I'm a freelance writer, blogger, self-published author, and retired Soldier with a "thing" for adventure in the great outdoors with my dog.
Fleas and Ticks: More Than a Nuisance
Aside from the fact that nobody wants the itchiness, irritation, the potential allergic reaction of flea and tick bites, and the secondary infections that can come from scratching them, these parasitic insects and arachnids (respectively) can transmit diseases to both your trail dog and you as well as any other pets and family members in your home.
Diseases such as Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are all transmitted by ticks. Similarly, fleas are known to transmit Murine Typhus, Rickettsia, tapeworms, and induce hemolytic anemia.
Fleas are small insects that feed on a host animal’s blood. Growing to be up to 3 mm in length, fleas have a complex mouth that serves two functions. The first is to pierce the skin of the host animal, and the second is to inject saliva into the bite before sucking the host’s blood into its body. It is during their feeding that diseases can be transmitted from the flea itself to the host and to others living with the host animal.
Did you know that within just moments of landing on a host, more than half of all fleas will begin to feed? It is because of this that it is possible for fleas to literally suck enough blood to cause anemia and have the potential to ultimately kill their host. Within one day of feeding, female fleas will begin to lay eggs, perpetuating their parasitic cycle.
Severe Flea Infestation
Ticks are parasites falling within the arachnid class (along with spiders and scorpions) that also feed on the blood of a host animal. Also like fleas, ticks use their mouthpiece to puncture the skin of their host and siphon the host’s blood for feeding; this is how diseases are spread from the tick to the host (either animal or human).
Within just a few moments, to a couple of hours of making their way onto a host, ticks will take their first blood meal. Each tick feeds until it becomes engorged, sometimes increasing their body weight several hundred times before dislodging their mouthparts and dropping from the host.
Like fleas, ticks use a mouthpiece to pierce the skin of their host animal to feed on blood. Also, like fleas, ticks can pass the disease to the host animal through feeding. Severe and untreated tick infestations can result in anemia and ultimately, death.
Preventing Flea and Tick Infestations
The best way to prevent both fleas and ticks is to prevent your pet from becoming infested in the first place with chemoprophylaxis or other preventive measures. Alternate measures can include regular bathing of your dog (especially after outdoor adventures in remote areas), flea shampoos, flea collars, flea drops, or any combination thereof.
With Mesa, and now Jaxon (our latest rescue pup and trail dog in training) I use Frontline drops in combination with a prescription for Trifexis, which also prevents heartworms.
When I know we'll be in the thickest of brush and least disturbed areas of nature I'll add a Soresto flea collar, also prescribed by my vet.
Another important protective measure is to carefully inspect your dog after returning home from romps off the beaten path. Fleas and ticks especially prefer those warm, dark, hard to reach places like ears, armpits, and between the toes and paw pads.
Always check with your veterinarian regarding proper dosing instructions based on your animal's size, age, breed, and reproductive status especially when combining prevention methods. Some treatments may interact adversely and cause an accidental overdose and neurological issues.
The Best Method for Removing Ticks
If you do find ticks embedded into your dog’s skin, it’s imperative to remove them quickly, but carefully. The longer a tick remains embedded, the greater the chance for the spread of disease. There are a lot of myths out there about the best method to do so, but nothing works as well as a good pair of tweezers grasping the tick’s head/mouthparts as close to the skin as possible and pulling them out.
Again, you must place the tweezers as close to the dog’s skin as possible, otherwise, you risk crushing the tick’s body and actually “injecting” disease pathogens into your pet. Once the tick is removed, a light swabbing of the site with an antiseptic followed by a light coat of antibacterial ointment helps to prevent infection of the open sore.
If for some reason, the tick’s head or barbed mouthpiece breaks off and remains embedded in your dog’s skin, you’ll need to keep a close eye on the area to observe for signs of infection over the next few days. Should an infection occur at the site of the removed tick, you’ll need to visit your veterinarian for treatment that may include antibiotics.
Inspect Your Dog Thoroughly for Ticks
Prevention Is Key
Protect your favorite trail buddy, yourself, and your family from irritation, allergic reactions, and diseases by utilizing prophylactics such as flea and tick collars or drops prescribed by your veterinarian.
Lastly, utilizing flea and tick shampoo and removing ticks as quickly as possible after discovery is essential to nipping any parasitic infestations in the bud. In a pinch, Dawn dishwashing liquid can be used to bathe dogs suffering from flea infestations.
Resources on Flea and Tick-Borne Pathogens
- CDC - Babesiosis - General Information - Frequently Asked Questions
- CDC - DPDx - Dipylidium caninum
- Other Spotted Fever Group Rickettsioses
- Murine Typhus
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) | CDC
- Ehrlichiosis | CDC
- Lyme Disease | Lyme Disease | CDC
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2017 Abby Perretti-Blaisdell