10 Steps to Keep Your Pets Pest-Free

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Preventing Fleas and Ticks on Dogs, Cats and Other Pets

As a pet owner, you know it is important to provide your pet with regular exercise, a nutritious diet and lots of love and affection. But you also have a responsibility to protect your pet from health risks, such as those posed by pests.  Ticks and fleas can make your pets - and you - sick and can lead to infestations in your home.

Ticks can be especially dangerous for pets, including animals that spend any amount of time outdoors, such as dogs, cats, rabbits and horses. As with humans, blacklegged deer ticks, which are most common in the Northeastern U.S. can transmit Lyme disease to some pets. In dogs, symptoms of Lyme disease can include fever, decreased appetite, swollen, painful joints, lameness or limping, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes. In serious cases, pets with Lyme disease can develop kidney disease. 

In addition to Lyme disease, ticks can also cause "tick paralysis" in pets. Tick paralysis occurs when a female tick attaches near a pet's spinal cord, causing muscle weakness, loss of coordination and in some cases, death from respiratory failure as chest muscles become paralyzed.

Pets that spend a lot of time outdoors, especially in wooded areas or tall grasses, are more susceptible to ticks. However, other animals can carry ticks into yards, allowing pets to pick them up without ever leaving your property. Ticks can then hitch a ride into your home on your pet, where they can bite humans and other pets.

Fleas are another common pest that can affect pets, especially cats and dogs. The most common species of fleas plaguing American homes and their domestic animals is the cat flea. Their bites can cause itchy, red bumps that lead to excessive scratching. Fleas can also cause conditions such as anemia and flea allergy dermatitis and can transfer tapeworms.

Adult fleas lay their eggs on their host, where they hatch and reproduce. Eggs can also roll off onto nearby surfaces such as carpets, couches, pet bedding-usually anywhere a family pet has access to and particularly likes to lay.  Fleas can be particularly hard to find since they are so small and move very fast along the surface of the skin.  In addition to being hard to find, they breed fast. One adult flea can lay as many as 20 eggs per day and the eggs typically hatch within 2 to 14 days. As a result, a flea infestation can grow quickly. A large infestation of fleas can be difficult and time consuming to eradicate. A flea infestation in your home should always be left to licensed pest professionals to handle. They will have the knowledge, tools and experience to treat the infestation safely and effectively.

Of course, the best way to protect your pets and your home from common household pests is to prevent an infestation before it ever happens. Luckily, there are many steps pet owners can take to protect their pets from pests like fleas and ticks:

  1. After walks or playtime outside, inspect your pet thoroughly.  Brush their coat to remove any debris or insects. Be especially vigilant if your pet has been in wooded areas or high grasses, where pests thrive.
  2. Bathe dogs regularly, using a shampoo that can kill pests.
  3. Be on the lookout for skin irritations on your pet, such as bite marks or red, itchy skin. Excessive scratching is a good indicator that they have skin irritations.
  4. If your pet has long hair, consider having them groomed in the spring and summer, when ticks and fleas are most prevalent. Not only will this help to prevent insects from latching onto their long hair and help you to spot any that do, it will also help to keep your pet cool during the warmest time of the year.
  5. Consult with a veterinarian to determine if a preventative medicine is recommended for your pet.
  6. If you notice a change in your animal's behavior, such as lack of appetite or decrease in energy, take them to your veterinarian ASAP. This could be a sign of Lyme disease or other health issue caused by pests.
  7. Wash your pet's bedding, crate, toys, food bowls and sleeping areas on a regular basis.
  8. Keep your home clean and clutter-free to deter pest infestations and make it easy to spot any pests that do find their way indoors. Vacuum frequently and wash linens on a regular basis.
  9. Keep your lawn cut short and gardens well maintained to prevent breeding grounds for pests. Fleas and ticks often hide out in tall grasses.
  10. 10.  If you find a tick on your pet, remove it immediately, being careful to extract the head and mouthparts completely. If your pet has fleas, bathe them and seek the consult of a veterinarian.
  11. 11.  If you suspect your home is infested with ticks or fleas, contact a licensed pest professional. 

By following these tips and keeping your pet (and your home!) pest free, you'll help ensure that your pet has many happy, healthy years ahead of them. For more information on ticks, fleas and protecting your pets from pests, or to find a pest control professional in your area, visit PestWorld.org.