The Unwanted Intruder, Fleas and Ticks….Oh My!!

Do you own a cat or a dog? Does your house have central heating? If so, then there are hordes of fleas who would love to be your new roommates.

We can all agree nobody wants these pesky buggers in their home or scoring a free meal on their beloved pet. First, it’s important to get to know your adversary:

The lifecycle starts with the undetected enemy (egg) encompassing a whopping 50% of the total flea population. Eggs are initially laid on the pet and then drop off into the environment to continue their development. Those microscopic eggs will then become what I like to call grazers (larva). Larva scavenge for organic debris and flea feces to feed on. They are “dark-loving” creatures who like to burrow into carpets or cracks between boards in hardwood floors.

At this point the insidious larva manufactures itself a cocoon. I like to call this stage going incognito (pupa). The cocoon itself is very sticky so it quickly becomes covered with debris from the environment creating a camouflage effect. It only takes the pupae a few weeks to mature and at that time the adult flea can emerge. Interestingly enough a pupa can lay dormant for up to nine months and are actually resistant to insecticides in the environment at this stage.

The adult flea only emerges when properly stimulated whether that be from physical pressure, CO2, or heat. This is why vacuuming is so vitally important to the eradication of these nuisances. The vibrations from the vacuum cause newly developed fleas to hatch but be sure to empty that vacuum bag when you’re done! I wanted to briefly go over each stage as the adult flea is only five percent of the population. Many people tell me “oh my animal doesn’t have fleas because I haven’t seen any” to that I say “maybe but maybe not. Why risk it!”

Besides being downright disgusting, fleas are also involved in transmission of other diseases to pets and potentially humans. Nearly every pet exposed to fleas will become infected with tape worms. This occurs when your pet grooms itself and unknowingly ingests the fleas that harbor the tape worm larva leading to the tapeworms establishing in your pet. Fleas can also cause flea allergy dermatitis and heavily infested animals, or very young pets, can even become severely anemic.

While we are on the subject of blood sucking ectoparasites, I do want to take a second and briefly talk about ticks. Here in Washington we have five kinds of disease carrying ticks. I won’t bore you with the medical names of each but it is important to know that the diseases they carry are serious. These include rocky-mountain spotted fever, tick paralysis, lymes disease and relapsing fever. There are a few easy ways to protect our companions from ticks such as applying a once a month topical licensed for tick protection for high risk dogs(Frontline Plus) or by putting a special collar on when going outdoors (Preventic) during our limited tick season from Feburary-May.

Nothing can protect your animal 100% of the time from ticks so it’s good to know how to remove one if found on you or your pet. All I ask is that you put down your lighters, re-apply the lid of that petroleum jelly and cap that nail polish. All of those “remedies” are completely useless and potentially dangerous. Use something like tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Then using steady even pressure carefully pull straight up. Do not twist or tug as this could cause the tick to break leaving the head behind. If you have found a tick on your animal and you would not like to remove it, please contact us here at FVH and we will gladly take care of it for you.

So all this may lead you to ask, just what can I do to keep these evil pests at bay?!

  • Treat cats topically, once monthly with Revolution. Make sure to apply the product on the back of the neck in an area where the cat can’t lick it. Revolution not only safely kills fleas on your cat, but also is the only product licensed to prevent ear mites and several other common intestinal worms.
  • Treat dogs orally, once monthly with Comfortis. To prevent vomiting that only occasionally occurs and gain acceptance of the product by your dog always give the pill with food and air out the tablet for 20 minutes. The tablet may be placed in canned food for 30 minutes until it becomes mushy and takes on the flavor of the food. Comfortis is the only FDA approved, organic product proven safe and effective for flea control. It also kills fleas faster than other products so your dog gets bit less before the flea bites the dust.
  • Virtually all household infestations will require at least 3 months of flea treatment to the pet before fleas disappear. In extreme cases professional treatment of the house and yard may be required to break the flea lifecycle more quickly.
  • Wash bedding regularly and be sure to vacuum on a weekly basis to stimulate egg hatching during the initial infestation period. The vacuum bag must be emptied after each run.
  • Treat for fleas from April/May-November if in a low risk area or year round if you want to be sure they do not gain a foothold in your house.
  • Check your pet for ticks after hiking in the months of February-May. The Chuckanut mountains do harbor the greatest population, although they can be found in limited areas around the city.
  • Treat your pet for tapeworms only after you are certain the flea infestation is completely remedied.

I hope this helps you in the never ending battle of fleas, ticks and pets!

Meredith, LVT