How to keep ticks and fleas away from your pets for good

How to keep ticks and fleas away from your pets for good

Ticks and fleas may be tiny, but they can have huge consequences if they are not kept in check. These external parasites live off the blood of mammals, so it’s only a matter of time before your pets attract them, host them and then bring them indoors. Ticks and fleas are drawn towards the cosy confines of a pet’s fur coat, where they can make themselves at home, bite into the skin and enjoy a blood meal, which is the first step before they start breeding. Once the breeding cycle begins, it can be very difficult to rid your pets (and home) of an infestation.

Since ticks and fleas feed on pets’ blood, there can be severe health consequences if they are allergic to parasite bites and/or harbour an infestation. As pet owners, you’ll want to avoid this at all costs – it could save your pet’s life and save you on high vet bills. In this article, we’ll look at how ticks and fleas get onto your pets, how to repel them, and how to keep them off your pets for good.

Why ticks and fleas are bad for pets

Our pets spend a portion of their day outdoors, where they can pick up ticks and fleas from the natural environment. These tiny parasites wait on plants and grass for warm-blooded mammals to brush past, then make the jump or are transferred from plant to pet, where they find shelter within fur coats, close to pets’ skin. They only need to take one blood meal to start reproducing, so it’s important to stop them in their tracks. Pets are at risk of the following illnesses from these parasites:

Flea bite dermatitis

Some dogs and cats are so allergic to fleas’ saliva that all it takes is one bite to trigger flea bite dermatitis. The symptoms of flea bite dermatitis include inflamed and itchy skin, relentless scratching, and possible secondary infection if their scratching breaks their skin and introduces bacteria into their wounds. Flea bite dermatitis requires treatment from a veterinarian as well as preventative treatment to keep fleas off your pet.

Tapeworms

Did you know that tapeworms can only be introduced to their host when the host swallows a tapeworm egg? And who hosts the tapeworm egg? Fleas! When fleas bite and feed off your pet, they will scratch and nibble on their skin to get rid of the itch. While grooming, your pet can ingest these fleas, and if a flea is hosting a tapeworm egg, the egg is introduced to your pet’s GI tract. It’s here that the egg hatches and the tapeworm anchors itself into the intestinal wall, feeding off the nutrients present there. If pets are healthy, the tapeworm does not usually cause any harm, but we recommend regular deworming to get rid of any tapeworms (and other worms) to ensure your pets stay healthy. Getting rid of fleas in your pets’ environment will reduce your pets’ exposure to tapeworms altogether.

Anaemia

When pets have a tick and/or flea infestation, they can lose a lot of blood, which takes a toll on their red blood cell count. Lowered red blood cell count means there’s less oxygen in their blood, which can lead to tiredness or lethargy, shortness of breath, and pale gums, among other symptoms. Pets with anaemia from parasitic infestations must get veterinary treatment as soon as possible, as it can have a devastating effect on their health.

Ticks can cause tick disease

Ticks can feed on pets and leave tick-borne diseases in their wake. Dogs that aren’t preventatively protected from ticks are especially susceptible to tick diseases like biliary and canine ehrlichiosis, which present symptoms like:

  • low/no appetite
  • weight loss
  • joint pain
  • swollen lymph glands
  • fever
  • secondary infection from scratched skin
  • lethargy and depression

If your pet has been exposed to ticks and the whites of their eyes are discoloured and their gums and skin in general have a yellow (jaundiced) appearance, they have most likely contracted biliary or tick bite fever. When it has progressed to this point, they need urgent veterinary care as this disease can be fatal.

Signs of a tick or flea infestation on your pet

If you can see ticks or fleas on your pet, or even if you only see flea dirt (the tiny bits of dried excreted blood), they are at risk of hosting a parasitic infestation. On short-haired dogs with flat coats, engorged ticks will be visible as bumps under the coat. If you run your hand along long-haired dogs, you’ll be able to feel the engorged ticks. Ticks also love to bite into the soft parts of dogs, so if there are ticks on other parts of their body, also check in their ears and on their face.

Engorged adult ticks that cannot consume any more blood will let go of your pet and drop to the ground, where they will be visible, slowly crawling away. Fleas, however, can cause a risk of infestation in your home environment when they hide in flooring, pet beds and carpets during the larval stage. When they become adult fleas, you may even experience bites on your ankles – this is when you know you have an infestation! Regular vacuuming and the disinfecting of your pets’ common areas, as well as offering preventative parasitic treatments to your pets, can prevent flea infestations.

How to remove ticks from your pets

If you can see a tick or two on your pet, it will be beneficial to remove them immediately – both to prevent tick-borne diseases as well as to stop them from reproducing. You do not need to douse the tick in oil, apple cider vinegar, alcohol or any other substance. Simply try one of the following methods:

Twirly-whirly method

Now is not the time to be squeamish about ticks – you’ll need to use your finger or an earbud, placed on the tick, making little circles so that the tick is ‘twirled’ around and around in one direction. Eventually it will be ‘bothered’ enough to simply let go and drop off your pet.

Tweezers

When you find a tick on your pet, use a pair of sharp-tipped tweezers to grip the tick’s head as close to your pet’s skin as possible. Pull upwards with a firm, constant pressure until the tick comes away. Don’t squeeze the tick too tightly or try to rip it away from your pet, as this could cause the mouthparts to break off.

A tick picker

A tick picker is a for-purpose tick-removal tool, which can be found in the grooming section of the vet shop. Simply place the narrow wire loop over the tick and draw the tick picker back to grab the tick and pull it out.

Have a container of rubbing alcohol nearby in which to drop a removed tick so that it can be disposed of. Don’t simply throw it back into the environment. Disinfect the bite location on your pet’s skin and make sure it heals up properly. Keep an eye on your pet’s general health to ensure they have not contracted any tick-borne diseases.

Tick and flea prevention for dogs and cats

When it comes to pet parasites, prevention is better (and cheaper) than cure. Tick and flea medication can be regularly applied to both kill and repel ticks and fleas from dogs and cats. There are many different tick and flea prevention options to choose from:

  • tablets and capsules
  • tick and flea collars
  • chews
  • spot-on treatment
  • powders
  • sprays
  • ultrasonic tick repelling collar
  • tick and flea shampoo

The type of preventative solution you choose will depend on your pet’s lifestyle as well as their home situation. In a blended pet home with both dogs and cats, cats should never be exposed to tick and flea medication for dogs, as it is toxic to them. In this instance, it would be beneficial to treat your dog for external parasites with a chew or tablet, and your cat with a flea collar or spot-on treatment. Similarly, a dog that loves swimming or is groomed often for showing will constantly wash off a spot-on treatment. If you have small children, keep them away from pets that have just had a spot-on treatment applied, or use a non-toxic treatment like a chew or an ultrasonic repellent collar.

Always check the packaging of ingestible treatments (tablets, chews and capsules) to confirm the dosage intervals and ensure continuous protection against ticks and fleas.

Another proactive way to keep ticks and fleas off your pets is to regularly groom your dogs and cats and use that time to feel your dog’s skin and fur to detect the presence of parasites. Even if you take your dog for a walk on the pavement, there may be stray animals in the area that have deposited their ectoparasites nearby. Ticks and fleas just need a passing opportunity to climb onto your pet’s fur coat – it’s enough to introduce these critters to your home. Always check your pets before going inside again after spending time outdoors.

Do ticks and fleas also bite humans?

Ticks and fleas target warm-blooded mammals, so of course they will bite humans. Aside from protecting your pet’s health, this is a very good reason to take the preventative approach to ticks and fleas when treating dogs and cats. Tick bites don’t hurt, but if the tick carries bacteria and disease, people can develop tick bite fever and experience terrible flu-like symptoms approximately 10 days after exposure to the tick. If you find a tick on you or discover what you suspect to be a tick bite, keep track of how many days later you experience bodily aches and pains, headache and fever, and make an appointment with your doctor.

A flea infestation can result in flea bites on the feet and ankles that become extremely itchy. Make sure you vacuum, disinfect and clean thoroughly if you think you have a flea infestation. Be sure to keep your pets and their bedding and environments tick and flea free.

Are ticks and fleas dormant in winter?

In most parts of the country, ticks and fleas will be active almost all year ‘round. The South African climate is too temperate to stop parasite activity altogether in winter, although these critters may move more slowly than during summertime. This makes it crucial to keep your pets’ preventative tick and flea treatments up to date throughout the year, and to regularly and thoroughly wash their bedding, blankets and toys.