After time spent outdoors, you always check your pet for fleas and ticks. These unwanted passengers can not only cause your pet discomfort, but can also infect your pet with serious illnesses. Our team at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital wants to educate you on these parasites. Following are our tips on keeping your pet critter-free.

Pet owner’s guide to fleas

Fleas are small, wingless, jumping insects that feed on the blood of mammals and birds. They can transmit tapeworms and diseases such as plague. Canada is home to 127 flea species, with the three most common being the dog, cat, and bird flea. Dog and cat fleas feed on dogs, cats, and humans, while bird fleas mostly feed on birds, but can attach to dogs, cats, humans, and other animals, as well. Dog fleas carry tapeworms.

The peak flea season is early August to early October. Fleas prefer warm, shady, humid areas, and can easily latch onto your pet as they explore outdoors. 

Signs your pet has fleas

The most common sign that your pet has a flea infestation is excessive grooming. The parasite bites are extremely irritating, and can make your pet restless. Your pet will attempt to groom away the fleas, which can be seen as fast-moving, dark brown, pinhead-sized insects in your pet’s fur. You should also inspect your pet and their bedding for flea eggs that look like tiny, white grains, and flea droppings that look like small, dark grains. 

Complications fleas can cause your pet

In addition to extreme irritation, fleas can cause many health problems for your pet.

  • Flea bite hypersensitivity Some pets can develop an allergy to the saliva that the flea releases into their skin when the flea bites. These pets will be excessively itchy, and will likely exhibit hair loss and crusty skin lesions. 
  • Tapeworms Your pet can easily swallow a flea as they groom. Fleas commonly carry tapeworm larvae and when your pet ingests the flea, they can become infected with the tapeworm. These parasites attach themselves to the walls of your pet’s gut. If your pet has a heavy infection, they can lose weight, despite a nutritious diet.
  • Anemia — A flea can consume 15 times their body weight in blood, so a pet who has a large number of fleas can lose a significant amount of blood. Puppies and kittens are especially at risk. Signs include pale mucous membranes and weakness.

Treating and preventing fleas on your pet

Fleas must be eradicated from your pet and their environment for your pet to be protected from these parasites.

  • Your pet — Eliminate fleas from your pet by bathing them thoroughly and using a flea comb. Several bathing sessions may be required. Read product labels carefully, because many products intended for dogs are dangerous for cats.
  • Your home — Exterminate fleas from your home by extensively cleaning rugs, carpets, bedding, and upholstery. Severe cases may require a professional exterminator.
  • Your yard — Lawn treatments may be needed if your pet gets reinfected when they are in your yard.

A year-round flea prevention program should be devised for your pet. Products come in several forms. The team at Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital will be glad to discuss the best preventives for your pet.

Pet owner’s guide to ticks

A tick is a parasitic arachnid that feeds on the blood of warm-blooded vertebrates and can spread infectious diseases. Forty tick species can be found in Canada. Common ticks include the American dog tick, which carries and transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF); the lone star tick, responsible for Lyme disease; and the brown dog tick, which carries and transmits RMSF and Lyme disease. Ticks are most active in the late spring and summer, although they can be found all year long. They reside in tall, dense grass and attach to your pet as they walk through. 

Signs your pet has ticks

Ticks are visible to the naked eye. Inspect your pet well after they have been outside. Ticks prefer the head, neck, ears, and feet but can attach anywhere on your pet’s body.

Complications that ticks can cause your pet

Ticks can carry and infect your pet with life-threatening diseases if not removed in a timely manner.

  • Tick-borne illness Lyme disease and RMSF can cause fever, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes, painful joints, and kidney failure.
  • Tick paralysis Some ticks release a toxin that can cause extreme muscle weakness in your pet.
  • Infection If the tick’s embedded head is not removed, infection can occur.

Treating and preventing ticks on your pet

If you find a tick on your pet, remove the parasite promptly, but wear gloves to protect yourself from the ticks’ blood. Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the head as possible and then firmly pull upward. Place the tick in a jar of rubbing alcohol. Thoroughly clean the bite area on your pet, monitor the site for swelling or discharge, and watch for tick-borne illness signs. Many products that prevent fleas will also help prevent ticks from plaguing your pet.

Keeping your pet protected from fleas and ticks will help ensure they live a long, nuisance-free life. If your pet is tormented by these parasites, or you would like to discuss preventive measures, contact Kennedy Heights Animals and Bird Hospital to schedule an appointment.