The hot weather is here (not as much as in the East Coast, but still hot) and with it come some uninvited guests. No, I’m not talking about your in-laws, although they may show up too, I’m talking about those pesky parasites that make your pets’ lives miserable – fleas, ticks and lice.
So far this summer we’ve been lucky and haven’t seen any lice kittens. But the fleas and ticks have been bad. Just last week we got in a stray 7 week old kitten with 30 ticks embedded on her! I know the number because we counted them as we pulled them off! Ick! Fortunately they hadn’t all engorged yet or the poor thing would have been anemic. As it was she was just a bit dehydrated and completely scabby where other ticks had already come and gone and just left behind a bite wound.
Not only are ticks and fleas bad for the animal because they suck their blood and therefore can cause anemia (we once got in a two week old kitten with close to 200 fleas! The poor thing was totally pale from lack of blood), but for the other problems they bring.
Many animals become allergic to the saliva injected into their bloodstream when a flea bites. Just one bite and their whole body can become inflamed and itchy. We’ve all seen dogs missing half their fur and covered scabs and if you’ve ever been kept awake all night by a dog incessantly chewing and scratching you know the misery that is caused by Flea Allergic Dermatitis (FAD). Once a dog is in full body reaction you almost always have to resort to steroids as well as antibiotics to calm down the inflammation.
In addition, fleas are the hosts to tapeworms. So with every infestation you have to be on the lookout for signs of this pesky internal parasite. You can often see the signs of tapeworm with the naked eye – look for tapeworm segments which look like dried (or sometimes still moving) pieces of rice in the feces or caught in the fur around the anus. If you see them, get medication from your veterinarian to treat your pet.
If you find a tick on your pet do not try to burn it off or smother it with Vaseline (2 old fashioned ways to remove them). You also don’t have to twist one way or the other – in fact twisting them often leaves the head imbedded which can cause an infection.
The very best way to remove a tick is with a tick remover and they are free from the Marin/Sonoma Mosquito and Vector Control District – stop by their table at the farmer’s market and pick one up. If you don’t have one of these handy gadgets use a tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the head as possible and gently pull straight out. Be sure to wash the hole left behind thoroughly and apply some antibiotic ointment.
Ticks carry diseases that are transmissible to both dogs and humans such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. The good news is that the tick has to be imbedded for 12 or more hours to transmit the disease so quickly removing any ticks after a hike is one way to avoid contamination. After every hike it is important to thoroughly look over you and your pet. There are also tick repellants that can be applied before heading out.
There are now so many flea and tick products available that it would be a column on its own (hmmm, I see a topic for next week!). Just know that preventing these pests is much easier than solving the problems they leave behind. Your itchy pets will attest to that!