When spring returns and the threat of frost subsides, pesky critters like fleas and ticks emerge and search for their first blood meal. Flea and tick prevention is an important part of your pet’s medical care, because these blood-sucking parasites can transmit dangerous diseases not only to your pet but also to you.
Most fleas seen on dogs and cats are the cat flea, or Ctenocephalides felis. Fleas are small (one to three millimeters), reddish-brown insects that use their six powerful legs to jump onto a host.
The fleas on your pet are adults, which represent only five percent of the flea population in your pet’s environment. The rest is made up of eggs (50 percent), larvae (35 percent), and pupae (10 percent). This means that for every flea you see, about 19 more are in various stages of development nearby. A female adult flea can lay up to 50 eggs each day and quickly establish a large population in your home.
How fleas affect your pet
Fleas feed on blood. When they bite, they leave behind a small amount of saliva that causes irritation and itching of the surrounding tissue. This saliva, which is contaminated by the blood of past hosts, can transmit these diseases to you and your pet:
- Murine typhus
- Mycoplasma haemofelis
- Cat scratch disease
Some pets develop an abnormally severe reaction to flea saliva, called flea allergy dermatitis (FAD), where just one flea bite can cause an itchy rash.
Tips for preventing flea infestation
- Administer a veterinarian-approved flea preventive product regularly. Not sure which product is right for your pet? Ask us!
- If you see fleas on your pet, assume they are also in your home, even if you have not seen them or been bitten.
- Frequently vacuum all carpets, hard floors, and furniture, including under and behind pieces where your pet hides or naps, to remove flea eggs, larvae, and pupae. Empty the canister or remove the vacuum bag immediately after.
- Wash pet bedding weekly to prevent fleas from setting up shop in your pet’s favorite sleeping spot.
- Clean up the leaves, debris, and wood in your yard to eliminate fleas’ hiding places.
Ticks are arachnids, like spiders and mites. They are black or brown in color, flat, and have eight legs. Like fleas, they go through a multi-stage life cycle. In the immature larval and nymph stages, they look like small adults with six legs instead of eight.
Ticks cannot jump—they climb onto tall grass or leaves and grab onto an unsuspecting host that walks by. Several tick species are found in Connecticut, but the American dog tick and the deer tick (also known as the black-legged tick) are most likely to affect your pet.
How ticks affect your pet
When a tick bites your pet, it stays attached from a few hours to several days, slowly engorging with blood and swelling to several times its normal size. Tick bites do not cause pain or itching and often go unnoticed, which allows the tick to remain attached long enough to transmit these diseases:
- Lyme disease (which was discovered in, and named after, Lyme, Connecticut)
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Powassan virus
What to do if you find a tick on your pet
Don’t panic if you see a tick on your pet. If it’s not attached, simply remove it and place it in rubbing alcohol to kill it. If it is attached, use tweezers to gently pull it from the skin’s surface. Do not apply heat or chemicals to encourage the tick to back out. Research suggests that causing pain or stress to the tick increases the chance it will transmit disease.
After removing the tick, schedule an appointment with our veterinary team to check your pet for exposure to dangerous tick diseases.
How to prevent tick bites
- Administer a veterinary-approved tick preventive regularly. Ask one of our team members for recommendations.
- Avoid walking your dog in areas with high, unmowed grass.
- Check your pet for hitchhikers that may have become attached when you were outdoors, paying particular attention to the head and ears.
- Keep your yard clean of debris that may harbor ticks, and keep your grass short.
Flea and tick preventives
Many flea and tick preventive products, both prescription and over-the-counter, are available. Unfortunately, some products can be dangerous, especially to cats, so ask our team members to help you choose effective, pet-safe products.
Questions about flea and tick prevention? Call us at 203-748-8878.