Fleas and Ticks
An Introduction to Fleas
Fleas thrive in warm, humid environments. Fortunately, fleas are primarily a seasonal problem in Chicago because of our harsh winters. Still, a basic understanding of this parasite will help you to better protect your animal in the warmer seasons. If you suspect that your pet has fleas, you should discuss treatment with your veterinarian.
The Life Cycle of the Flea
It can take anywhere from 18 days to 20 months for a flea to complete an entire life cycle from egg to adult. Only about 10% of this time is actually spent on your pet.
First, the adult female flea lays her eggs on an animal. Because they are not attached, these eggs fall into rugs, furniture, the animal’s bedding, etc. Depending on warmth, moisture, and other environmental factors, the eggs will hatch anywhere from nine days to seven months later.
The eggs hatch into the eyeless, legless larvae. These larvae attach themselves to your animal, where they stay and feed for approximately one to two weeks. They then fall off, form a cocoon, and lay dormant for several weeks (or even several months). Once the environmental factors are correct, the adult flea emerges to feed and lay eggs.
Does My Animal Have Fleas?
If you notice your animal scratching excessively—especially in a few isolated areas—inspect your pet closely. Fleas can be found on any part of your animal’s body. However, they can be seen mostly around the base of the tail, on the belly, behind the ears, and between the toes. Again, make sure you look closely, because the fleas are only about 1/32 of an inch long, which means you will probably encounter “flea dirt,” rather than the fleas themselves. Flea dirt is the dark, gritty particles or specks found on your animal. It is a combination of dried blood and flea feces.
What to Do
There are several products available for treating flea infestations. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate flea control plan for your pet based on your needs, your pet’s needs, and the severity of the flea problem.
Because the fleas spend so little time on your animal, you must control them in your home, as well. Vacuum thoroughly two to three times a week if you suspect fleas. This will remove any new eggs or larvae from your home. While vacuuming, drop a flea collar into the vacuum bag to kill these eggs and larvae, and remember to throw out the vacuum bag immediately. Your veterinarian can advise you on proper treatment of your house or yard. If you chose to use over-the-counter products, read the instructions and follow them carefully. Only use products labeled as safe for cats on your cat.
An Introduction to Ticks
Ticks are commonly found in wooded areas, brush, shrubs, and wild undergrowth. Ticks can cause a variety of health problems, including Lyme’s disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tick paralysis. Most tick-related diseases have one constant symptom: fever. If your animal experiences a fever and has been known to be exposed to ticks, consult your veterinarian immediately.
The Life Cycle of the Tick
The life cycle of the tick is more complex than that of the flea. An adult tick can lay anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 eggs at a time. In 2–7 weeks, these eggs hatch into larvae. These larvae (sometimes called “seed ticks”) find a host on which they can feed. They gorge for 3–12 days and eventually fall to the ground to molt; this process can last up to several weeks. The nymph then emerges to look for a host. Upon finding a host, the nymph gorges for 3–10 days, then falls off to molt once again. This final molting produces the adult tick, which will now feed, seek a mate, and lay eggs.
Tick season runs from early spring to midsummer. They will usually attach themselves to your animal in areas of the body with little or no hair, such as the head, neck, ears, and feet. However, they can be found on any part of your animal.
When a tick attaches itself, it first uses its scissor-like mouth parts to make an incision in the skin. It then inserts a spiny “tongue” into this incision and begins to feed on the blood. Some types of ticks will even secrete a substance that acts as a type of cement to aid in the attachment.
- Follow these steps to remove a tick from your animal.
- Gently grasp the tick as close to the animal’s skin as possible. Do this by using blunt tweezers.
- Pull upward with slow, steady pressure. Do not twist, jerk, or yank the tick. This may cause the mouth parts to break off and remain imbedded in the animal, which may cause further irritation and can lead to infection.
- During this whole procedure, avoid squeezing or puncturing the tick. Doing this may allow toxins or bacteria to be released into the animal.
- After removing the tick, crush it, while avoiding contact with tick fluids.
- Finally, dab the bite wound with alcohol.
Treatment and Prevention
The best prevention against ticks is avoidance. Try to stay away from wooded or very grassy areas during tick season and inspect your animal every day. If you find ticks on your pet, don’t forget to check yourself for ticks, too! As always, remember that the best course of action is to consult your veterinarian to discuss the appropriate type of prevention.