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Ticks and Fleas: Why Don’t They Just go Away?

a cat and dog scratching themselves due to fleas and ticks

Tips on How to Get rid of Ticks and Fleas in Austin

If you have a cat or dog, it’s likely that at one point or another, you’ve had to deal with fleas or ticks (or both). These nasty little creatures are not only drawn to our pets, they’re also drawn to us humans as well.

While both fleas and ticks are incredibly frustrating, and sometimes downright dangerous, there are ways to stop their spread and to prevent them from making yours and your pet’s lives miserable.

What are Ticks and Fleas?

Ticks are external parasites, arachnids to be precise, that feed on the blood of mammals, birds, and even reptiles. The flea, on the other hand, is just one of some 2,500 species of insects that are also parasitic in nature.

By feeding on our pet’s blood, both ticks and fleas can cause a variety of health issues, including lyme disease, bartonella, worms, as well as allergic reactions to dangerous tick-borne illnesses.

When are Ticks and Fleas Most Prevalent?

Ticks are most visible in the fall and spring and tend to populate woodsy areas. Though the most prevalent cases of lyme disease tend to be in the Northeastern US, there are still ticks in Texas that carry lyme disease. These are the lone star tick and the brown dog tick.

Fleas usually make guest appearances during the warmer months, such as spring and summer. In colder climates, fleas will die out in the winter, but in areas like Austin, these pesky creatures never fully die out, which is why fleas in Austin can be especially dangerous to you and your pet, and a difficult problem to control and get rid of once you have them.

But there are ways to keep both these creatures under control, so let’s take a look at how to stop them before they wreak havoc on our pets, and us.

What are the Warning Signs that your Pet has Fleas or Ticks?

With both dogs and cats, you’ll likely see flea droppings. These will look like little black slivers or even poppy seeds, in their fur. If you see little white droppings, those are usually flea eggs.

Other signs your pet may have fleas, include extreme licking, scratching or biting. They may also have scabs on their skin, especially in places like their tummy.

If they’ve brought fleas into your house, and fleas have multiplied, you’re likely to see fleas jumping around (yes, fleas jump; they don’t fly).

You can also use a flea comb to determine if your pet has fleas. These can be purchased online or at most pet stores. If you comb your pet and see small black or white specks, then it’s likely they have fleas.

Fleas are able to draw in fifteen times their own weight in blood. For dogs and cats, and especially kittens and puppies, that amount of blood loss can cause them to develop anemia, which is a dangerous, life-threatening condition that involves a drastic drop in the amount of their red blood cells. If their gums appear pale and they seem to have a lack of energy, you should bring them to your Austin vet.

Fleas are usually the main culprit in skin diseases for cats and dogs. They inject their saliva into your pet’s skin, which can cause a severe allergic reaction. If your pets are experiencing greater than normal itching, irritated skin and scabs, they can develop skin infections, which will require medication.

Ticks will look like a growth on your pets skin, as they enlarge as they draw more blood. Removing ticks can be a bit of an issue as they burrow deep and you need to properly remove the tick’s head as well. Follow this guide from the CDC to properly remove a tick from your pet or yourself.

How Fleas Infest our Pets

Fleas can easily come in contact with pets if they go outside. Fleas tend to be drawn to long grasses, but will live in grasses of all lengths. A cat or dog is easy prey, so they’ll attach themselves if given the chance.

But that’s not the only way fleas can get into your home. You can bring them in. Simply walking on grass in a flea-invested area can bring in a flea, one that’s been inconspicuously hiding out on your sock, your shoe, or your clothes.

An infestation can be rather quick, as female fleas can lay up to fifty eggs daily. And fleas can affect us humans as well. They can jump from your pet onto you and vice versa. When they do decide to bite us, there may be a minimal reaction, but, it can also lead to skin infections and more infectious diseases if not treated. The best course of action is to do everything in your power to keep fleas out of your home.

Seeing only one flea can mean that there might be up to 100 of them somewhere. Fleas can jump from pets to your carpeting as well as your furniture. They lay eggs, more will hatch and then they’ll continue to feed on you and your pet’s skin. Fleas are especially fond of humid environments, and as it gets fairly humid in Austin, this is a choice location for them to invade your home.

Those Pesky Ticks

Ticks are just as invasive as fleas, but they’re often easier to see as they’re much larger…and they get larger as they feed off your pets and your blood. Ticks usually go for a cat or dog’s neck, head, paws, ears and even their eyes. They’re known to carry a variety of diseases, the most notorious of which is lyme disease, which can cause pain and weakness and greatly impact joints.

Ticks often hide in tall grass and woodsy areas. Humans can get them while hiking, walking through grass or even mowing the lawn (always check yourself for ticks after doing yard work or after going on a hike in the woods). They do exist in warmer climates such as in Austin, but they’re also very prevalent in the Northeast and New England.

There are different types of ticks. The Brown Dog Tick is one that is very common through the country. It’s reddish-brown in color and likes to attach themselves to ears and in between toes. This particular tick rarely attacks humans, but they are known to carry Ehrlichiosis, which can greatly affect dogs.

Deer Ticks are primarily found in the Northeast and Midwest, and they don’t discriminate…they attack everything and everyone. These are the best known ticks for carrying Lyme Disease.

Another common tick is the American Dog Tick, which also attacks everything under the sun. The females are easy to detect as they have a silver marking near their head; they can also absorb enough blood that they grow to the size of a small bean. They also spread Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which can be fatal to dogs and cause serious health issues for humans.

Symptoms of Tick Borne Diseases

Any of the diseases mentioned above have similar symptoms, including: swollen lymph nodes, fever, joint swelling or pain, and loss of appetite. Dogs especially may also experience tick paralysis, skin infections and anemia.

If you notice any of these symptoms, take your pet to a vet immediately. Cats aren’t as affected by tick-borne diseases as dogs, but cats can also get Cytauxzoonosis, a disease which can cause problems with their blood cells.

How to Get Rid of Flea and Tick Problems

Flea Shampoo

There are many brands of flea shampoo available, but not all of them work. Regular dish soap, such as Dawn, for example, has proven to be safe for cats and dogs, and it will kill any fleas that are attacking your pet; but, it’s a temporary fix. Before you wash your pets, make sure that there are no fleas nearby. If you do choose to get a medicated soap, be sure that you are getting the right type for your pet (i.e. for a cat vs a dog and vice versa). Some products designed for dogs can cause harm to and even kill cats.

Flea Collars

Flea and tick collars can be a gamble. Yes, they can keep fleas and ticks away, but only temporarily, and according to anecdotal evidence, not so well. Since the collar is around the pet’s neck, fleas may just move from that area and head further south to places like their lower back.

Fleas may, believe it or not, have an immunity to the chemicals in the collar, so while you may want to try them, in the end it may not make much of a difference. If you are concerned, your Austin vet may have some ideas on how to use them.

What kinds of Flea Treatments are Available?

There are many over the counter flea control products on the market. Some are more effective than others. These are small liquid vials that you place directly on your pets skin, usually between their shoulder blades. The treatment usually lasts for about a month. Many of these will directly kill fleas and ticks, while others will go after fleas as well as their eggs to help stop the spread. Two of the most recommended are Advantage (which is made by Bayer) and Revolution, both of which are known to help combat fleas and ticks. Make sure you only use treatments for dogs on dogs and cats on cats, switching them around can be extremely dangerous. These won’t necessarily stop a flea or tick from biting your pet, but the flea or tick will die once they do so. This is how these help control the problem.

Other brands are NexGuard (a chewable treatment), Bravecto (both chewable and topical) and Frontline.

Your vet will be familiar with these products, so be sure to ask if you’re interested in trying them. They’ll show you the proper way to administer this medicine with the correct dosage.

Other Remedies

You’re probably bound to find plenty of information online for home remedies to stop fleas and ticks. Some of these might help, but others may do more harm than good. One thing that does have a good efficacy rate is cedarwood oil. You’ll want to find cedarwood oil that is phenol free, so it’s safe for your pets to be around. One such product is Wondercide, a product made right here in Austin. Application is fairly easy as you can just spray it around your house (both inside and out), so that it works as a barrier that ticks and fleas can’t cross.

If you have serious tick problems in your yard and can’t seem to get rid of them, you may want to invest in some Guinea Hens. Yes, it sounds strange, but Guinea Hens will scour the ground for all kinds of bugs, especially ticks, fleas, grasshoppers and crickets.

Another effective remedy is beneficial Nematodes, which you can find at plant nurseries and garden stores. Beneficial nematodes are mixed with water in a garden sprayer and attached to a garden hose. You spray the mixture all over your lawn and allow it to saturate the ground (it’s best to do this at night, so that the ground has plenty of time to absorb it). Most fleas living in your yard are killed off within 48 hours. Beneficial nematodes are a great preventative measure as well and they assist in keeping out other parasites from your garden.

Food grade diatomaceous earth can also help control flea and tick issues, as diatomaceous earth kills things with an exoskeleton, which both ticks and fleas have. You must make sure you are using Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth if you or your pets are coming into contact with it, however.

Vacuuming regularly is also very important if you have a flea infestation in your hone. Attempt to vacuum at least twice a day – all areas, including furniture, blankets, etc, until you get the flea problem under control. Always throw the vacuum bag in your outside trash each time you vacuum, while you are ridding yourself of the flea problem. Be sure to wash all clothes, blankets, and sheets in hot water (whenever possible).

Your local exterminator can also help with flea problems, though do your research and ensure they’re using non-toxic, pet-friendly products.

Get a Head Start on Stopping Fleas and Ticks

A little prep work goes a long way in stopping the spread of fleas and ticks. You can get a head start by making sure that your lawn is mowed regularly, rake your leaves and compost them and make sure that your garbage bins are always covered. You should also vacuum your home regularly, especially your carpets and your furniture. Change your vacuum bags frequently as well so that they don’t attract fleas or any other bugs.

If you have a pet and you’re concerned they have fleas, ticks, or another potential parasite that’s negatively affecting your pet, give ATX Animal Clinic a call. We’ll help your pet get on the path to recovery.