If you’re a pet owner, you probably have a great deal of experience dealing with fleas and ticks. Even dogs and cats who primarily stay inside can attract these annoying – and potentially dangerous – pests.
That’s why it’s so important to know the health risks ticks and fleas pose to your pet, and how to get rid of them. Here’s what you need to know.
Ticks are Troublesome Parasites
Now, ticks feed on the blood of whatever animals they attach themselves to. Not only do they target dogs and cats, but humans as well.
Ticks use their heads to burrow through the host’s skin, where they then engorge themselves on blood, which they need to survive. They can attach to any part of your pet’s body, but they’re usually found near the feet, ears, head, or neck.1
While ticks live in just about any type of environment, they usually thrive in warm climates, as well as wooded areas.2
How Ticks and Fleas are Different
Pet owners might assume that fleas and ticks are basically the same thing. But there are actually some substantial differences between the two.
When do they start to feed?
|Ticks can feed off of a host at any stage of life, (larval, nymph, or adult stage).||Fleas only feed off of hosts when they are in the adult stage.|
How much time do they spend on a host?
|Ticks attach to a host, feed, and then drop off. They then lie in wait for another host.||A flea will typically live on one host for its entire lifespan.|
What kind of climate do they prefer?
|Ticks can live in just about any type of climate. They can withstand temperatures near freezing.||Fleas like warmer temperatures.|
What kinds of illnesses can they cause?
|Ticks can cause many serious illnesses, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.||Fleas can spread tapeworm as well as bartonellosis. The latter is a condition caused by the Bartonella bacterium. It can lead to severe symptoms.|
How long do they live?
|Ticks can live anywhere from 3-10 years.||Fleas usually live about 100 days.|
What kind of parasite is it?
|Ticks, like spiders, are arachnids. Most of them have eight legs.||Fleas are insects. They can’t fly, but they can jump great distances.|
How many eggs can they lay?
|Ticks can lay thousands of eggs at the same time.||Fleas lay anywhere from 20-40 eggs a day for several weeks. The longer they stay on a host, the more eggs they lay.3|
Types of Ticks
You might think one tick is the same as the next, but there are actually different types of ticks. Here’s a quick look at them.
Hard-shell ticks usually live in areas with tall grass, weeds, and a lot of brush. They go through three stages of life – the larval, nymph, and adult stages – and they can live up to three years. This type of tick typically looks for hosts during the daytime hours.
These are just a few of the varieties of hard-shell ticks:
Blacklegged tick – This is the most dangerous type of tick because it’s known to spread Lyme disease (more on this problem later). As the name implies, it walks on black legs, but its body is more a reddish-brown color. Blacklegged ticks are more prevalent in the Midwest and Northeast.
American dog tick – The American dog tick has the same body color as the blacklegged tick, but it is more commonly found along the Pacific coast and east of the Rocky Mountains.
Gulf Coast tick – As the name implies, this tick is usually found in the states that border the Gulf of Mexico. But it is also found in many states along the Atlantic Ocean. This tick is usually brown in color.4
Like hard-shell ticks, soft-shell ticks also go through three life stages. However, they can live for as long as 10 years! They’re usually found in areas such as caves, animal nests, and animal burrows, and they usually come out at night. Here are a few of the most common soft-shell ticks:
Common fowl tick – These also go by the names “chicken ticks,” “blue bugs,” and “poultry ticks.” They’re usually dark brown or reddish-brown in color and found in pens that house turkeys or chickens.5
Relapsing fever ticks – This type of tick gets its name from the fact that it carries a type of bacteria that causes a condition known as “relapsing fever.” Relapsing fever ticks usually live in areas where rodents are found, and they can have a lifespan of up to a decade.6
Relapsing fever can lead to severe symptoms, including a rash, chills, vomiting, joint and muscle pain, and in some instances, delirium. Patients can suffer several relapses if they don’t get this problem addressed as soon as possible.7
Types of Fleas
Just like ticks, most people tend to assume that all fleas are alike — but there are a few different kinds. Let’s take a look at three of the more common ones:
Cat fleas – Contrary to the name, cat fleas attack both dogs and cats. Adult fleas grow to about a quarter of an inch, are either black or brown, and they can jump for long distances. Cat fleas pierce the skin with their teeth and feed off the blood of their hosts.
Unlike some fleas that prefer to feed off of only certain kinds of hosts, cat fleas aren’t as picky. They don’t really care. Cat fleas will feed on not only dogs and cats, but mice, rats, and other types of pests.8
Dog fleas – Dog fleas are almost exactly like cat fleas. You can only tell the difference if you put them under a microscope.9
Rat fleas – As bad as cat and dog fleas may be, rat fleas are worse. A lot worse. They can cause huge problems for both pets and humans because they love to feed on rats and other rodents. As a result, they can easily spread severe infections.
During the larval stage, rat fleas feed on skin cells, animal hair and even flea droppings. Adult fleas feed on blood. They’re also powerful jumpers: a rat flea can jump up to 130 times its height and 200 times the length of its body!10
What Kinds of Health Problems Can Ticks and Fleas Cause?
Now, both fleas and ticks can carry illnesses that affect not only dogs and cats, but humans too. Here is a closer look at some of the common ailments fleas and ticks can cause.
Pets can sometimes suffer allergies due to saliva fleas produce when they bite into skin. This is known as flea allergy dermatitis, and it can result in nearly constant itching. Unfortunately, this itching can continue even after the flea bites are cleared up and the fleas are gone.11
Flea bites can also spread a type of parasite known as tapeworm. This can affect not only dogs and cats, but humans as well. Tapeworms can result in diarrhea, sudden weight loss, abdominal pain, and anemia. In some instances, tapeworms can lead to a potentially fatal brain infection.12
A female flea can lay 2,000 eggs during its lifetime – and it lays these eggs on its host. These fleas can stay dormant for months before they emerge and attack your pets. So, even if you get them off of your dog, you should have a professional inspect your home to make sure you eliminate your flea problem for good.13
Ticks are even more troublesome than fleas when it comes to the health problems they can cause.
One of the worst is known as Lyme disease. This bacterial infection affects dogs, cats, humans, and other animals. Ticks carry the bacteria that cause the condition, and then transfer that bacteria to their hosts. Symptoms of Lyme disease include appetite loss, joint pain, and loss of appetite.
In more severe instances, sufferers can experience kidney failure. Thankfully, this problem can typically be addressed through the administration of antibiotics.14 You may also wish to speak to your vet about the Lyme Disease vaccine.
This condition may have a strange name, but its effects are no laughing matter, In fact, it can be fatal to cats. Ticks usually transmit cytauxzoonosis when they feed off of bobcats and then attach themselves to domestic cats. Symptoms include trouble breathing, appetite loss, and a high fever.
Left untreated, these symptoms can become fatal. So if your dog or cat starts showing these signs, get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
A cytauxzoonosis infection can spread quickly, often in as little as a few weeks. And, unfortunately, hospitalization is typically needed.15
How Dogs and Cats Get Fleas and Ticks
It’s easy to see how a pet can get fleas.16
They’re able to jump so high relative to their body size, they can quickly latch on to dogs and cats, where they can live and feed for two months or more.
But pets aren’t the only members of the family who can get fleas. Fleas also love to feed on humans. They can get on your skin and in your hair, furniture, and carpeting. Full-blown infestations can make life miserable for everyone in the home.
While fleas can strike from anywhere, ticks will typically lay low in bushes, grass, and shrubs, patiently waiting for a host to arrive. They’re also really sneaky. When they bite, they deliver a tiny amount of anesthetic, so their victims don’t feel it.17
Fleas and Ticks in Cats
Now, the most obvious sign that your cat has fleas will be near constant scratching. You might also notice chewing, licking, and hair loss. Your cat’s gums and lips may be pale.18
The best way to tell for sure if your cat has fleas will be to gently move a fine-tooth comb through their fur. If you see tiny brown critters moving around near the skin, it’s time to find the best flea treatment for cats.
It will be a bit easier to find out if your cat has ticks, even if they have long fur. A tick will usually not move a lot once it settles in on a host. And they get larger the more they feed.
To check for ticks, slowly run your hands across the cat’s body. Use your fingers, sort of like a comb. Make sure you check under your cat’s collar and around the anus, groin, and under the front legs. If you feel something about the size of a pea, it could be a tick.19
Fleas and Ticks in Dogs
Just like cats, you can usually tell pretty quickly if your dog has fleas. You’ll probably notice hair loss and a lot of scratching. While fleas are found all over the body, you’ll usually find ticks around a dog’s head, tail, and belly.
If your dog shakes their head a lot, or you notice strange scabs or bumps on their skin, that could mean your pet has ticks.20
How to Remove a Tick
Obviously, if you find a tick on your pet, you’ll want to remove it quickly. But you need to be careful. Tick removal takes time and patience. Follow these steps:
1. Preparing Your Pet
The first thing to do when removing a tick is to put on a pair of rubber or latex gloves. You don’t want to take any chances that any blood from the tick will get on your hands. Fluids might carry bacterium that could make you sick.
Also, put some rubbing alcohol in a jar with a lid that screws on top. That will kill the tick when you drop it in. Then you can take the tick to the vet so it can be tested. You might also want someone with you to keep your pet calm.
2. Removing the Tick
Once you find the tick, use a pair of tweezers to get it out. Position the tweezers as close to the skin as you can get them, and steadily pull upward. Never use any kind of jerking or twisting motion. If you do, the mouth of the tick could stay in your pet.
3. After Removal
Apply some disinfectant to the area where the tick was removed, and wash your hands thoroughly using soap and water. Even though you were wearing gloves, you want to be as careful as possible.
Then, sterilize the tweezers. You can hold the end over a flame or use alcohol. Check your pet closely over the next few weeks to make sure there isn’t any redness or other signs of an infection. If you spot something, take your pet to the vet’s office. Bring the tick, if possible.21
Flea and Tick Prevention
You should take steps to prevent fleas and ticks from harming your pets. Even if your dog or cat stays inside all day, that doesn’t mean they’ll be safe from an infestation. A flea dip could still be in your pet’s future.
For example, people can accidentally bring in ticks and fleas from outside. And if you board your pet, they could get them from other pets.
As it turns out, there are many different medicines that can keep your pets safe from fleas and ticks. Talk to your vet about which ones they recommend. Also, if you take your pets outside, thoroughly check them when you get back inside (and check yourself, too).22
How to Get Rid of Fleas and Ticks
If you think your home has fleas or ticks, you’ll need to take prompt action. Wash all bedding – not only that of your pets, but yours as well – and make sure you dry them thoroughly. Vacuum the house, and clean all the carpets.
You’ll also want to consider calling in a professional to make sure your home is free of pests. Be aware, however, that you might need to call them again a few weeks later. If there are still flea eggs in your home, they can hatch and cause another infestation.
Be Aware, But Don’t Panic
As bad as fleas and ticks may be for your pet, you shouldn’t panic if you notice any signs of an infestation. Just get to work. Taking the necessary steps to get rid of the problem will help keep your pets happy and healthy – and will make your home a healthier place as well.