cats will demonstrate similarly desperate behaviors to relieve the pain from flea bites.
Warning Sign #3 – Health Issues
“Fleas and ticks can spread diseases,” says Dr. Coger. “In large numbers, fleas can make a smaller pet physically weak or even anemic.” Signs of anemia include tiredness, decreased appetite and pale gums, although there may be no physical signs of milder cases of anemia at all.
Tick bite symptoms are gradual in nature and can include vomiting, unsteadiness, weakness, loss of muscular control, gastrointestinal issues, neurological dysfunction, inflammation and general malaise. Tick bite symptoms can become very severe, so it’s important to take a tick bite seriously. If you find a tick on your dog or cat, immediately remove it. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. Pull upward with even, gentle pressure, and clean both the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol afterwards. You should contact your veterinarian for blood work to rule out and treat dangerous tick-borne infections.
Warning Sign #4 – Flea Dirt
You may see speckles of black on your dog’s fur. “This could be flea grit—also known as flea poop!” says Dr. Coger. Flea grit is digested blood and is typically found near irritated, red patches of skin from flea bites on dogs.
Vet’s Best Allergy Itch Relief Shampoo is great for dogs with fleas suffering from itchy, sensitive skin. This dog shampoo washes away allergens attached to the fur with ingredients such as essential oils, oatmeal and D’Limonene. It will not change the effectiveness of topical tick and flea treatment products.
Warning Sign #5 – Hair Loss
Patterned hair loss—especially around the base of the tail and butt—is often a sure sign of fleas. Dogs and cats may bite and lick at their fur to relieve themselves of the intense itching. Hair loss may also occur as part of an allergic reaction to flea saliva.
Treating Fleas and Ticks
Flea treatments for dogs and cats include topical medications, flea collars and oral medications. There are also more natural methods, such as essential oils, to kill and repeal fleas.
Topical flea and tick medications address active infestations, and with regular use, prevent new infestations from occurring. “To efficiently apply topical flea and tick prevention medicine, use a fine-tooth comb to part the hair so the liquid is applied directly to the skin,” says Dr. Coger.
Capstar Flea Tablets for Dogs & Cats is an orally administered flea treatment for dogs and cats that can kill adult fleas within 4 hours for dogs and 6 hours for cats. With no odor or messy application, these tablets are an effective way to address an active infestation.
Another option for preventing re-infestation is using flea collars, such as Seresto 8 Month Flea and Tick Collar. This adjustable dog flea collar utilizes two ingredients—imidacloprid and flumethrin—to repel and kill ticks continuously for 8 months.
“Natural products such as essential oil blends can also repel ticks and fleas,” says Dr. Coger. “Most owners use these flea spray products on dogs prior to walks by spraying it on the animal’s legs or a bandana that is tied around her neck.” Vet’s Best Flea and Tick Spray for Dogs effectively kills flea, flea eggs, ticks and mosquitos on contact, eliminating the need for a bath. The flea spray utilizes a plant-based blend of peppermint essential oils and clove essential oils, making it safe for use around children.