Friday, March 22, 2013

Flea and Tick Season 2013

It's that time of the year again... flea and tick season is upon us.

Or did it ever leave? Many fleas and ticks are capable of surviving our cold season, and though this winter was slightly colder than the last, it's still time to consider your plan of attack. We'll look at the pests looking to hitch a ride on your pet, and how you can prevent it.
Cat flea

The flea species that live on cats and dogs spend their entire adult lives on the pet, and cannot survive more than a few days without a host. Signs of fleas include little black specks in the fur known as "flea dirt," as well as the actual bugs themselves. Adult fleas are very small, about 1-3mm, and can jump as high as thirteen feet. Flea infestations are uncomfortable, and if left untreated, can cause flea allergy dermatitis and anemia. Fleas can also transmit tapeworms.
Flea on finger

Flea dirt

There are several species of ticks living in North Carolina. You can read more about them here. Like fleas, adult ticks feed on the hosts' blood, though unlike fleas, they do not spend the entirety of their lives on the host, and can survive for several months between feedings. Several diseases can be transmitted by ticks, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, and Ehrlichiosis. If any unusual symptoms are noted after you or your pets are bitten by a tick, seek appropriate medical attention.

Three different species of ticks

Fully engorged embedded dog tick
But don't worry, you can decrease your pet's risk - and your own risk - for attracting these pests. In order to do this, you need to keep fleas and ticks off of your pet, out of your home, and out of your yard.

Keep pests off your pet 
To avoid ticks, stay away from their natural habitat of shrubs and long grasses by remaining on paths and roads. Humans can layer their clothing and tuck their pants into their boots. Wearing light colored clothing makes ticks easier to spot. If your pet has been exposed, check your buddy carefully, making sure to look everywhere, including behind the ears and under the collar. (And check yourself as well.) Many insect repellants are effective against ticks, but read labels carefully and do not use repellants on animals unless the label specifically indicates that it is for pets.

Most insect repellants do not work against fleas. There are many methods available to protect your pet against fleas, which include flea collars, topical treatments, and even pills. Some of these are also effective against ticks. Ask your vet to find out the preventative measure that is best for your four-footed family. You will most likely find that one of these methods works best. Don't be afraid to try another method if the first doesn't work.
Keep pests out of your house

Simply vacuuming your home regularly can significantly decrease a pest infestation, especially if you have carpets. Vacuum couches and floor cushions as well, and launder your pet's blankets and other fabric items. If you have a vacuum with a replaceable bag, throw the bag away after use. Some people choose to keep pets off furniture, especially beds and couches.

There are also more serious methods for dealing with a flea and tick problem, including pesticides. Seek an expert opinion before you result to treating your home with pesticides, as these can cause health problems for you and your pets if they are not used appropriately.

Keep pests out of your yard

Frequent mowing and yard upkeep helps to cut down on the long grass that fleas and ticks love to live in. Keeping the yard well-watered can actually drown pests. There are also several commercial pesticide sprays that can be applied to your yard. Again, whenever you use pesticides, it's best to do so with expert support and assistance.

What to do if your pet - or you - already has a pest problem

The first step is to get rid of the immediate problem. For a flea infestation, your vet may prescribe a medication which will kill any fleas. A good bath will also get rid of pests - there are commercial flea shampoos available at your local pet store, though many people use any liquid soap, including dish soap. It is a good idea to treat all animals in your home. Your vet will also recommend that you begin a regimen of preventative treatment.

If you or your pet has an embedded tick, don't just yank it out. You're likely to leave the head behind in the skin, which can cause infection. Here's another couple of don'ts: don't apply petroleum jelly or cleaning fluid and don't hold a lit cigarette or match near the tick. These home remedies will not cause the tick to withdraw from the skin and may make it more difficult to remove the tick intact.

The best way to remove a tick is to use tweezers (or a tissue) to firmly grasp the tick's body. Without twisting or jerking, pull steadily and slowly straight out until the tick is removed. If the tick's mouth parts break off in the skin, remove them as you would a splinter. Wash the bite with soap and water and apply an antiseptic. Note the date of the bite and save the tick - keeping it in rubbing alcohol is best. If you or your pet develops symptoms that could be due to a tick-borne disease, your doctor or vet may want to inspect the tick to determine the species. (Not all species of tick carry disease.) The chance of disease transmission from a tick bite is low, but it's a good idea to be prepared just in case.

How to remove a tick
After the fleas and ticks are gone, complete the other steps in this post to prevent or eliminate pests in the future. There are many organic and natural preventatives and remedies that claim to help control fleas and ticks on the pet, in the home, and in the yard, and to treat infestation once it occurs. If this is a concern for you, be sure to ask your vet about these options as well.

These pests are a pain, but with a little bit of preparation, you can rest easy this flea and tick season.

Originally posted in April 2012


  1. I agree. Simply bathing your dogs more often is not enough in keeping them flea-free. It’s always best to clean around the house especially the carpet, which can be a breeding ground for ticks and fleas.

    Are there negative effects from spraying dogs with a eucalyptus or lavender oil mix? Because if there aren't any, you can use that as a natural tick repellent. Just make sure it’s not too strong, as it may irritate your dog’s sense of smell.


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