What you need to know about flea and tick prevention, detection and treatment.
“Fleas win the first-place prize in ectoparasites,” (organisms that live outside of an animal) says Dr. Kelsey Korabik of Animal Medical Center of Lapeer. “They are like ninjas because they are extremely fast and have a life cycle that makes them survivors. And they bite 400 times in a day!”
The best way to win this battle is through prevention, Dr. Kelsey urges. There are several varieties of preventative medicines for pets such as dogs, cats, domestic ferrets or rabbits: oral preventatives – chewy treats or flavored tablets – or topical preventatives.
While it can help to keep your yard tidy, and regularly vacuum rugs and wash your pet’s bedding, “fleas don’t care if you have a clean house,” she said. “They only want an available untreated pet.”
Regularly examining your pet might help you find a flea problem, but because fleas are so fast, there may still be an infestation even if you don’t see any. “Research suggests that if you find one flea, there are really four,” cautions the veterinarian, who cares for her own two cats, a parakeet and two horses.
Consider the life cycle of fleas: they lay 50 eggs per day (which can lay dormant for up to two years!) and within a couple of weeks grow into adults, drink your pet’s blood and start laying eggs. Dr. Kelsey warns pet owners that the early life stages happen before you ever see one, “so they’ve been reproducing for a couple of months and you can get quickly overwhelmed.”
If you realize one of your pets has fleas, it is important to get all your household pets onto oral or topical preventatives right away. Dr. Kelsey says these are affordable, however, it would be less expensive to use them to prevent a flea infestation than treat one and have to play catch up. She points out that a cat will need a topical flea preventative designed for cats because it is a different dose.
There are six different kinds of ticks in the state of Michigan. The black-legged tick is most concerning because it can carry Lyme disease, a bacterial infection living in the tick’s gut. Dr. Kelsey says Michigan has seen an increase over the last 9-10 years and it is becoming a serious issue.
Lyme disease can affect dogs, cats and people, though is rarely fatal. A tick must bite an animal to transfer the bacteria, so you cannot catch Lyme disease. Commonly found on rodents and deer, it is possible for people and migrating birds, such as American Robins, to carry ticks. “Thankfully we have had no Lyme disease incidents in our clinic, however, Lapeer County has experienced some,” shares Dr. Kelsey.
Prevention is key! This is best done through monthly, long-action medications that will kill both fleas and ticks when they bite your pet.
Tick activity can begin as early as February if it is getting warmer. The local vet recommends an annual blood test as the easiest method to detect disease. Screening will reveal heartworm, Lyme and other tick-related diseases. “The vast majority of dogs and cats don’t show signs of disease because it is sneaky,” says Dr. Kelsey. “However, we are a little bit smarter than a masked disease.”
“Regularly check over your pet,” she suggests, “focusing on their ears, throat and face, where ticks will commonly attach.” A tick can be very small, the size of pinhead, and is very good at digging through fur.
If you find a tick, you or your vet need to manually remove it as quickly as possible. Dr. Kelsey suggests reading or watching a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tutorial on the proper way to dislodge a tick. The bite area may become infected or irritated, but not necessarily.
Caution regarding online medications
As a final important safety tip, Dr. Kelsey urges caution if purchasing pet medications online, “Every year I see counterfeit products that make pets sick,” she shares. “They may be inferior quality with less stable active ingredients, improperly labeled or contain the wrong percentages which could result in a toxicity reaction.” Also, they simply may not be effective. Remember that your veterinarian sources medicines directly from the distributor and pays for quality and safety.
For more pet care advice, visit the Animal Medical Center of Lapeer or its website at www.amclapeer.com.