Fleas, Ticks & The Diseases They Carry

By Dr. Steven Wolchinsky, Managing Veterinarian

Spring is here and with the warmer weather, fleas and ticks will abound. That means it’s time to start flea and tick preventative treatments, if you haven’t already, as these pests can be a nuisance in more ways than one to both you and your furry friends. Here is what pet parents should watch out for this season.

In addition to flea and tick control on our pets, we also need to worry about environmental control and the diseases that these parasites spread. Lyme disease has become one of the most prevalent infectious disease that we see in dogs in our area. Up to twenty percent of the dogs in our region that are not protected against Lyme disease by vaccine and tick control may become infected. We see Lyme positive dogs everyday at Rocky Gorge Animal Hospital. It’s a debilitating disease that can lead to not only pain and arthritis symptoms, but even death in dogs when the disease infects the kidneys.

Lyme is also somewhat unique in that if your pets infected, they don’t build up natural immune protection, meaning the disease continues to develop and spread. This makes vaccinations so important as it’s the only way for your pet to build up immunity so they never get infected. If your dog is outside in areas that are infested by ticks, it’s essential they’re protected with tick control and vaccinated against Lyme disease.

Although there are safe and effective antibiotics for Lyme disease, which help with most of the symptoms, they do not cure the disease. The organism can live for many years inside of your pet’s body, hiding from its immune system. Please talk to your veterinarian about Lyme disease and how to prevent it during your next visit.

In addition to Lyme, we’re seeing an increased prevalence of other diseases spread by ticks in our area. This is likely due to different ticks migrating. One example is the lone star tick that was rare in our area, and now is very common. Because of this and other environmental changes, we’re now commonly seeing Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis which are also diseases spread by ticks to pets in our region.

Most parasitologists speculate there are other diseases being spread by ticks that we haven’t even identified yet! That’s why good flea and tick control is essential to keep these parasites off your pets and out of your house where they are also a risk for humans.

I’ve been practicing for over 30 years and will tell you there’s nothing worse than getting a flea infestation in your house. It’s awful for the pets and people. Flea’s pupae can live in your house for a year waiting for the opportunity to leap on your pets and cause an infestation. A single flea can cause an infestation of 20,000 fleas in a couple of months. If you times that by hundreds: yikes!

There are safe and effective topicals for all pets, as well as safe and effective orals for dogs, to help prevent flea infestations from happening. We even offer a 3 month topical that’s safe for your cats called Bravecto. Please always check the label for anything you use topically on cats. Dog products can be extremely toxic to cats and can even be fatal. It’s terrible when this happens, so please triple check those labels. In dogs, personally I’m a big fan of oral preventatives. They’re chewable and palatable, and can be given safely with your monthly heartworm prevention. When using oral products you don’t have to worry about putting anything topically on your dogs and having your children or yourself in contact with them. They’re highly effective for fleas and ticks, and since they’re newer, there is little to no resistance to these products yet. Eventually insects and arachnids (which is what ticks are) develop resistance to everything we produce.

It’s appropriate to finish this blog with fleas since they’ve been the bane of most practitioners I know around here. One of the most common allergy issues we deal with every year is Flea allergic dermatitis. It begins with severe itching from the flea saliva that’s injected into the pet to stop its blood from clotting. It quickly progresses to secondary infections and misery. Flea allergies are difficult to treat because the flea infestations are difficult to treat in the environment. That’s why PREVENTION is SO important.

Any further information on Fleas and Ticks and their associated diseases or any other questions feel free to contact me at drw@rockygorgevet.com

Additional Control Measures for Fleas & Ticks

  • Vacuum indoor carpets and solid surfaces using a vacuum with a rotating bar.
  • Vacuum furniture using appropriate attachments.
  • Wash bed linens, pet bedding and rugs frequented by pets.
  • Mow lawns regularly.
  • Clear brush, leaves and tall grass from around houses, gardens and walls at property margins.
  • Stack wood off the ground in a dry location away from the house.
  • Clear gardens, including remains of perennial plants, after the growing season.
  • Consult with your veterinarian and a licensed pest-control specialist to assess the need to use pesticides in selected areas in and around your home.

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