First we get hot, dry weather, then then we get hot wet weather. It has been perfect weather for fleas and ticks in Kansas, where our season typically starts in April and runs through September, though depending on the weather, these parasites can pop up at almost anytime of the year.
Fleas and ticks are more than pests, they can be dangerous for your pet, and with ticks in particular, also cause problems for humans. They are not particularly associated with a “dirty” home–any home can find an infestation seemingly overnight, especially with fleas which can be dormant for months, even years and hatch as soon as conditions are right.
If you’ve ever experienced a severe flea infestation it is something you won’t soon forget and cannot be contained overnight, but may take two to three weeks to finally erradicate these pests inside your home. I have been through it once, and we make sure to start flea prevention with the start of Spring to prevent it from ever happening again.
Hot dry weather is what ticks like. Ticks are larger, easier to see and when they have attached themselves to an animal, they grow as they fill with blood. This makes them particularly “icky” to remove, though we’ve plucked plenty of ticks off of our animals over the years.
Cheryl Schmidt, DVM at Blair Doon Veterinary Hospital cautions that ticks are not only a problem for your pets, but they can also cause Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in humans. “Realistically, there is no ‘tick season’,” she noted.
Protecting your pets from these parasites does not necessarily mean they won’t carry them in to the house as they are easily picked up in the grass outdoors. Many times I’ve found a tick crawling on my leg or arm after walking through higher patches of grass outside.
Once attached, ticks have to be plucked off the animal. A cotton ball doused with alchohol helps to get the tick to start backing out so that you can be sure to get the head which, left embedded in the animal, can cause problems if it becomes infected.
Fleas on the other hand, like wet, warm conditions. “The flea pupa can be dormant for years,” said Schmidt. “It just needs a warm moist environment to hatch. It’s why we will see a spike in fleas, even in the winter.”
Fleas can be harder to detect since they are tiny. One of the ways to tell if your pet has fleas besides scratching is to check its fur for what looks like “dirty spots”–patches of dark dander that indicate fleas. This is also a parasite that lives on blood, and in addition to causing an allergic reaction in many pets, resulting in dermatitis, fleas can infect a pet with a parasite that kills blood cells, according to Dr. Schmidt.
On very young puppies and kittens, fleas can be fatal, causing anemia. Since most treatments cannot be used until the age of six or eight weeks, be sure the other animals in the house are treated and check the young ones daily. It is helpful to have a flea comb in the house to check your animals periodically even when you have them on prevntative treatment.
With fleas, there is nothing that kills the pupa stage, but there are preventive treatments that attack the birth cycle, killing the fleas as they hatch as well as killing adults already residing on a pet. Once fleas have appeared, you’ll want to use more than a topical application such as flea shampoo which only works on the parasites residing on your pet. Though this is an important step to kill already nested fleas along with using a monthly flea preventative.
There are more spot on flea and tick treatments today than ever before. Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) essentially keep the newly hatched fleas from becoming adults. They don’t molt and they soon die. Insect Development Regulators (IDRs) prohibit the development of chitin, the substance that allows fleas to develop a hard outer shell. Again, no shell, no adult flea. If the flea prevention you choose does not include a permethrin, you will also need a product with this ingredient to kill adult fleas.
Once you’ve seen these parasites, you’ll want to treat areas inside and outside the house that your pets use. This includes laundering blankets and cleaning pet beds and more frequent vaccuuming to capture pupa and adults that have not yet attached themselves to an animal.
Over the years, we have found Sevin, even in a 5% concentration to be effective in killing adult fleas. It comes in a powder or spray, though we’ve found that the spray is much better inside the house as the powder can clog a vaccuum sweeper. This can be used to treat outside areas where your pets sleep and play, though it needs to be reapplied after a rain.
There are a selection of pet and carpet sprays available, including products from Hartz which are easily found in the grocery store or department stores. Even after treatment, adult fleas can appear for a couple of weeks as dormant pupa hatch. You will need to continue spraying every few days.
Another outdoor prevention method is to keep the grass short and areas trimmed. Ticks like organic debris to wait for their next host, so be sure to rake and remove piles of leaves and other debris to disrupt this ideal habitat.
While we have used flea bombs in the house in years past, these have not been as effective as we would have liked. Plus, you and the animals must be out of the house for several hours and you have to cover various surfaces (such as the couch) which can still leave areas where the fleas are not exposed to the insecticide.
Ideally, your pet is already protected with a preventative. If you’ve been waiting until you see signs of fleas and ticks, then you should be getting to your vet or nearest pet products store to be sure that your animals (and your family) are protected. Monthly topical treatments are easy to use and in Kansas, it is recommended to start as early as March, and if you don’t continue past September, you’ll want to keep treatment on hand as a warm winter day with a rain or melting snow can allow fleas to hatch in the middle of December or January.
The age of your pet may determine which treatment you use. Bio Spot (which we have often used, with better success on the cats than the longer haired dogs), can only be used on pets six months or older, but it is one of the more complete treatments. It is important to use treatments for dogs only on dogs and those for cats only on cats.
Program and Capstar are both pills that can be administered, but these both only address fleas.
Comfortis is a chewable tablet that kills fleas, but one caution is not to use this brand for animals that have a history of seizures.
Advantage addresses fleas by killing adults and inhibiting development, but does not kill ticks.
Advantage Multi is new this year combining killing fleas and ticks with heartworm prevention, so you don’t have to purchase a separate heartworm preventative.
Frontline kills fleas and ticks, but does not inhibit development, while Frontline Plus also inhibits development and was the one that Dr. Schmidt mentioned specifically.
K9 Advantix kills fleas and ticks, inhibits flea development, and also repels mosquitos (heartworm carriers) and biting flies.
Hartz pet drops kill fleas and ticks, prevent flea development and repel mosquitos.
Pet Armor is a new entry into the prevention line up that kills fleas and ticks.
ProMeris kills fleas on contact, but does not inhibit flea development.
In addition, we have given the dogs Brewer’s Yeast and garlic, both of which fleas don’t like and while it doesn’t kill them, they won’t nest in an animal that has these in its diet.
Our household has used Bio Spot, though more successfully on the cats than our giant breed dogs, and this year we are using Advantage Multi–so far, so good.
What is your preferred flea and tick preventative? Has your dog ever suffered from flea allergies resulting in dermatitis?