Ticks are small spider-like acarids and fleas are insects, but these two tiny creatures have at least one thing in common- they are both parasites that feed on your cat’s or dog’s blood and can cause a lot of discomfort and more serious health problems.
Flea bites may go unnoticed on some pets, cause slight irritation in others and produce extensive itching, red lesions, hair loss and even ulcers in those animals with flea allergy dermatitis, which is the result of extreme sensitivity to flea saliva. Severe flea infestations can cause anaemia, especially in kittens. Fleas can transmit several diseases, as well as tapeworm. Ticks are also vectors or carriers of a number of diseases.
Adult fleas are wingless insects, generally smaller than a sesame seed, who feed on the blood of animals. Their proportionately enlarged back pair of legs gives them an extraordinary jumping ability. Hanging on to your pet’s fur with their claws, their needle-like mouth parts bite through the skin to suck up blood – in quantities of up to 15 times their body weight daily in the case of female cat fleas.
If one flea finds your cat an attractive food source, you can be sure that other fleas will, too! They mate, with females laying 30-50 eggs per day. These eggs will drop to the ground within 8 hours and, as soon as 2 days later, flea larvae will hatch and hide in dark places on the ground, in carpets or upholstery. After about a week of feeding on adult flea droppings, crumbs, flakes of skin, etc., the larvae spin cocoons to become pupae. The pupae can remain in this stage for very long periods of time. The cycle continues when, as soon as a week or so later, the pupae develop into adult fleas and emerge from their cocoons when they sense that a cat or dog, or other animal hosts, is near. The cycle, which can take as little as 12 days or as long as 180 days, can then begin again.
Checking your pet for fleas
You might be able to spot fleas in your pet’s coat by gently parting the fur around the neck or base of the tail. Fleas are often difficult to find, so the best way to check is to look for ‘flea dirt’ – small black specks in the pet’s coat, which consist of your pet’s dried blood excreted by the fleas.
• Comb through your pet’s coat and collect any debris onto a wet piece of white paper or cotton wool.
• If the specks that fall onto the wet surface dissolve to give red/brown swirls or patches, then your pet has fleas.
If you can’t see any flea dirt but your pet is scratching or losing hair, consult your vet for help.
Ticks are wingless creatures that live exclusively on the blood of animals for three of the four stages of their life cycle. They are equipped with an apparatus called Haller’s organ which senses heat, carbon dioxide and other stimuli to allow the ticks to locate the presence of an animal food source. Once found, they crawl on and embed their mouth parts into the animal’s skin and proceed to suck up its blood. Due to the method of attachment and their blood-feeding process, ticks can cause several different problems for your pet – including potentially life-threatening diseases.
You should inspect your pet regularly for ticks, especially if they have been outside in areas where there are woods or tall grasses. A thorough combing within 4 to 6 hours of exposure to such environments can help prevent ticks from attaching themselves to feast on your pet. Should you find a tick, it should be removed immediately, as the longer, it is attached to its host, the greater the chance for disease. Do not touch the tick. Wear gloves and use tweezers to carefully grasp the exposed section of the tick’s body near your pet’s skin. Gently pull until the tick lets go. To dispose of the tick, wrap it in several tissues and flush it down the toilet.
Controlling Fleas and Ticks
The best way to control flea problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place. Fortunately, developments in veterinary parasite control in recent years have made the twofold goal of eliminating fleas on pets and preventing further infestations much easier to achieve. Available for both cats and dogs, new insecticides and insect growth regulators in easy-to-use topical or oral forms not only eliminate any existing fleas but also work long-term to prevent future infestations. This is accomplished either by killing the parasites before they can reproduce or by preventing their eggs from developing into normal adult fleas. Consult your veterinary surgeon for advice about the proper product for your pet. Furthermore, thorough daily vacuuming of high-traffic areas and frequent washing of your pet’s bedding will also go a long way in reducing the flea population in your home.
Some of the same types of topical or oral products used to control flea infestation are also effective against ticks. Such treatments should be combined with daily examinations and tick removal for those pets, especially cats, who are frequently outdoors in areas with high tick populations. Ask your veterinary surgeon for information about the situation in your locality. Clearing brush and long grasses and removing leaves, grass clippings and other organic debris will also help reduce the presence of ticks by disturbing their natural outdoor habitats.
If despite your best efforts at control, you find that fleas or ticks have crawled (or jumped) on board your pet, you will have to use a product that will kill and/or repel the parasites. These include once-a-month topical treatments, sprays, powders, dips, shampoos, collars and, to combat fleas, oral or injectable medication. Once again, you should ask your veterinary surgeon for advice about what the most appropriate product for your pet is. And remember, it is perfectly normal to see live fleas or ticks on a pet immediately after a topical treatment is applied. Many believe that this means the product is not working, but the fleas or ticks have to fully absorb the product before they will be affected, which may take from a few hours to a few days. If you start treating when your pet is suffering an infestation you might occasionally still see fleas on your pet even after you’ve applied treatment. The fact is, there is no product available to kill flea pupae. But once the pupae have hatched into adult fleas which jump onto your pet, Prinovox (or similar product) efficiently kills them within 24 hours. It’s just a matter of waiting for all of the pupae to hatch (this can take several weeks or even months) and ensuring that you continue to protect your pet.
There are 4 steps to stamp out fleas:
1. Use topical spot on treatment (e.g. Effipro or Prinovox) regularly to kill adult fleas on your pet and to provide ongoing protection against newly arriving fleas.
2. Use an environmental product for your home recommended by your vet (e.g. Indorex spray) that will effectively kill flea eggs and larvae.
3. Though no product can kill flea pupae, you can encourage them to hatch into fleas by turning up the central heating, vacuuming regularly and washing your pets’ bedding regularly. Once hatched, they will jump onto your pet and be killed by the topical treatment.
4. Allow your pet into the infested areas of your home. Your pet’s presence will encourage pupae to hatch and reduce the likelihood of human bites.
All year round
Some people think that fleas, ticks and lice are just a problem in the summer. They’re wrong. Your pet needs to be protected regularly whatever the season or it will be susceptible to the irritation – and more serious problems – that these bugs can bring.
As the weather warms up, fleas and ticks start to breed quicker and quicker.
The summer months are when your pet is at the most risk. The temperature and humidity can quickly lead to huge flea infestations and massive problems for your pet and your family.
This is the time of year when it’s particularly important to guard against tick infestations and the re-emergence of fleas – especially when you turn on the central heating.
It might be cold outside but your warm home makes an ideal breeding ground for fleas – the risk to your pet never goes away.