Fleas and Ticks

What You Need to Know About the Itchy, Bitey, “Creepy Crawlie”

The season for ticks and fleas is still upon us and flea season is nearing its peak. Understanding the life cycles of these parasites and how to prevent them on our pets and in our home is integral for a happy and healthy household.

Fleas Life Cycle:
Follow this link to see an illustrated explanation of the flea life cycle courtesy of dvm360.com

Tick Life Cycle:
Follow this link for the illustration and explanation.

Understanding the life cycle of any parasite is integral in planning prevention as well as treatment.

Signs of Flea infestation:

Fleas can transmit diseases such as the plague (Yersinia pestis) but this is uncommon in the Midwest. More common signs and associated diseases are related to the bite of the flea and an allergic reaction that occurs. Oftentimes, one will see flea dirt or poop in the hair coat which is dark flecks of digested blood in the coat.

Owner’s also noticed the following:

  • Excessive scratching or chewing at fur or legs.
  • Hair loss especially near the tail or neck.
  • Live fleas on the coat.
  • In severe cases, lethargy from blood loss and anemia can result.

Young or small pets are at the greatest risk of life-threatening anemia where a blood transfusion would be needed.

Many cases of flea allergy dermatitis are severe by the time the pet is seen at the clinic. Oftentimes, we will prescribe a necessary anti-itch medication ranging from an anti-histamine to a steroid. Many cases also require oral antibiotic therapy for a prolonged timeframe as a single flea bite in these patients causes profound inflammation which predisposes them to infection.

Signs of Tick Infestation:

Ticks rarely cause any clinical signs aside from human disgust when one is found especially after it has fed for a while. The diseases caused by ticks are the most concerning for people as well as pets. The midwest is beginning to see more tick-borne diseases than once was thought so more emphasis on prevention is being made.

Some diseases transmitted by ticks include:

  • Lyme’s disease
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Tick paralysis

Many of these disease processes cause fever, lethargy, pain, paralysis, decreased eating and/or drinking, and skin rashes. Diagnosis of the disease processes is generally done by a blood test or use of clinical signs and a medication trial as awaiting those results. Antibiotics, steroids, pain medications, IV fluids and hospitalization are common treatment options but in some cases, blood transfusions are also necessary.