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Health

Ticks and Fleas in Dogs

At A Glance

Dogs are more susceptible to flea and tick bites than cats because they spend more time outdoors for walks and potty breaks. Fleas and ticks are the most common parasites that affect pets. Luckily, there are also various ways to treat them and prevent reinfection.

Fleas and ticks are a pesky problem, and a dog’s fur makes a cozy environment for these insects to thrive. A tick or flea bite can cause health issues, ranging from minor allergic reactions to more serious illnesses if left undetected.

Seasonal changes affect how active these insects are. Fleas and ticks are, for instance, more active during warmer months. But it is still possible for your pets to pick up fleas or ticks any time of the year, especially since these pests can survive indoors.

Most dogs get bitten during walks and playtime outdoors. They can also pick up fleas and ticks from other infected pets they come in contact with or from humans’ clothing.

So how do you identify fleas and ticks? How can you stop them from affecting your pets? And how can you treat infections? Take a look at the in-depth guide we prepared for you.

dog scratching its head due to fleas and ticks

How to Identify Fleas?

A flea is a blood-sucking parasite that, unfortunately, affects many dogs and cats. But dogs tend to be more susceptible to flea infections because they spend more time outdoors. Despite being wingless, fleas can jump as high as 2 feet and are incredibly hardy so long as they can find hosts.

The first sign of flea infection is incessant scratching, as the insect’s bite can be very irritating. Furthermore, some dogs are allergic to flea saliva. If that is the case, scratching and licking affected areas often cause lesions and skin infections. They most commonly attack a dog’s head, abdomen, and tail base.

Fleas are very small (about 1–2 mm), making them very difficult to find with just the naked eye.

There are, however, a couple of telltale signs of flea infection, such as:

  • Red, irritated skin on your pet’s neck, belly, or behind
  • Tiny red or brown moving specks in your dog’s fur
  • Flea droppings (dark-colored specks that look like grains of sand) on your pet’s fur
  • Flea eggs (white specks) on your dog’s fur
  • Excessive scratching, biting, or licking of specific parts of your pet’s body
  • Scabs or skin lesions
  • Allergic dermatitis
  • Hair loss
  • Pale gums, which indicates blood loss due to parasitic infection
  • Tapeworms in your dog’s feces

You should know that fleas can consume blood amounting to 15 times of their body weight, which can cause anemia for the affected dog if left unattended. If your pet’s gums look pale instead of pinkish, and he seems feverish and lethargic, it is best to consult your veterinarian for immediate treatment.

The most common flea species in North America is Ctenocephalides felis or the cat flea. Regardless of type, though, pets can easily get infected while outdoors. Fleas thrive in warm and humid areas with average temperatures of 65–80 degrees.

Note, too, that fleas can live between 13 days and 12 months. In that time, they can produce millions of offspring. In fact, adult fleas spend most of their lives laying eggs on host animals’ fur. Worse, their eggs can fall onto rugs, beddings, furniture, and upholstery, hatch, and lie in wait for hosts to feed on.

Once you confirm a flea infestation, have your pet treated right away and clean your entire home. The University of Kentucky’s Entomology Department suggests including your dog’s toys, beddings, carpets, and surfaces daily. You can also spray insecticides or seek the help of professional pest control experts.

 

How to Identify Ticks?

Much like fleas, your dogs can pick up ticks from outdoors. And if left untreated, tick bites can cause serious illnesses.

Ticks feed on the blood of their host animals but they differ from fleas in that they embed their tiny, sharp teeth into a dog’s skin and tissue. They can access the dog’s bloodstream, allowing them to spread blood-borne illnesses like Lyme Disease.

Ticks abound during late spring and summer because they thrive in warmer climates. They typically live in tall bushes, grasses, and wooded areas, so if you do not want your dogs to suffer from tick bites, give them an extra layer of protection like a tick collar or herbal anti-tick spray when they go outdoors.

Adult ticks are typically visible to the naked eye since they are 3 mm in size. Larvae and nymphs are harder to spot, though. As such, thoroughly cleaning your pet’s living area is highly recommended if you believe it is tick-infested.

Ticks are usually found on an animal’s head, neck, ears, and paws (in-between nails). If you feel bumps when petting your dog, check right away because you could be feeling ticks.

Tick bites cause welts and bruises on a dog’s skin. You may even find them tightly attached to your pet so be very careful removing them.

What should you do if you suspect that your pet has ticks? Take these steps:

  • As mentioned earlier, you can see ticks without special equipment. They are usually as big as a pinhead but can swell up to a considerable size when they consume blood. If you see what looks like a mole or a wart (beige or brown in color), it may just be an engorged tick.
  • Check your dog’s skin regularly, especially if you live in areas where tick infections are common or if your dog spends a lot of time outdoors in general.
  • Make it a habit to inspect your pet’s fur, ears, head, and paws every time he gets back from a walk, potty time, or playtime.

We said, too, that ticks can carry a host of diseases with dire complications like blood loss, anemia, and severe skin irritation. Some of the more serious illnesses tick bites cause are described in more detail below.

Tick Paralysis

Signs of tick paralysis include muscle weakness and even leg paralysis. It is caused by toxins in tick saliva that react adversely with a dog’s nervous system.

Tick paralysis can manifest within a week after your pet gets bitten. The good news is that it is treatable but requires the complete eradication of ticks and professional medical attention at least until your pet’s condition stabilizes.

A vet checking dogs joint due to fleas and ticks

Lyme Disease

This is a bacterial infection that can affect all mammals. The deer tick is the illness’s carrier, which attaches to hosts and transmits the disease in 36–48 hours.

Signs of lyme disease include swelling of the lymph nodes, fever, swollen joints, kidney problems, loss of appetite, and depression. Fortunately, it can be treated with antibiotics. Prompt medical attention also improves a dog’s condition within 48 hours.

Tick Removal

Apart from possibly hurting your pet during tick removal, contact with the tick’s blood may also make you ill (hello Lyme disease). As such, you need to follow these instructions:

  • Wear latex or rubber gloves to ensure you do not touch the tick or a bite area with your bare hands. Throwing a tick into a garbage bag or flushing it down the toilet will not kill it. A far more effective strategy is to put them in a screw-top jar containing rubbing alcohol. This tactic will also let you keep samples for veterinary testing later on. If possible, ask a companion to distract and calm your pet during the removal.
  • Grasp the tick as close to the host animal’s skin as possible using a pair of tweezers. Pull it upward while applying steady pressure on the tweezers to prevent the insect from escaping. Put the tick in your alcohol-filled jar. Do not yank or twist the tick during removal as that could embed it further onto your pet’s skin. The action may also cause the tick to regurgitate fluids, further infecting your dog. Squeezing or crushing ticks is a bad idea because their bodies contain infective organisms.
  • Clean bite areas and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water even if you wore gloves throughout the removal process. Sterilize the tweezers using alcohol or, better yet, hold them over a heat source like a lighter or a candle flame. Keep an eye out for signs of infection, such as redness or swelling, on bite areas over the next few weeks. If an infection ensues, bring your pet and extracted ticks, if any, to your veterinarian.

 

A black dog scratching due to fleas and ticks

Types of Flea & Tick Treatments Available

Treating and getting rid of flea or tick infections require a veterinarian’s help. Keeping your pets’ environment thoroughly clean and pest-free is also a must.

Animals who suffer from flea and tick-related issues can be prescribed any or all of the following treatments.

Oral Chewable Tablets

These are among the most effective flea and tick treatments because they give excellent results without any negative side effects. You can use them to get rid of infections without worry as they are safe even if other pets or family members ingest them accidentally. You need a veterinarian prescription, however, to procure oral tablets.

Topical Treatments

Another option is to use specially crafted pet shampoos, sprays, and powders. These treatments come in various formulations and may differ in terms of administration.

Some pet owners prefer to keep using anti-tick and -flea shampoos and sprays even after treatment completion as a preventive measure. There are also several safe, organic alternatives to medicated topical treatments that you can use for infection prevention.

Dog with a tick collar

Tick Collars

Some veterinarians prescribe tick collars if your pets frequent public spaces where fleas and ticks abound. These collars periodically release low insecticide doses to repel and kill the insects.

Be very careful when choosing a tick collar, though, as some may contain harmful substances if ingested. For best results, consult a veterinarian.

Deep or Professional Cleaning

Rugs, beddings, and upholstery should all be thoroughly cleaned to eliminate ticks and fleas or their eggs. Severe infestations require using a spray or a fogger, which means you may need to enlist professional help to ensure proper treatment.

Lawn Treatment

If your pets keep getting re-infected even if he only plays in your lawn, you may need to employ better lawn-keeping processes.

Many products to do that are available in the market, but they are all meant to kill fleas and ticks before they can infect your dog.

Read product labels carefully to make sure the treatments are safe for humans and animals alike. When in doubt, get in touch with a pest control expert to choose and administer the right products.

Tips to Prevent Fleas & Ticks

Prevention is still better than cure so we compiled best practices you can apply regularly.

Comb your pet’s coat with a flea comb and wash his beddings at least once a week. You can also use anti-flea and tick shampoos, conditioners, and sprays to ensure constant protection. Regularly checking for and immediately removing insects can also help prevent related pet illnesses.

Keep your home and surroundings clean. Regularly perform thorough checks on soft surfaces (like carpets and beddings) for insects.

Rake leaves, get rid of weeds, and cut grass to make your yard uninhabitable to all kinds of pests. Remember that ticks and fleas can also be carried by wild animals like possums, raccoons, deer, feral cats, and squirrels. You may want to consider using preventive products. And if you suspect that a wild animal may be living in your ventilation shafts, fireplace, or attic, call an animal control company at once.

A close up image of a ticks with a dog on the background

Frequently Asked Questions

How Can My Pet Get Fleas and Ticks?

Dogs that often go outdoors can get the pests from other infected animals or infested environments.

Is It True That Fleas and Ticks Are More Common in Some Regions?

The insects can exist in any location, but that may depend on the season. Fleas and ticks abound in warmer climates so they often thrive in the Gulf Coast and the Southeast.

An image of a dog scratching because of fleas and ticks

Is It Possible to Quit Using Preventives During Colder Weather?

Not really. Some flea and tick species can survive the cold and you never know what kind is affecting your pet. Some of them can survive even late into autumn.

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Paul Andrews
https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-andrews-172490189/

A digital marketing expert by profession, Andrews is a gifted writer and animal lover at heart. A self-confessed "pawrent", Andrews is well-versed in all things dogs. He uses his years of experience of raising puppies into show-quality dogs to help guide first-time pet parents. He believes in spreading the joy that comes with being a dog dad and advocates more families to adopt pets.