This time of year, we start thinking more about parasites like fleas and ticks infesting our pets. These parasites become a greater threat as the weather starts to warm up, but both ticks and fleas may remain active year-round in and around Mt. Shasta and throughout Siskiyou County.
So what should you know about fleas and ticks? Let’s take a look at what these small parasites are, the problems and diseases they can cause, and how to help keep your pet protected.
What Are Fleas?
Fleas are tiny, reddish-brown, wingless parasites that feed on mammals and birds. In fact, these blood-sucking creatures are the most common external parasite of dogs and cats. Once fleas find a host like your pet and start feeding, they’ll stay on your pet and lay eggs.
Fleas tend to be more common in the warmer, wetter months, but they can survive throughout the year in the right conditions, with your home being a perfect place for them to thrive. Once they’re inside, fleas can multiply quickly and be frustrating and difficult to get rid of. Preventing flea infestations is far better than having to treat them.
There is no “flea season.” Fleas can infest your pet and your home at any time of the year.
Fleas can make dogs and cats miserable:
- When fleas bite, they can cause an allergic reaction to certain components in flea saliva called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) in dogs and cats.
- Not only can fleas cause intense itching and skin inflammation, but when infested pets scratch, they can damage their skin, which can lead to skin infections.
- Fleas can also lead to life-threatening blood loss (anemia) in puppies and kittens.
- If all of that isn’t bad enough, fleas can even transmit tapeworms to both pets and people.
Signs & Symptoms of Fleas in Pets
Itching is often the main symptom of fleas, causing pets to:
- Rub against furniture
- Shake their head
- Frequently lick, chew, bite, or groom themselves, sometimes to the point where they cause hair loss or hot spots (painful, raw, inflamed areas on the skin that may bleed)
What Are Ticks?
Related to mites and spiders, ticks are small arachnids that live off the blood of people, dogs, and cats, as well as birds and other animals like deer, horses, rabbits, and rodents.
Ticks love forests and other dense, wooded areas, as well as areas that are grass-covered or have bushes or low-lying vegetation, like fields and parks. Ticks can be found around Mt. Shasta in both rural and urban areas, especially where there are oak, Pacific madrone, and Douglas fir trees. If you walk or hike with your pet in these areas, you and your pet may pick up hitchhiking ticks. Depending on where you live, you might even find ticks in your own backyard, especially under leaf litter, in the shade, and around the edges of the yard.
Some ticks are quite tiny, so you may not see them, even if you’re looking for them. Ticks tend to hide under fur, in ears, in skin folds, and in between paw pads.
Immature ticks or nymphs are about the size of a poppy seed, and adult deer ticks (which can cause Lyme disease) are only about as big as a sesame seed!
Ticks do more than just feed on blood: They can transmit serious diseases to pets and people, which may lead to heart and kidney complications, joint damage, and even neurologic issues, especially if not caught and treated early.
Not all ticks are infected with disease-causing agents, but those that are can transmit Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and other diseases to dogs and cats (and people).
Signs & Symptoms of Tick Diseases
Let your Mt. Shasta Animal Hospital (MSAH) veterinarian know right away if you notice any signs of tick-transmitted diseases in your pet, including:
- Breathing difficulty
- Fatigue or weakness
- Lameness (which may shift from one leg to another)
- Pale gums
- Sensitivity to touch
- Stiff, swollen, or painful joints
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Walking stiffly with an arched back
- Weight or appetite loss
What If You Find a Tick on Your Pet?
You want to remove any ticks you find on your dog or cat as soon as possible.
There are a lot of myths and misinformation about removing ticks from pets. Here’s how to remove a tick the right way:
- Using a tick removal tool or tweezers, grasp the tick as close as possible to the skin where the tick is attached.
- Pull the tick out following the manufacturer’s instructions for the specific tool. If using tweezers, grasp the tick as close as possible to your pet’s skin, and pull the tick straight out gently but firmly (don’t twist).
- Place the tick into a sealed baggie or container (such as a used pill bottle).
- Throw the baggie or container into the trash.
- Clean the tool or tweezers with isopropyl alcohol.
- Wash your hands with soap and water.
If you spend time outside with your pet, especially in risk areas, it can be difficult to avoid ticks. Do a tick check on yourself and your pet afterward. Removing ticks quickly is always a good first step toward keeping you and your pet protected.
Even indoor-only cats can get ticks or fleas if the parasites hitch a ride inside on you or another pet.
What Else Can I Do to Help Stop Ticks?
Parasiticides, when used regularly and per label instructions, are extremely effective at controlling fleas and ticks on pets. At MSAH, we have safe and easy-to-administer options for flea and tick control that we can recommend for your pet.
You can also take steps to protect your yard from ticks. Click on the links below to learn more about how to prevent tick bites and create a tick-safe yard:
- TickEncounter: Protect Your Pets—Containment
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Preventing Ticks in the Yard
Preventing Ticks and Fleas Is Key
Fleas and ticks are a problem in and around Mt. Shasta. Don’t wait until you see them on your pet to take action! We can help prevent these parasites and the problems they cause by keeping pets on flea and tick control products.
Contact us to make sure your pet’s protected or to refill your pet’s parasite preventive prescription.