By Arden Moore
Pro Pet Hero Instructor Director and Master Pet First Aid/CPR Instructor
Paw, paw. Scratch, scratch. Lick, lick. These can be the telltale signs that a cat or dog is dealing two itty-bitty menaces: fleas and ticks. Unchecked and unprotected, dogs and cats can not only feel frustrated and miserable, but they can develop a host of diseases.
“Many medications today that deal with fleas, ticks and heartworm disease work well, but the best one is the one that the pet owner uses consistently,” says Michael. Dryden, DVM, PhD., distinguished professor of veterinary parasitology at Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS. “We need to get away from a seasonal approach to controlling parasites and get into the habit of
using preventives year-round on cats and dogs no matter where you live.”
Dr. Dryden, also known as Dr. Flea, shares these other fascinating facts about fleas::
* The most common flea species attacking cats and dogs is the Cat Flea (Ctenocephalides felis).
* Fleas are hardy survivalists. Flea eggs can drop out of the hair of a trespassing raccoon or opossum in your backyard and survive for eight weeks and then land on your dog.
* Fleas you spot on a pet today came from eggs laid three to eight weeks ago. A female flea can lay up to 50 eggs within just 24 hours and continue that daily pace.
* A flea infestation in the home cannot be eliminated in just a few days due to the constant flea life cycle that is occurring. It generally takes about three to eight weeks to eliminate flea infestations.
Flea-borne Diseases Can Be Serious
Fleas do more than annoy. They can trigger serious diseases, including:
* Anemia is a blood condition that causes pale gums, lethargy and untreated, lead to shock or death.
* Tapeworms occur when tiny flea larvae are swallowed by a cat or dog who is grooming himself. The larvae grow inside the body into full-sized adult worms and can cause vomiting and weight loss.
* Cat Scratch Disease (Bartonella hensalae) can cause blisters, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, fever and body aches.
* Murine typhus (Rickettsia typhi) can cause fever, chills, cough, muscle pain, loss of appetite, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting.
* Flea allergy dermatitis in cats, dogs and people can cause skin redness, pus-filled bumps, scabs and hair loss.
Effective Weapons Against Fleas
The new generation of flea and tick products are remarkable at the speed of killing fleas not only when first given, but throughout the duration of the label, says Dr. Dryden. Following the label instructions and using consistently are keys, he adds.
Age and weight, however, play key factors in determining the best flea preventive medication for cats. Very young kittens cannot handle the potency of commercial flea medications because their immune systems are still forming. Options used by those caring for young kittens in foster homes and at shelters include bathing them in Dawn soap, rinsing and retrieving remaining fleas using a flea comb.
Once kittens weigh about two pounds, consult your veterinarian about using products like Capstar that quickly and safely kills fleas in about 30 minutes.
Veterinarians advise pet parents to maintain a flea preventive regiment year-round, even if the weather becomes cold or your cat is strictly an indoor-living feline. “Gone are the days of skipping a month to save money,” says Dr. Dryden. “It doesn’t matter if you live in Tacoma or Tampa. Parasite protection needs to be year-round for your cat. And, in order for it to work properly, topicals must reach the pet’s skin. If you just apply it on the topcoat, it loses its effectiveness to kill fleas.”
The Truth About Ticks
Lyme disease is now found in every state in the United States. When it comes to comparing the power between parasites, ticks outmuscle fleas.
“Ticks are harder to kill than fleas and a dog can encounter 50 or more ticks from running in the woods,” says Dr. Dryden. “It may surprise people, but ticks are not able to leap, jump or fly. They wait on shrubs, grass and bushes for an animal or person to go by and grab on. They attach within 10 minutes, but may take hours to bite and transmit pathogens like Lyme disease.”
Once a tick latches onto a pet, it begins to bite, releasing bacteria into the bloodstream. In the early stage, the signs are mild and transient. Your pet might go off food. Then he might be lethargic or listless. If untreated, the disease moves into chronic stage and can affect the internal organs and cause liver failure. And, it can even be fatal. Other symptoms include fever, lameness, joint swelling and enlarged lymph nodes.
So, what do you do if you spot a tick on your pet? Dr. Dryden recommends this game plan. “The best way to remove a tick is to grab it with tweezers close to the skin and pull straight out,” he says. “Do not twist it. And keep in mind that using fingernail polish or Vaseline to remove a tick does not work. Finally, always wash your hands thoroughly afterward.”
Get into the habit of doing a thorough head-to-tail inspection of their dogs after a walk in the woods or heavily treed area. Ticks like to hide in a pet’s mouth just under the front bottom lips, inside the ears and between the toes.
Consult your veterinarian to choose the best and safest tick and flea products for your cats and dogs. Tick products including chewable tablets for dogs and a topical on cats that works for 12 weeks.
Learn more on ways to keep your dogs and cats safe by visiting www.propethero.com. Consider taking our veterinarian-approved online pet first aid/CPR course. Enter this code: CPR– ARDEN MOORE and receive a 10 percent discount! And, if you are interested in becoming a Pro Pet Hero instructor, please click on the BECOME AN INSTRUCTOR button on the home page for more details.