The summertime can be a wonderful time to explore with your dog (and even your cat!) and in the Pacific Northwest, there are so many wonderful dog-friendly parks, trails, and beaches. But unfortunately, summer can also bring fleas and ticks. These insects and parasites can cause discomfort, irritation, itchiness, and diseases like flea-borne typhus, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Prevention is the best defense against ticks, fleas, and all the issues they bring. Monthly medications can make a big difference in flea prevention but there are other ways to repel fleas and break up the insect’s life cycle. Make sure to find out where you can expect ticks in your area and try to keep your dog out of tall grassy areas when on walks or hikes. Always check
As with any medication, make sure to talk with your vet about the best possible options for your pet. Any flea and tick product you use should be vet-approved and specifically made for your pet’s species and size. The good news is that there are all sorts of options, like topical treatments, collars, shampoos, and oral chews. If you have multiple pets, try to treat them all at the same time to avoid cross-infestation.
For more regular prevention, there are some natural ways to mostly repel or get rid of fleas. As always, talk with your veterinarian for solutions that would best for you and your pets, as our canine and feline friends can have allergies and sensitivities too. Apple cider vinegar won’t kill fleas but it can cause fleas to jump off your pet. A brush dipped in apple cider vinegar or a spray bottle of a one-to-one solution with water can both be effective at removing some fleas from your pet’s coat. Aloe vera juice is another natural flea repellent that can also help soothe itchy skin and hot spots. While parts of the actual aloe plant can be toxic for cats, the gel and juice should be okay as long as you avoid getting it in your pet’s eyes.
Cedar chips and cedarwood oil have been known to fend off fleas, as the insects detest the smell. Cedar chips in your yard and garden, particularly where your dog is likely to lay down, can be great. However, there are plenty of considerations to take into account with cedar, as there can be damaging side effects. Cedar should not be used with small animals like cats nor should it be used with very young, old, or sick dogs. Some cats or anyone with a sensitive nose may not like the smell of cedar.
Rosemary and lavender are other smells that fleas hate, which allows you to use the related essential oils as preventative measures. It’s important to note that some also say that eucalyptus is another smell that can repel fleas but the ASPCA states that fresh eucalyptus and its oil are toxic to cats, dogs, and horses.
Brushing and bathing your dog (or cat but this is probably more difficult) can also help, especially since there are dog shampoos that can help smooth your dog’s skin.
Regularly vacuuming, washing, and laundry can also help break up the flea’s life cycle. Diatomaceous earth, salt, and baking soda can all be sprinkled on dry surfaces in a fine, even coat before being vacuumed up. And lemon juice, vinegar, normal detergent, or bleach (but not all together) can be used with hot water for laundry. All of this is also important if you find fleas or ticks on your pet, as fleas can and will lay eggs in bedding, carpet, sofas, and more. It can take time to finally rid your house of flea eggs so consistent cleaning is key.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to completely and 100% prevent your pet from getting fleas or ticks, especially if you have a dog that’s social and loves being outside. Even if you’re using preventative measures, be sure to regularly check for fleas and ticks, especially after long social interactions or walks/hikes through wooded or grassy areas.
To tell if your pet has fleas, you should look out for behavioral signs like restlessness and excessive itching, licking, or chewing. To be 100% sure, you can use a flea comb to brush through their coat or look at your dog’s armpit or groin areas for the flat-bodied and almost black insects. Fleas are small (often only 1/16-1/8 in.) and can jump very high.
There are a few ways to check if your dog has ticks but to start, run your fingers through their fur and check if there are any bumps on their skin. If you feel one, part their fur to get a closer look. Ticks vary in size but look for a black, brown, or grayish-brown bug. Make sure to also check their paws, between their toes, inside their eyes, and around their face and neck. It can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between a skin tag and a tick. On one hand, ticks are oval and will be a different color than your pet’s skin. You can also sometimes see their tiny legs. But skin tags will be tear-shaped, floppier, and often the same color as your dog’s skin. If you find something and can’t tell if it’s a skin tag or tick, make an appointment with your vet.
For ticks, the quicker you remove them, the less likely it is that your dog (or even you) will contract a secondary tick-related illness. It’s important to know the proper way to remove a tick and investing in a good set of tweezers or a tick removal tool can come in handy if you do find one. Do not use your fingers when trying to remove a tick, as it’s ineffective and could further inject infectious material that’ll make your dog sick.
Tick-Borne Disease Symptoms
There are, unfortunately, plenty of tick-borne diseases in the United States and some of the most common that are found in dogs are Lyme disease, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, anaplasmosis, Tick-Borne Relapsing Fever, and tularemia.
Lyme disease is by far the most commonly reported tick-borne disease and is spread by the Deer Tick. It’s been seen mostly in the Northeast and upper Midwest regions of the US but it’s starting to be seen along the west coast and Florida. Signs of this disease happen 2-5 months after a tick bite and can include fever, lameness/limping, joint pain or swelling, lethargy, and large lymph nodes. Dogs do not develop a “bull’s eye” rash around the tick bite like humans and diagnostic tests can include blood tests, urinalysis, fecal examination, and an analysis of fluid drawn from affected joints. Arthritis and kidney disease can develop with Lyme disease but for most dogs, treatment is usually 4 weeks of antibiotics.
Canine Ehrlichiosis is caused by a few types of ticks, like the brown dog tick, lone star tick, and American dog tick. Symptoms often start much earlier than Lyme disease at just 1-3 weeks after the tick bite and include fever, poor appetite, and low blood platelets, which can cause nose bleeding, bruising, or anemia. A prompt diagnosis and treatment can be life-saving, as those who have this disease for a long time can have a more difficult time recovering.
Hepatozoonis is different than other tick-related diseases, as it occurs when a dog ingests an infected tick. Symptoms include pain, fever, a reluctance to stand or move, muscle wasting, and anemia.
To sum up:
- Prevention is the first step you should take with fleas and ticks. Do this with medication approved by your vet and regular cleaning.
- To check for fleas, keep an eye out for excessive scratching or licking. You can also use a flea comb to see if you can spot any of the tiny, almost black insects that come out or check their armpits.
- To check for ticks, take a close look at your dog’s paws, between their toes, ears, face, and neck. You can also run your fingers through their coat to see if you feel any bumps.
- Removing any ticks you find as soon as possible is vital. Do not use your fingers. Use a tick remover or quality tweezers.
- There are, unfortunately, several tick-borne diseases you or your dog can contract. Symptoms will vary but some things to look out for include fever, a reluctance to stand or move, lethargy, pain, and anemia.
Do you have any flea or tick prevention tips? Let me know in the comments!