Fleas and ticks are not just annoying to your dog; they can cause some serious health problems. We offer our top tips and advice for keeping your canine companion flea and tick free.
Australian dog owners spend hundreds of dollars a year keeping their pet free of fleas and ticks, and with good reason. Fleas occur nationwide throughout the year and ticks are a pest right along the east coast, mostly during the warmer months.
HEALTH RISK FROM FLEAS AND TICKS
Flea bites are irritating, but this is the least of your dog’s concerns. The consequences of flea infestation can be a lot worse. If your canine is allergic to flea saliva, one bite is enough to trigger a severe itch. He’ll scratch and bite at himself until his skin is red and traumatised and he has lost the hair over the affected area. Bacteria can infect his broken skin which makes the itching worse, and years of biting the hair can wear down his incisors.
The flea is the intermediate host for the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum. A flea infestation can result in a tapeworm infestation. Fortunately, these worms don’t cause anything more serious than an itchy bottom.
Because fleas drink your dog’s blood, a large number of them can cause anaemia. In fact, dogs have died because of flea related blood loss.
Ticks are a different story. The adult female paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus) injects a toxin as she feeds on your dog, which causes an ascending paralysis. Often the first indication of a problem is that his bark will change pitch, and he will seem a little wobbly on his back legs. The paralysis gradually moves forward to affect his forelegs and his breathing muscles. Tick paralysis can be fatal if not treated promptly.
You’re not immune from the effects of these little parasites. Fleas will leave red itchy bites on your skin. Ticks can also cause itchy lumps or allergic reactions in people, and can transmit some infectious diseases. Tick paralysis in humans is rare, but it does happen.
KEY FLEA PREVENTION METHODS
There are a number of options available to dog owners to protect dogs from fleas and ticks. Shampoos don’t work well if you’re dealing with a lot of parasites; a better option is to use a permethrin based rinse such as Fido’s Fre-Itch Rinse.
One of the most effective flea control products is Comfortis, a tablet which keeps your dog flea free for a whole month. The active ingredient in Comfortis is spinosad. If you’re looking for broad spectrum parasite protection, then Panoramis is a good choice. It contains spinosad for flea control, as well as other ingredients that kill heartworm and intestinal worms.
Some dogs just will not take tablets and if your four legged family member falls into this category, then you’ll need a different product. Advantage and Frontline Plus are spot-on liquids that are applied to the skin on the back of your dog’s neck, and they too keep fleas at bay for a month. Frontline is also available as a spray but this is more time consuming to apply and can be messy. Some dogs don’t like being sprayed all over their body and will wriggle and try to escape.
There are also spot-on liquids that control other parasites too. Advocate and Revolution not only control fleas but will keep heartworm and intestinal worms in check.
Fleas are prolific breeders so whatever method you choose to kill them, you need to also break their lifecycle. This is done with the use of insect growth regulators that prevents the immature life stages developing into adults. You’ll find these chemicals in some flea sprays or foggers, and also in Sentinel Spectrum, a monthly tablet that kills heartworm and intestinal worms, and stops fleas from breeding.
TICK CONTROL OPTIONS FOR YOUR DOG
Frontline spray and Frontline Plus can also be relied on to kill ticks. The spray should be used on your dog every three weeks, and the spot-on liquid every two weeks. Advantix is another spot-on product that is applied fortnightly to kill ticks.
An alternative to spot-on products or sprays for tick control is an insecticidal collar. Preventic and Scalibor collars will kill ticks on your dog for two to three months.
Whatever method of tick control you use, it’s important that you check your dogs for ticks constantly. Run your fingers through his coat while you’re cuddling him, and feel him all over when you’re bathing him. The female tick only starts to inject her toxin into your dog after she has been attached for 24 hours, so if you can remove the tick before this time has elapsed, your dog won’t become paralysed.
MANAGING A FLEA INFESTATION OR TICK BITE
Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, you find your dog has picked up a heavy flea burden or a tick. That’s okay, you can get rid of them and if you’re quick, he won’t suffer any ill effects.
All the fleas on your dog can be killed instantly by giving him a Capstar tablet. You’ll see the dead fleas on the floor within 30 minutes! At the same time, vacuum your carpet, wash his bedding and use a fogger or insecticidal spray in your home. When all the fleas are gone, don’t be complacent – start a good flea prevention program straight away so your dog doesn’t end up in the same situation again.
If you find a tick on your dog, remove it immediately. There are tick removal tools available but it’s just as easy to use tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to your dog’s skin as possible, and then with firm but steady pressure, pull it out.
DON’T BE COMPLACENT
When you’re dealing with fleas and ticks, you need to keep them under control by regularly checking your dog’s skin and using an effective insecticide. By doing so, you’ll avoid skin irritation and infections and even worse, life threatening paralysis. When it comes to these little parasites, prevention is definitely better than cure.