External Parasites: Fleas & Ticks

Warmer weather brings out the pesky insects in much of the United States. Today there are many effective products to keep them in check. Topical applications lasting 30 days are particularly safe and effective. It also help to treat the environment whenever possible.

Ticks are first to arrive in spring. They prefer cooler spring and fall weather to the hotter, more humid weather of summer. Ticks come in several species, and range in size from very small (the deer tick is about the size of a head of a pin) to a quarter inch or so. A female dog tick, when fully engorged after a meal, may become almost half an inch.

A female tick lays eggs in the environment. Then, after hatching, the larvae will attach themselves to an animal to feed and grow. The tick then leaves the pet to molt into a nymph. Nymphs will turn into 8 legged adults, and spend life looking for a nice warm body to hitch a ride on whenever they are hungry. The life cycle for ticks takes place over several months, and they may hibernate for a couple of years if the conditions are not right for them to hatch into the next stage.

Remove ticks by grasping the mouth parts close to the skin with tweezers. The head is not under the skin, contrary to popular belief, and even if some of the biting mouth parts remain in the skin, the pet’ body emzymes will dissolve and eliminate the foreign pieces. There is usually a reaction with some redness and slight swelling to a tick bite.

Fleas prefer warmer weather, over 65 degrees, and increased humidity for life and reproduction. Female fleas lay eggs on the hair of their host, and the eggs will fall off into the environment where they hatch into larvae in about two weeks. Larvae will feed on environmental debris and go through a total of three larval stages. Adults emerge from the final cocoon stage 3-4 weeks later. It is therefore important to treat the environment as well as the pet to kill various stages. Otherwise, adults will continue to hatch and infest your pet. Unfed adults can survive weeks under cool but humid conditions. Fleas can jump tremendous distances for their size, and are difficult to remove manually from pets.

Keep in mind both fleas and ticks carry diseases affecting both pets and people. Deer, birds, mice and other outside animals can continually bring a new source of these pests into your outdoor environment. Check your pets (and yourself) frequently.

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