Defending Your Dog From Fleas and Ticks
The arrival of warmer weather means more outdoor time for you and your dog. But with that added outdoor time comes the seasonal threat of fleas and ticks—those pesky blood suckers that can make your dog (and you) miserable.
Fleas feed on the blood of warm-blooded animals. Besides being an irritant, they can cause skin infections, hair loss, tapeworm infestation, anemia, and serious bacterial infections. Signs of infestation include:
- Visible evidence of fleas hopping off your pet, or off carpets or furniture
- Itching, chewing, scratching or head-shaking
- Small bite marks on your pet’s belly
- Flea “dirt” in your pet’s coat
Passing a fine-toothed flea comb through your dog’s coat will usually reveal fleas, their feces, (or “dirt”), or both.
Fleas are difficult to eliminate because of their diminutive size, and prolific nature. And even if you treat your dog, fleas can remain in your carpets and furniture. Both pet and home often need to be treated simultaneously in order to eradicate the pests.
First, shampoo your dog with a veterinary-approved flea-and-tick shampoo. Then vacuum carpets, furniture and drapes thoroughly, twice, making sure to toss the bag (or empty the canister into a garbage bag).
Sprinkling a product called diatomaceous earth onto your carpets can help deter fleas. Made of powdered silica derived from fossilized algae, it is non-toxic to dogs and humans, and helps to dehydrate fleas.
If the home infestation is serious, you may need to call an exterminator for professional help, which may involve tenting, then fogging the home with an insecticide. It is not recommended that you do this yourself, as the procedure requires expertise, and the products used are potentially toxic.
To minimize fleas on your dog, ask your veterinarian about the use of a preventive. There are both oral and topical treatments that work by disrupting the flea’s nervous system, while remaining safe to dogs. Regular use of these during flea season will prevent infestation.
Take your dog for a summer hike through a grassy field, and she will run the risk of tick infestation. And, due to an anesthetic component in the tick’s saliva, dogs will not even feel the initial bite.
Ticks can cause numerous illnesses, including:
- Anemia, or loss of blood
- Ehrlichiosis, which affects the dog’s platelet count, and can cause abnormal bleeding.
- Anaplasmosis, a bacterial infection that causes fever, vomiting, swollen joints and seizures.
- Lyme Disease, which can produce joint, heart and kidney issues
- Anaplasmosis, a bacterial infection causing fever, diarrhea, swollen joints or seizures
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever, causing swelling, seizures, or bleeding
- Babesiosis, a parasitic infection that triggers anemia, fever, fatigue, and weight loss
After every outdoor outing with your dog, check her entire body for ticks. Look in and behind ears, on the belly, under the tail near the rectum, between the toes, and even in the nostrils. Do not depend on your dog itching or scratching to reveal a tick, as they often will not feel the parasite.
If you find an embedded tick, grab some tweezers, sterilize them in rubbing alcohol, then carefully grab the tick as close as possible to your dog’s skin and pull straight up and away. The goal is to remove the entire tick, and not leave the head and/or mouth embedded, as this can cause infection. Do NOT use matches, cigarettes, or any petroleum-based distillates to remove the tick—just tweezers. After removal, swab the area with rubbing alcohol, or soap and water. If you do not feel confident in removing a tick, see your veterinarian.
From spring through the fall, all dogs should be given a veterinarian-approved flea-and tick preventive. Whether you use a topical application, an oral chew, or a combination of both, consider monthly usage until the seasonal threat of parasites ends. Consult your veterinarian regarding which preventives and dosages will work best. Avoid over-the-counter products, as the are not as effective, and can endanger your dog’s health.
As with fleas, ticks can be discouraged from latching on by the use of a veterinarian-approved flea-and-tick shampoo, once each month during tick season.
Author and pet behaviorist Steve Duno has trained thousands of dogs, cats and their owners. His sixteen pet care books address a wide variety of topics, including breed-specific behavior, environmental enrichment, basic obedience training, behavior modification, and nutrition. A former veterinary technician and school teacher, Steve lives in Seattle with his family, and his lovable Rough Collie, Rocco.