How does my dog get fleas and ticks?

Fleas and ticks mainly come from the outside. Other animals transmit them. Deer are a major contributor to the tick population, so if you have deer in your area, it's really something you want to watch for. Fleas can come on any animal. They can come from rodents, outdoor cats, raccoons, and anything else in the area. What a lot of people don't know is that you can actually get fleas that ride on your clothes. If you're exposed to any other animals, you can bring them back into your house. You don't necessarily have to be affected by fleas yourself, but they can ride in on clothing and then affect your pets.

Dr. Katherine Vissio
Briar Patch Veterinary Hospital

Can fleas and ticks spread from my dog to my home and family?

They definitely can. That's the most frustrating part about fleas and ticks; pets can bring them inside. Ticks especially can cause a lot of harmful diseases in humans, so not only is it important to keep them on regular prevention but also make sure that you check them when you come in from outside, especially if you've been in a high tick-infested area. Regarding diseases from fleas, the plague what's a big issue a long time ago. Now you have things like tapeworms and other things that can come from fleas. They can cause really bad allergic reactions in some people as well. That's really one of the major ways that they can spread to others.

What risks do my pets have if they were to contract fleas and ticks?

Some of the major ones are tick borne diseases like Lyme disease, which most people are fairly familiar with and can really have devastating effects on the human body. It can also cause some significant diseases in dogs. The main thing that you might see if your dog contracts disease are painful joints. They can have a fever, so they may be lethargic, not wanting to eat their food, and just laying around acting sick. There are other tick borne diseases based on your region of the country. In this area, we also often see anaplasmosis, which is a tick borne disease that attacks platelets and can cause bleeding disorders if the body's immune system can't clear the organism on its own.

Sometimes either one, Lyme or anaplasmosis require antibiotics to clear them. Ehrlichiosis is probably the one that we worry about the most because it does attack white blood cells, which are an important component of the immune system, so it's essentially attacking the body's own defense mechanism, and that can make your pets really sick. That could even be life-threatening. Fleas also transmit tapeworms and other worms, and they can be very itchy. Some dogs can even be so hyperreactive that they can cause a significant amount of self-harm, damage their skin, get secondary infections, and have severe skin disease, so ensuring we have them protected against those is really important.

How effective are flea and tick medications?

Luckily, technology has been advancing over the decades that we've been fighting these guys. Mother Nature is pretty strong, but our science and technology have come really far. We have really safe and effective protections against fleas and ticks as long as you remember to give it every month. That's the human component. The medications are only effective for so long, so it's important to mark it on your calendar or have some way to make sure that it's given on a regular basis year-round.

What is the difference between over-the-counter and prescription flea and tick medications?

There are some over-the-counter medications, and we certainly recommend having your pet on anything because anything is better than nothing. There are certain medications that are regulated more than others. Praziquantel is for tapeworms that can be found over the counter, and as long as it's based appropriately on weight, it can certainly be safe. There are dewormers as well. For flea and tick prevention, you have things like Advantix or Advantage II. Those are most effective against fleas but not as protective against ticks. The reason that some are prescribed is that they are based on weight. We need to have accurate weights on your pets, so we ensure they're not over or underdosed and are protective. Certain dogs are more sensitive to different medications, so it requires a veterinarian's expertise to ensure that that is safe for your pet, especially when it comes to heartworm and deworming medications. There are such small doses that they're generally very safe, but again, there are certain medical conditions or allergies that may prohibit the use of some types, or it may be that your dog may have an allergy or something that could be life-threatening, and it is important that your veterinarian is aware of that and can make appropriate recommendations.

What different types of flea and tick preventative treatments are there?

As it's such a widespread issue, because there are many different lifestyles of pets and families, there are a variety of options that you can use to protect your pet. There are collars; Seresto collars are one example. Those have really come a long way. When I was a kid, there were other types of collars, Hartz, which were really oily. They'll make your skin tingle if you touch them. Seresto collars nowadays are much safer. They're not going to have that same topical irritant. They've been approved by the FDA as very safe in homes with children, but if that's something that you're still uncomfortable with, there are a variety of topical solutions. Bravecto does have some topical solutions you'd apply to the skin.

You don't want to apply them to the fur; you want to make sure that they are absorbed into the skin because that's how they're distributed throughout the body. It does take a few hours for those alcohol-based products to be absorbed, so they won't be effective if they touch your skin or if your pet were to lick them. They can be really foul tasting. They're usually safe, but they can cause drooling, and sometimes there are some that can be really dangerous to cats. So if you have an interspecies household, you really want to be careful about what type of products you use. You certainly don't want to put your cat in danger while trying to protect your dog. Chewables are probably the safest for people with small children in their family because you won't have anything topically that your children can be exposed to.

These products are considered to be very safe, but as science develops, we always learn things that we wish we had known. Oral medications are metabolized. It's taken as a treat, metabolized, and then distributed throughout the body, usually in the oil layer or the little capillary beds within the skin. When fleas and ticks need to attach to take a meal, they then get the medication before the infection from their bodies is able to actually then get into your pet. So although they're not repellent, they are still very effective in preventing disease. There are many options. Whatever you feel is best, but ask us, and we can help you figure out what's best for your family.

How can I identify fleas on my dog?

If your pet has fleas, it's usually not subtle. They will typically be very itchy and, oftentimes, you'll notice along the back, just in front of the tail, is the itchiest place. If you part the fur and kind of push it forward, you can often see the fleas themselves crawling around, as they're visible to the naked eye. You can also see lots of what we call flea dirt, which is a little gross, but it is flea excrement. That can often also be very irritating to the skin. That is one way to tell. If you're not sure, bring them in, and we can help figure it out for you.

Dog Flea and Tick - FAQs

Dr. Katherine Vissio
Briar Patch Veterinary Hospital

What do fleas look like?

Fleas are very small, but they're not microscopic, so you can see them with the naked eye. They have oval-shaped bodies with really long legs, and they're usually brown. They're very bouncy, so whenever you see them, they'll usually spring very far out of the way. Their movement is often very characteristic, and they're very itchy. Ticks have more of a flat, round body, and they have really short legs. They're much slower moving and crawling. They kind of crawl between the fur and will then attach. Their appearance will change once they are engorged with blood or they take a meal. They can become much larger, and they're often gray in color. It's important to try to remove the entire body, and if you're uncomfortable doing that, we can help with that too.

Where do fleas live?

Fleas can live in the environment, mostly on pets, but they can live in the environment for an annoyingly long time, usually about three months. They have these really protective shells or larval covers that would probably survive the apocalypse, but they are attracted by heat, and that is when they will open up. It's essential always to have your pet on flea prevention, but especially for those three months because if you're constantly cleaning your house, they can live in the sofa, in the carpet, or in the cracks between your floorboards. Trying to make sure that you're removing all of that pupa and cleaning all those areas to try and get rid of them is important.

Where do ticks live?

Ticks usually live on animals out in the wild. They'll reproduce there, but they can create nests in tall grass, so you can get them when hiking. They can live in many places, unfortunately.

How do ticks get on my dog?

Oftentimes, it's when your dog goes outside. It can be just to go outside to the bathroom in your backyard, especially if you have deer coming through the backyard. It can be out on a hike if you're an outdoorsy adventurer, but not always. It can also be in the backyard or walking along the street where other dogs are around, which can cause exposure too. Oftentimes, we have rabbits, rodents, and other things that are coming into our urban areas, and those can also carry ticks.

Can fleas and ticks affect other pets or people?

They can. If fleas or ticks are on your pet, they certainly can cause disease in humans. Fleas can easily jump from your pet, and if ticks are attached to your pet, they most likely cannot. But if they're crawling, they haven't yet taken a blood meal, and if they don't take it from your pet, they will find the next nearest warm body. If that is someone in your household, they do not distinguish. They will just try to get their next meal. Tickborne disease is a really important thing to prevent in dogs and in humans.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (607) 272-2828, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook and Instagram