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How To Protect Your Dog From Fleas and Ticks

(Editor’s note: The information provided by OMDNews and Vetster is for educational and awareness purposes only and should not be treated as medical advice. If you suspect your dog has fleas, ticks or has any other medical concern then please book an appointment on Vetster or your local veterinarian.)

We know that finding reliable information on the internet about the health of your dog can be challenging. OMD News is dedicated to being your one-stop for all things dog, and providing quality information to dog-lovers everywhere. That is why we are so excited about our recent collaboration with Vetster, an online telehealth platform offering 24/7 on demand, online veterinary appointments that put your pet’s health first.

We see a lot of mis-information out there about fleas and ticks for dogs. As summer approaches, and dogs become more susceptible to pests such as fleas and ticks, we wanted to provide some information around this topic. We asked - Vetster answered.

What are fleas and ticks?

Fleas are small parasitic insects that feed on the blood of people and animals. Ticks also feed on blood, but they are a type of arachnid (like spiders, scorpions and mites). Fleas and ticks can be found throughout most of the world, in almost any climate zone, however, they prefer warm but shady places, away from direct sunlight. Ticks are usually found close to ground level where they cling to long grass and shrubs, waiting for their next host to walk by so they can hop on. Fleas can be found on a variety of wild animal hosts. Most pets are exposed to fleas by having contact with the ground where flea eggs have fallen off infested animals , hatched, and matured, ready to find a host. Pet owners may be concerned that bites from these pests cause discomfort, but the larger health implication around topical parasites is their ability to cause or transmit a variety of diseases. The most common canine health conditions caused by fleas include:

  • anemia

  • flea allergy dermatitis

  • tapeworms

  • bartonellosis (Cat Scratch Fever)

  • plague

  • and many others

Ticks are also known to transmit many infectious diseases that can infect pets and humans alike, including but not limited to the following:

  • Lyme disease

  • ehrlichiosis

  • anaplasmosis

  • babesiosis

  • rickettsiosis

  • tularemia

External parasite prevention is just as important for you as it is for your dog. Flea prevention reduces *your* exposure to tick and flea-borne illness.

How to prevent fleas and ticks?

Preventing fleas and ticks from making themselves at home on your dog is the best way to avoid any short or long-term health concerns.

There are many different types of flea and tick treatment products on the market, and it can be overwhelming to know which one is best. Some products are more effective than others, and some are downright dangerous. The decision for the type of product to buy can be overwhelming, so it’s best to consult with a veterinarian before choosing a flea or tick product.

Safety First

The unfortunate reality is that many flea and tick products are unsafe, especially for cats. Even if you choose an over-the-counter product labeled for use in cats, it’s possible for your cat to experience serious adverse reactions, including death. Make sure to keep all members of your household in mind when shopping for topical parasite prevention. Some products might be safe for use on your dog, but shouldn’t be used if you also have a cat, even if you don’t apply it directly to your cat. Veterinary medicine has moved on from pesticides that are usually the active ingredients in over-the-counter flea prevention, opting instead for more modern options that are much safer.

There are some over the counter options that are safe, but it can be difficult for pet parents to make an informed assessment. Regardless of if you end up using a prescription product or something available over-the-counter, it is best to consult a professional before you buy.

Every pet is an individual, every family is unique

Working with a vet on pest prevention is the best strategy to address your pet’s unique needs. A veterinarian will consider all aspects of your dog’s health and lifestyle when making a recommendation.

Flea and tick control is a highly competitive market and there are many products available that don’t work, so it’s hard for a consumer to make a smart decision about what to buy. Whether you’re trying to eliminate an existing flea and tick problem or looking for prevention, your vet will help develop an effective strategy for your individual needs. As licensed medical professionals, a veterinarian isn’t going to recommend a product unless there’s evidence that it works.

Successful pest prevention or treatment must also take into account the specific type of parasites you’re trying to control. Some products are good for ticks only, while others provide protection against a variety of pests like fleas, ticks, intestinal parasites, heartworms, and even mosquitos. The expertise of a veterinarian takes the guesswork out of pest management for you and your beloved dog.

Another factor to consider is the way each product is applied or used on your pet. Some treatments are applied directly to your dog’s skin, some are worn as a collar, and others are given orally. These are all important factors your vet can help you navigate decisions about. Regardless of the product(s) you choose, you should always read the instructions carefully and ask your vet for clarification if you’re not sure.

How to identify fleas and ticks on your dog

Even though they’re tiny, fleas are visible to the naked eye. These tiny black insects are smaller than a grain of dry rice but larger than flakes of ground pepper. They live on the surface of the skin near the roots of the hair and move around quickly, often jumping as they try to escape when you go searching for them. When searching for fleas on your pet, use good light and some magnification. Check your dog thoroughly, paying extra attention to the hips and rump where fleas tend to be more prevalent.

Another thing to look out for if you suspect your dog has fleas is little black spots of flea poop, also referred to as “flea dirt.” Flea dirt will be visible if your dog is living with a significant infestation. Flea dirt is essentially dried blood, which means it turns rusty red if you get it wet. Keep this in mind while inspecting your findings.

Using a fine-toothed “flea comb” can also help you find fleas on your dog. The teeth of a flea comb are so fine that a tiny adult flea cannot fit between them. As you pass the comb through your dog’s fur, close to the surface of the skin, any adult fleas will be caught up by the comb and extracted so you can see them.

Remember that failing to find any fleas or flea dirt does *not* rule fleas out. If the flea population on your animal is still small, you’re essentially looking for a needle in a haystack. A flea infestation may have to grow into the thousands before some dogs will show any obvious sign of discomfort. On the other hand, some dogs are highly sensitive and will become itchy, rashy, or even suffer hair loss after only a few flea bites. Given this, flea control should be kept up to date whether you find evidence of them or not.

Ticks are larger than fleas but still pretty small. They start out flat and can range in size (depending on the species) from the diameter of a pencil lead to up to a pencil eraser. As they feed on blood, their abdomens swell and they get bigger and rounder. An engorged tick with its big, swollen belly full of blood will be the size of a small bean. Since ticks are arachnids and not insects, they have eight legs.

Ticks will crawl across the surface of the skin until they find a suitable spot, then attach by inserting their mouth parts into the skin. The tick will stay attached in this location until it fills up on blood and is ready to drop off and move on to the next stage of its life. The attachment site becomes a crater-like sore and usually has an accumulation of dried blood around it. The center of the crater often contains a dark black spot after the tick has dropped off or been removed. The more time that passes before the tick is removed, the larger the sore will be and the longer it will take to heal.

Tick prevention and treatment

Ticks are relatively easy to treat and prevent as long as you correctly use a safe and effective product as directed by a veterinarian. It is critical to remove any ticks you find as quickly as possible in order to prevent tick-borne illnesses. Ticks have to be attached for a while before they can transmit a disease, so it is important to regularly check your dog, especially after outdoor activities. Keep in mind that tick preventatives are not repellants, so you should include full body inspections in your dog walking routine regardless of your prevention strategy.

Flea prevention and treatment

Flea prevention and treatment are often more complicated than dealing with ticks because the whole environment and the presence of other pets in the home need to be considered. Speaking with a veterinary professional can help you navigate this complicated topic.

No matter which product you use, it’s critical to:

  • use it exactly as directed

  • treat all pets in the household

  • use it on time and keep up to date with the prescribed treatment schedule

  • allow at least 3 months for treatment to eliminate an existing flea population.

Last Thoughts

Fleas and ticks are a source of annoyance and a potential health threat in all parts of Canada and the United States. With summer upon us, there will be an increase in all pest populations, so it’s even more important that you monitor your pet carefully and look for any signs of biting or scratching. With longer days and warmer weather, you and your dog may spend more time outdoors which means a greater risk of coming across fleas and ticks which might then latch onto your pet.

If you believe your dog has picked up some of these unwanted pests or if you just want to make sure you’re making smart choices about how to prevent them, book an appointment with Vetster. It’s an easy and convenient way to get professional advice. This will optimize your chances of avoiding these annoying pests in the first place or help you eliminate them faster if you’ve already got a problem.

For a limited time, save 30% off your first virtual vet appointment using code FLEATICK30.

Reader Submitted Question:

Is there a difference in effectiveness in topical flea and tick treatments and the chewable tablets VETSTER TO ANSWER

Choosing a flea and tick product that will actually work is key to successful treatment or prevention, and that’s surprisingly difficult to do without professional guidance. The form of a particular product - oral vs. topical or a collar, etc. - isn’t the determining factor in the efficacy of the product. You can find effective and ineffective products in all categories. You can count on the chewable tablets that are available only by prescription to be very effective. All RX chewable tablets are very effective for the parasites they are labeled to treat, but they don't all treat ticks as well as fleas. Some topical flea and tick treatments are also very effective, if applied and used correctly.

The effectiveness of a flea or tick product is not related to it's form (chewable or topical). It's a separate issue and it can be confusing for a pet parent to sort it all out. That's another reason why it's helpful to discuss your options with a veterinarian. Some topicals are also very effective, both OTC and prescription, but many OTC topicals are not. The vast majority of collars are not effective, with the exception of the Seresto collar.

Additionally, the form of the product may be more or less effective for *you* based on lifestyle factors. If you choose an effective topical product but your dog swims every day, that’s going to reduce the effectiveness of the product. A dog with that kind of lifestyle would be better off with an oral product. This is a great example of how having a conversation with a veterinarian can help you make smart choices for parasite control that will be both safe and effective for your unique situation.


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