Did you know female fleas lay at least 20 eggs a day, half of which will be female and those can eventually produce about 20,000 new fleas in sixty days? Think about that for a moment. While considering the havoc one female flea can unleash, let’s look at a fleas other capabilities. Fleas can jump 110 times their length. When they jump, fleas accelerate 20 times faster than a space shuttle. Fleas are extremely adaptable. They have existed on earth at least 165 million years dating back to the Mesozoic era. Fleas are also hardy. Winter doesn’t always kill them. Their larvae can survive short periods of freezing temperatures. Many find warm spots to hide until temperatures rise.
Flea bites can be painful and itchy. The scratching caused by flea bite dermatitis can result in hair loss and red irritated spots on your pet’s skin. If your pet has fleas, they will drop eggs from the fleas onto your floors. Those eggs will quickly hatch and go through the same cycle of laying eggs and creating more and more fleas. Even indoor only cats can develop fleas from those brought into your house on your pants and socks. All fleas carry tapeworm and can transmit them to your pet. Tapeworms love to live in your pet’s intestines and can cause nutrient absorption problems.
Ticks, which let’s be honest are horrifying, don’t fly, jump or fall from trees. They crawl up their hosts from tips of grasses and shrubs. Ticks are arachnids, not insects. They are more closely related to spiders and scorpions. Because their saliva acts like cement helping to anchor them in place, ticks are difficult to remove. More than 850 species of ticks roam our planet. The lone star tick, so named because of a little splotch on its back someone believed was shaped like the state of Texas, can cause rare allergies in humans to red meat and hot dogs. Dogs can also develop this allergy resulting in itching, skin lesions and hair loss if their diet contains beef, lamb, or pork affected by the lone star tick.
Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, inhabit half of all U.S. counties. They transmit Lyme disease along with other illnesses. Though it is one of the most common tick-transmitted diseases, Lyme disease causes symptoms in only 10% of affected dogs. To contract Lyme disease, the tick must be attached to your dog for at least 48 hours. Therefore, immediate inspection and removal of any ticks found following exposure to wooded areas is important. Dogs will experience illness 2 – 5 months after infection. The primary symptom is recurrent lameness due to inflammation of the joints. Other symptoms include lack of appetite, depression, and swollen lymph nodes. More serious complications can include kidney damage and rarely, heart or nervous system disease. A checklist of symptoms to be aware of include the following:
- Lameness or limping and difficulty moving in general. Exercise intolerance and increased sitting or lying down.
- Increased fatigue and tiredness instead of being awake and energetic.
- Lack of appetite or complete refusal to eat meals or treats.
- Increased consumption of water due to elevated body temperature.
- May also show signs of muscle and joint soreness.
Remember it is easier to prevent tick bites than to treat later. Taking precautions is always better. Some prevention tips include staying out of woodsy areas when walking or exercising your dog. Stick to neighborhood sidewalks and roads. Keep your lawn free of grass and wood piles. Cut your yard regularly and keep it clear of leaves and weeds. If you use outdoor pesticides, be sure they are safe for animals. Always check your dog for ticks after walking or visiting dog parks. Groom their fur with a fine tooth comb.
Tennessee has several different types of ticks. You and your dog are most likely to encounter the American dog tick, lone star tick, blacklegged (deer) tick, brown dog tick, and winter tick. The American dog tick is the most common. It feeds on humans and large mammals such as dogs and raccoons. However, the blacklegged (deer) tick which causes Lyme disease is the most worrisome. Both are found in wooded areas. Though Lyme disease is much more prevalent in the Northeast United States, there have been confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the Southeast.
In order to diagnose Lyme disease, your veterinarian will require a thorough history including noticeable symptoms and any incidents preceding them. Today, we are fortunate to have access to two tests which help determine whether the infection is active and recent. If the screening test is positive, your veterinarian will discuss additional testing to determine if treatment if appropriate. If your dog develops a clinical illness from Lyme disease, antibiotic treatment with Doxycycline or Amoxicillin is most commonly prescribed. If left untreated, dogs infected with Lyme disease may suffer multiple organ system damage including to the kidneys and liver.
Prevention is key. Remember it is always easier to prevent fleas and ticks than it is to later treat the diseases they cause for your pet. Discuss with your veterinarian which prevention medication is most ideal for your pet. Don’t forget to give your indoor cat prevention medication. Mark your calendar to remind yourself when to give your pet their monthly dose of prevention medication. If you have fleas in your home, vacuum your floors thoroughly. Take special care to place the vacuum bag in the outdoor trash immediately. Fleas can hatch eggs inside the vacuum bag causing more problems. Continue to vacuum thoroughly on a regular basis until you are rid of fleas. Wash your bedding and your pet’s bedding in hot water. Include blankets, dog beds, towels, and plush toys. Continue washing those items on a regular basis at least monthly until your flea problem is gone. Most importantly, if you suspect your dog or cat has fleas or ticks, call your veterinarian to schedule an appointment for a thorough examination of your pet.