When you think about fleas and ticks crawling on your pet, or you, you probably itch all over. In addition to being downright gross, fleas and ticks can cause a number of health problems for your pet. These little pests can transmit life-threatening diseases, cause severe allergies, and, on rare occasions, lead to paralysis. Fortunately, preventing these problems, and others, is as easy as using pet-safe, monthly, year-round flea and tick prevention that Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital can provide for your pet. Here are five reasons why monthly prevention is critical for your pet’s continued good health. 

#1: Fleas and ticks feast on your pet’s blood

After a long winter, fleas and ticks emerge in the spring with one driving motivation—finding a meal. They grab onto the first warm body they encounter, burrow down to the skin, and latch on like little vampires, eating only blood, which is essential for them to grow and reproduce. Ticks remain attached for several days, continuously feeding on your pet’s blood, and drop off, once engorged. Fleas, on the other hand, live on your pet, and feed intermittently, many times a day. A heavy flea or tick infestation can drain your pet of enough blood that she becomes anemic, and has an insufficient blood volume to maintain normal blood flow and tissue oxygen demands. Small puppies and kittens are particularly susceptible to flea anemia, which can be fatal in severe cases. 

#2: Fleas and ticks can transmit dangerous diseases to your pet

While attached to your pet, with a direct line to her bloodstream, fleas and ticks can transmit a number of dangerous diseases. Microscopic bacteria the parasites have picked up from other hosts, likely wild animals, can make their way into your pet’s body, and wreak havoc on her health. Dangerous diseases ticks can carry and transmit include:

  • Lyme disease
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Babesiosis
  • Hepatozoonosis

Fleas take advantage of any host they can find, which often includes wild animals, who carry a number of diseases that can be passed on to your pet, including:

  • Murine typhus
  • Bartonellosis
  • Mycoplasma haemofelis

Monthly flea and tick prevention significantly reduces your pet’s likelihood of infection with a dangerous disease, but cannot completely eliminate the risk, so we recommend annual screening for the most commonly transmitted tick-borne diseases. With a few drops of your pet’s blood, we can test for Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and heartworm disease, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, at our hospital. After only 10 minutes, we can tell if your pet has been exposed to one of these diseases, and begin treatment to eliminate the infection, if necessary.

#3: Flea bites can make your pet miserable

One flea bite may cause a little itching and scratching, but multiple bites from a flea infestation can make your pet downright miserable. To keep the pet’s blood flowing, a flea releases with each bite a small amount of anticoagulant-containing saliva that typically causes a small, local, itchy inflammatory reaction. Think about tens, or hundreds, of fleas scurrying around under your pet’s fur—it’s enough to make your skin crawl. 

And, if that isn’t bad enough, some pets are allergic to flea saliva, and develop severe itching, rashes, and secondary skin infections from only a few bites. Year-round flea prevention is critical for allergic pets, to head off a cycle of severe itching and skin infections.

#4: An attached tick can paralyze your pet

Some tick saliva contains a neurotoxin that causes ascending paralysis in dogs, and occasionally cats. The tick feeds, and releases the neurotoxin, which binds to nerve cells, and can cause hind-limb weakness and incoordination that can progress to an inability to walk, rise, and, eventually, remain in an upright position. Paralysis will advance to involve the respiratory muscles, causing respiratory failure, and death, without treatment. Tick removal will stop additional toxin transmission, but intensive treatment, involving tick antiserum administration, may be required, to prevent toxin already present from continuing to worsen the pet’s condition. 

#5: Fleas can transmit tapeworms to your pet

The most common tapeworm to infect dogs and cats, Dipylidium caninum, is transmitted by fleas. Your pet can ingest a tapeworm-infected flea while grooming herself, and the larval tapeworm can emerge, and develop in her intestines. Tapeworms attach one end to the intestinal wall, and at the opposite end, develop new segments that break off, and are shed in the feces. Tapeworm segments appear as rice grains in your pet’s feces, and alive, or dead, dried segments, can sometimes be seen around a pet’s anus. Although tapeworm infections rarely cause illness in pets, the worms rob your pet of vital nutrients, and can also infect people.

Fleas and ticks aren’t only a nuisance, but can also cause major health problems for your pet, if you are not vigilant in providing monthly, year-round protection. If your pet is due for a prescription refill, call us, to speak with a team member to keep your pet healthy.