How often have you walked into your vet or vet shop and been asked when the last time you treated your pet against ticks & fleas? If your answer is “I can’t remember it was so long ago” or ” I think a couple of months ago”, then continue reading this article.
What are fleas?
Fleas are very small (between 1.5 – 3.3mm) wingless insects, who feed on the blood of animals such as dogs & cats! Fleas have four life stages: egg, larvae, pupa, and adult. This cycle can take anything from 12 to 180 days, depending on conditions that an individual flea is exposed to. If you happen to find a single flea on your pet, there is a very good chance that it won’t take long before you have a major flea infestation in your home!
Why is that? A single female flea can lay up to 30 – 50 eggs a day (and approximately 2000 eggs in her lifetime). The eggs do not stay on the host animal and usually will be found in the home in places such as carpets, rugs, beds, furniture and even outside in the garden. The eggs can hatch after two days or two weeks depending on whether favourable conditions are met. The larvae that emerge begin to feed on flea dirt (pre-digest blood produced by adult fleas) and then become pupae can remain dormant for months (even years) until the right conditions are met.
When the adult flea emerges it is able to jump approximately 150 times its own height to reach its host, on which it feeds. They can bite your pet up to 10 times per day!
Fleas and your pet’s health
Although in most cases, not life-threatening, fleas cause a great deal of discomfort to your pet by irritating the skin surface and causing your pet to itch. In some cases, pets develop flea allergy dermatitis (an allergic reaction to flea saliva), which cause hair loss, itchy, red and inflamed skin.
Additionally, some fleas are carriers of tapeworm which can be passed onto your pets and requires veterinary treatment. Lastly, in severe cases of infestation a pet can become anaemic from the loss of blood and if untreated can be deadly.
What are ticks?
Ticks are very small arachnids (related to spiders & scorpions) which feed off the blood of animals. Globally there are approximately 850 species of ticks, with approximately 12 species occurring in South Africa.
Similar to fleas, ticks have four life stages: eggs, larvae, nymph & adult. A tick’s life cycle can last between 2 to 3 years and they lay between 2000 – 6000 eggs. An individual tick can remain inactive without taking a meal for between 400 – 500 days. When a tick’s senses a potential host it waits for the opportune moment to ambush it and can attach itself onto the animal within seconds. Ticks are more common in dogs than in cats, but what is more important is that ticks will feed on humans and potentially transmit deadly diseases as mentioned below.
Ticks can be carriers of a number of diseases that are dangerous for both pets and humans such as Lyme Disease & Biliary (Babesiosis and Ehrlichiosis), more commonly referred to as Tick Bite Fever. They transmit these diseases to the host animal once they have latched onto their host and taken a blood meal. If you or your pet have been bitten by a tick it is highly recommended to seek medical treatment for the above-mentioned diseases.
Prevention is better than a cure -tick and flea treatment for your pet
We are very fortunate in South African to have a variety of quality products developed to help prevent and kill pesky parasites such as ticks & fleas. Below is a summary of the type of products available for your pet :
- Tick & flea powder is a short-acting product that is great to use in bedding and is usually safe for other pets such as rodents, rabbits and birds. Example: Ultrum
- If you are in the unfortunate situation where your home has been exposed to fleas, environmental control such as an aerosol (Ultrum Duration) can be used to treat fleas at all life stages and will protect your home for up to six months. It is important to read the directions for application and areas affected are closed off to people and animals for at least an hour after treatment.
- Sprays & shampoos usually provide short term protection against ticks & fleas, they are fast-acting and good for when a tick or flea is found on your pet and you want to kill and remove immediately. In most instances, sprays and shampoos are safe to use on a very young animal but it is best to check its safety with the salesperson or product information. Examples: Ultrum, VetsOwn
- Monthly Spot On treatment comes in an ampule and is applied directly onto the animal’s skin. It is very important that owners remember to apply the treatment every 30 days otherwise your pet is not fully protected against ticks & fleas. Examples: Frontline Plus, Revolution, Advantix.
- Chewable tablets are relatively new on the market and are easy to dose (plus they are usually tasty) and can be effective for between 1 – 3 months depending on the brand purchased. Product efficacy is not affected by bathing or swimming and is great to use for dogs who love water. Example: Bravecto, Nexgard, Comfortis
- There are a number of tick & flea collars available on the market. Some collars protect against only fleas or only ticks, while some collars protect against both. The longevity of these collars usually lasts for a number of months but requires the collar to be in constant contact with the pet’s skin. If your pet does not like wearing collars or tends to lose its collar, this method is not recommended. Examples: Seresto.
NB! It is important, especially with fleas to treat the animal and environment until ALL life stages have been killed. In most cases, this can take a number of months to achieve!
With the warmer spring and summer months ahead, it is even more vital that your pets are protected against these pesky parasites. Visit Orange Grove Vet or your nearest Vet’s Pantry store for a wide range of tick & flea products and recommendations on the right treatment for your pet!