Dr. Lurz's Pet Tips

Fleas and Ticks

What You Need to Know About the Itchy, Bitey, Creepy Crawlie

The season for ticks and fleas is still upon us and flea season is nearing its peak.  Understanding the life cycles of these parasites and how to prevent them on our pets and in our home is integral for a happy and healthy household. 

Fleas Life Cycle: follow this link (http://files.dvm360.com/alfresco_images/DVM360/2013/10/26/bca92d35-689c-4bc2-b3ab-88c64f244e67/article-816635.pdf) to see an illustrated explanation of the flea life cycle courtesy of dvm360.com

Tick Life Cycle: follow this link (http://files.dvm360.com/alfresco_images/DVM360/2013/10/26/4a576dbd-93ea-4dc1-8824-f602eae49b3b/article-816636.pdf) for the illustration and explanation.

Understanding the life cycle of any parasite is integral in planning prevention as well as treatment.

Signs of Flea infestation:

            Fleas can transmit diseases such as the plague (Yersinia pestis) but this is uncommon in the Midwest.  More common signs and associated diseases are related to the bite of the flea and an allergic reaction that occurs.  Oftentimes, one will see flea dirt or poop in the hair coat which is dark flecks of digested blood in the coat. 

Owner’s also notice the following:

  • Excessive scratching or chewing at fur or legs.
  • Hair loss especially near the tail or neck.
  • Live fleas on the coat.
  • In severe cases, lethargy from blood loss and anemia can result. 
  • Young or small pets are at the greatest risk of life-threatening anemia where a blood transfusion would be needed.

Many cases of flea allergy dermatitis are severe by the time the pet is seen at the clinic.  Oftentimes, we will prescribe a necessary anti-itch medication ranging from an anti-histamine to a steroid.  Many cases also require oral antibiotic therapy for a prolonged timeframe as a single flea bite in these patients causes profound inflammation which predisposes them to infection.

Signs of Tick Infestation:

            Ticks rarely cause any clinical signs aside from human disgust when one is found especially after it has fed for a while.  The diseases caused by ticks are the most concerning for people as well as pets.  The midwest is beginning to see more tick-borne diseases than once was thought so more emphasis on prevention is being made.  Some diseases transmitted by ticks include:

  • Lyme’s disease
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Tick paralysis

Many of these disease processes cause fever, lethargy, pain, paralysis, decreased eating and/or drinking, and skin rashes.  Diagnosis of the disease processes is generally done by a blood test or use of clinical signs and a medication trial as awaiting those results.  Antibiotics, steroids, pain medications, IV fluids and hospitalization are common treatment options but in some cases blood transfusions are also necessary.


            There are several varieties of prevention as well as treatment available for fleas and ticks.  Obviously, veterinary labelled products especially those sold exclusively from your veterinarian are proven to be more effective.  These products have more reputable research studies performed and guarantees generally exist if a problem were to arise. 

            Animal Medical Clinic carries: Frontline Plus (topical) and Nexgard (oral).  Each form has its own benefits.  Both are proven to be effective against fleas and ticks.  In both forms, fleas and ticks can still bite your pet but those parasites will die soon thereafter.  Disease transmission, because long bloodmeals are prevented, is uncommon. 



Disease transmission can still happen but most commonly this is seen with the less effective products.  With oral prevention methods, a bite is required for the medication to work as the drug is in the blood.  Topical prevention methods can wash off easier so water exposure should be taken into consideration.  Topical methods can also kill fleas without a bite happening.

Remember: even pets that are rarely outside are still at risk for fleas and ticks.  People walking through the grass, pets going outside to urinate/defecate and other seemingly harmless and frequent acts can allow these parasites to enter a home and attach to your pet.     


Treatment medications are the same as those used for prevention.  Treatment of each pet in the home is necessary for any medication to work as expected and oftentimes for guarantees to be honored by any company.  This is particularly where understanding the life cycle is important.  For example, when treating a flea infestation which is a more common complaint received in the clinic, medication must be given for a minimum of 3 consecutive months.  The home and environment also must be treated to prevent reinfection as fleas can live in the home for years if a host is available.  

            In-home treatment options are widely available in the form of premise sprays and bombs.  


Premise sprays are more controlled and pets can remain in the home when these are used.  In bombing situations, pets are generally required to leave the home for their best health.  Laundering rugs, clothing, bedding, and curtains, vacuuming carpets and shampooing furniture are some of the many methods also used in the home for prevention to be most effective as fleas will bite humans if given opportunity even if they cannot live on us (we shower too often). 

            Treatment of ticks is also the same method as prevention.  Tick life cycles are similar to fleas and should be treated similarly. Cleansing of the home is less important in this case but ticks are also more apt to be found on humans. 

            A common misconception is that fleas and ticks are not a risk in the winter months after freezing.  In most instances this is true but these parasites simply enter a hibernation-like state.  This is why it is recommended that flea and tick prevention also be used year-round.  Ticks are less common during these seasons but have been seen in homes where wood heating is used as ticks hibernate on trees and are warmed after being in the home.  Fleas survive on wildlife and can enter the home in a similar manner or on the coats of animals that are hunted throughout the season.

Take-Home Points:

  1. Fleas and Ticks are in our area year-round.
  2. Prevention methods are not created equal.
    • Flea collars do not protect the entire pet just near the collar.  They are also difficult to dose accurately and therefore safely.
    • Be sure to dose your pet correctly.  
      • Use the correct size based on your pet's most recent weight.
      • Never give a dog's flea and tick prevention to a cat.  Some are toxic to cats and can cause seizures and death.  Generally these have -thrin in the name (ie permethrin)                  


  3. Prevention should be used all year even after a freeze. 
    • Remember that many guarantees provided by reputable companies are not honored if all pets are not on prevention!
  4. All pets are at risk.  Even pets that spend 99% of their time indoors can be affected by parasites of all kinds.
  5. Harmful and potentially life-threatening disease conditions can result from both flea and tick infestations.
  6. Treatment is typically use of the prevention in a regulated manner.  In instances of flea infestation, the home must be treated as well using bombs or premise sprays.
    • In some instances antibiotics, hospitalization, IV fluids, pain medications and other more aggressive treatments are needed.

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