Summer’s long, warm days make for perfect outdoor playtime for the whole family, especially our pets. However, with this abundance of outdoor activity comes an increased risk for our pets to carry fleas and ticks into our homes. Not only are these pests a nuisance, but they can also bring with them a variety of diseases harmful to both humans and animals.
Both of these pests are attracted to the warmer temperatures, making it easy to hitch a ride on Fido as he plays outside. Luckily, ticks are fairly easy to spot.
“Ticks tend to accumulate around the face and the ears, but can be on any area of the body,” said Dr. James Barr, assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.
After attaching itself to its host, a tick then takes a bite, often too painless for you or your pet to notice. However, this bite can transfer many diseases or even become infected. If this happens, a trip to the veterinarian may be necessary to treat the infection.
Fleas, on the other hand, are more difficult to find. “They can be found anywhere on the body, but like to congregate in dogs on the lower back and tail-head region,” Barr said. “Often, you may not see the fleas, but you will notice little black dots on your pet, called flea dirt.” You can differentiate flea dirt from regular dirt by putting a drop of water on the dot of “dirt.” Flea dirt will make the water a reddish color due to the digested blood.
There are a number of possibilities for the transmission of diseases by fleas and ticks. However, Barr explains that the actual percentage of bites that lead to disease transmission is unclear.
“Ticks are known to carry diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever,” Barr said. “The most common disease that fleas transmit to dogs are tapeworms, which are transmitted to the dogs when they ingest the fleas in an attempt to get the flea off of their body.”
Barr explains that fleas are also known to carry Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of the plague. This is a rarity, though, as it is only the case in areas that plague is common, such as the plains of the United States, and is uncommon for our pets to get.
Although the risk of disease and infection is worrisome, there are a variety of effective options available for flea and tick prevention.
“There are so many good options available now that it is possible to keep dogs and cat almost 100 percent free of fleas and ticks,” Barr said. “For example, a good preventative is regular—but not too frequent—bathing and the application of a good flea and tick preventative.”
Keep in mind that it is important to also treat the environment that your pets spend time in. Treatment of your yard, automobile, bedding, or anywhere else that your pet frequently inhabits may be necessary if fleas and ticks have infested the area.
It is best to consult with your veterinarian about which preventative products are best suited to both your pet and geographic location. By doing this, along with taking a few simple precautions, you can help keep your pets and your home free from these pests all summer long.
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University.