Vet Blog

Ticks, Fleas and your pet

April 22, 2023

Flea and tick bites can negatively impact your pet's health, and prevention is important to keep your four-legged friend happy and healthy.

Our team knows that these small parasites can be a huge problem, and we offer information about why your pet needs protection and the knowledge you need to choose the best product for your companion.

Fleas and your pet

Fleas are tiny but bloodthirsty parasites. They can drink up to 15 times their body weight in blood, and they can jump 200 times their body length. They feed on dogs, cats, humans, and any other mammal or bird they can find, and are problematic for pets for many reasons, including:

  • Anemia - Puppies, kittens, and other tiny pets are at risk for significant blood loss if they have a heavy flea infestation, which can lead to life-threatening anemia if not addressed promptly.
  • Flea bite dermatitis - Many pets are allergic to flea saliva, and the allergy is the most common skin disease affecting pets. Signs include excessive scratching, biting, and rubbing. The constant scratching can lead to skin excoriations and secondary skin infections. A single flea can trigger a response, and every flea must be removed to alleviate signs.
  • Tapeworms - Fleas can transmit tapeworms to your pet. If a dog or cat ingests a flea infected with tapeworm larvae while grooming, the larval worm can develop into an adult tapeworm once the flea is ingested.
  • Bartonellosis - Bartonellosis, also called cat scratch disease, is caused by the bacteriumBartonella henselae.An infected flea bite can transmit the disease to cats, causing an asymptomatic infection, and cats can transmit the disease to humans and other pets through a scratch or bite.

Ticks and your pet

Ticks are hardy creatures that feed off of pets, people, and wildlife. These parasites carry many debilitating diseases, including:

  • Lyme disease - This disease is transmitted by the black-legged tick and the western black-legged tick, and is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. Signs include fever, swollen lymph nodes, lethargy, and shifting limb lameness. In some cases, kidney inflammation and dysfunction can occur.
  • Anaplasmosis - Anaplasmosis is transmitted by the black-legged and western black-legged ticks, and is caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum. Signs include fever, lethargy, joint pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. In rare cases, neurologic signs, such as seizures, are reported.
  • Ehrlichiosis - Ehrlichiosis is transmitted by the black-legged, brown dog, and lone star ticks, and is caused by bacteria from the Ehrlichiagenus. Signs include fever, lethargy, enlarged lymph nodes, lameness, vomiting, diarrhea, abnormal bruising, and neurologic signs.
  • Tick paralysis- Certain female ticks secrete a toxin that causes ascending paralysis in pets.

Flea and tick prevention options for pets

When you need flea and tick preventives, you have many options, but the most common forms include:

  • Oral - Products are available in a tasty, chewable form that is typically administered monthly.
  • Topical - Spot-on treatments should be applied between your pet's shoulder blades once a month.

While over-the-counter (OTC) products that help prevent fleas and ticks are available, prescription products are more effective and safer for your pet.

Choosing the right flea and tick preventive for your pet

When choosing the best product for your pet, considerations include:

  • Species - Always ensure the product you use is meant for your pet. Never give your cat a preventive meant for a dog, and never give your dog a preventive meant for a cat.
  • Life stage - Ensure the product is safe for your pet's life stage.
  • Weight - Weigh your pet accurately and choose a product appropriate for its weight.
  • Administration - Consider your pet's personality, and choose a product that will be easy to administer. Is your pet food driven, or more discerning in their food choices? If your pet is picky, they may refuse to eat or spit out an oral chew.
  • Combination medications - Read the label to see the parasites the product prevents. Some products also protect your pet from intestinal parasites as well as heartworms. If you choose a preventive that doesn't cover these parasites, you will need a separate product to ensure your pet is fully protected.
  • Breed - Some breeds, such as collies, Australian shepherds, and Shetland sheepdogs, carry a genetic risk for a mutated gene that causes increased sensitivity to certain drugs.
  • Medical condition - If your pet has a medical condition, ask our veterinary team about the safest product to protect your pet from fleas and ticks. For example, certain preventives can lower the seizure threshold in pets with epilepsy.
  • Pregnant - If your pet is pregnant or nursing, or you are planning on breeding her, ensure the product is specifically labeled as safe for pregnant and nursing females.

Other tips to protect your pet from fleas and ticks

Providing year-round flea and tick prevention is the best way to protect your pet from these problematic parasites, but other tips include:

  • Inspecting your pet - Inspect your pet regularly, especially after outings, to ensure they don't have an attached tick. Ticks commonly latch on areas around the eyes and ears, under the collar and tail, in the groin and armpit areas, and between the toes.
  • Looking for flea dirt - If your pet is not allergic to fleas, they may not scratch, and many pets groom away adult fleas. Inspect your pet's coat and bedding for flea dirt, which is flea feces.
  • Treating all pets - All pets, including those who live solely indoors, should be treated every month.
  • Treating year-round - Fleas and ticks are more active in the warmer months, but they can cause problems throughout the year. Ensure your pet receives year-round protection to prevent disease and other complications.

Contact our American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital so we can help you determine the best flea and tick prevention product for your pet.

Same-day appointments available.