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As a dedicated pet parent, there are some tasks that you just have to stay on top of. You need to make sure that your dog or cat is fed on time, bathed and groomed regularly, and that they have a comfortable spot to settle down for the night. But amidst the daily walks and more than occasional treats, there is a less obvious concern that can often be overlooked – pests. While we may look at these eight-legged parasites as just everyday annoyances, the truth is that they can cause real harm to our furry friends.

The Dangers of Fleas

There are over 300 species of fleas in North America alone, and just a few dozen of these insects can produce about a quarter of a million offspring every month. Statistics like these just go to show how difficult it is to avoid flea bites, especially if you’re a pet that enjoys spending lots of time outside! In fact, there’s a species of flea that prefers to feed exclusively on household cats and dogs.

While flea bites are extremely painful on their own, they can lead to far more than just temporary discomfort. Many animals (including humans) can develop intense allergic reactions to flea saliva, a condition that is known as flea bite dermatitis. Among afflicted pets, this condition can lead to severe itching which in turn compels your pet to scratch the affected area compulsively. As a result, their skin can become inflamed and break open, forming scabs that are vulnerable to infection.

Apart from this issue, there are other nasty flea-borne illnesses that can affect your pup or kitty. If your pet actually eats a flea then they may be at risk of developing tapeworms, as fleas regularly carry these parasites.

How Fleas Attack

While fleas may not have wings, they have a leap that’s more than capable of getting them where they need to go. These insects have highly developed rear legs that can propel them at least seven inches vertically, and a foot in any direction. Fleas are generally found outside among the bushes and dense vegetation, during the warmer months from April to October. When the cooler weather strikes most fleas look for opportunities to travel indoors where temperatures are ideal. They can accomplish this task easily by hitching a ride on your pet, so you need to be vigilant all year round.

What are Ticks?

Ticks are not insects. They actually belong to a subspecies of mites known as ectoparasitic arthropods. These creatures subsist solely on blood, and each specific type of tick is adapted to feeding off just a few animals. Ticks can survive in all but the harshest winter climates, so you have to be wary of them throughout the year.

Ticks can either be hard or soft. Hard ticks are usually tiny and dark. They have a shell which prevents them from eating too fast, while soft ticks have no such limitations. Soft ticks can quickly grow to the size of a small pea after one meal.

How Ticks Attack

Ticks are highly sensitive to odors, warmth, moisture and vibrations. In other words, everything that makes up a living, breathing body. When they sense a potential victim nearby, they will climb to the edge of grass or leaves and stretch themselves out, in anticipation of their approaching prey. When your cat or dog happens by, they simply latch on.

It takes anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours for ticks to find a suitable feeding spot on the skin. Before feeding, the mite will inject a small amount of anesthetic saliva into the skin, which prevents victims from feeling the bite. After beginning to feed, the tick will simultaneously secrete a cement-like substance to anchor it in place. A single tick can feed like this for days on end, unless it is removed.

Why Worry About Ticks?

Even if a specific tick does not carry any bloodborne infection, several of them combined can drain a lot of blood from your pet and even cause anemia in extreme circumstances. Ticks can also carry a number of serious diseases which can be transmitted to humans (called Zoonosis).

  • Lyme Disease – there are 43,000 reported cases of this illness every year. If left unchecked it can quickly become chronic and debilitating for pets and owners alike. Lyme disease is treated through vaccination
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Colorado Tick Fever
  • Tularemia
  • Tick Paralysis
  • Cat Scratch Fever

Tick Removal

The safest and most effective way to remove a tick is with a pair of pointed tweezers or a similar tool. Grab the pincers as close the skin as possible and pull away directly upwards using gentle, steady pressure. Make sure not to twist or crush the tick as this can cause it to vomit up infected blood or saliva. Once the parasite has been safely removed, drop it into a Ziploc bag, seal it and drop it into the trash. Make sure to cleanse the bite area thoroughly and use antiseptic to treat the wound.

Pest Protection for Pets

  • Brush your pet’s coat thoroughly with a flea comb after any outside activities.
  • Watch out for dark flecks across your pet’s coat, this is indicative of flea droppings.
  • Bathe your cat or dog regularly with a good flea shampoo. But be warned, these treatments have limited residual effect. Talk to a pet care specialist to get a list of safe products that you can use.
  • Wash your pet’s sleeping area and utensils regularly.
  • Vacuum your floors and make sure to keep them clear of debris, so that any pests can be easily spotted. Make sure to throw out the vacuum bag afterwards.
  • Steam clean your furniture to prevent eggs from being hatched inside nooks and crevices.
  • Keep your lawn well-trimmed and treat it with a cat/dog-friendly pesticide.
  • Look out for any sudden changes of behavior. If your pet is suddenly fatigued, or lacking their usual appetite then this can be an indicator of Lyme disease and other related issues.
  • Find a good flea spray that can kill these pests at all stages of their life cycle.
  • If you’re dealing with a full-blown infestation you’re better off contacting a pest control professional.