The most common and well-known external parasites to affect dogs and cats are fleas and ticks.
Fleas are the most common skin parasite found on dogs and cats, in fact almost every animal which is allowed to go outside will be infested with fleas at some point in their life. Adult fleas live on dogs and cats and feed on their blood. Each female flea lays up to 50 eggs per day and they fall off the pet into the surrounding area. The eggs develop into larvae. Larvae dislike light and move deep into the carpet or soft furnishings. There the larvae develop into pupae, each encased in a sticky cocoon. An adult flea develops within the cocoon and awaits a sign that there is an animal or person close by. It does this by detecting pressure, noise, heat, carbon dioxide or vibrations. The new flea can emerge and attach to the host within seconds. A flea can lie dormant in its cocoon for up to two years. In the right conditions, the whole development cycle can be completed in 15 days.
The most common flea found on dogs and cats is Ctenocephalides felis which is the cat flea.
Ticks are parasites that bury their mouthparts under the skin of your pet and suck their blood. Unfed ticks are tiny and can be black, brown, red or tan in colour. After sucking blood they can swell up to the size of a pea and appear bluish. They do not remain long on the animal before they drop off. There are several types of ticks that affect pets in Ireland including the sheep tick (Ixodes ricinus), hedgehog tick (Ixodes hexagonus) and dog tick (Ixodes canisuga). Ticks are more common during the warmer months. Ticks are found on cats less frequently than on dogs, as cats tend to groom themselves more thoroughly.
How do pets get fleas and ticks?
Fleas are easily transmitted from one animal to another (e.g. cats, dogs, hedgehogs). Fleas can also be picked up when pets enter an
environment (e.g. house or car) where developing fleas are lying in wait. Lastly, fleas can be carried by humans who handle cats and dogs.
Ticks are found in areas of denser vegetation and they are able to sense when an animal passes by. They then drop or crawl onto the animal.
Why should I treat my pet for fleas and ticks?
Fleas frequently cause skin disease including pruritus (itching), loss of hair, scaling, crusting, and secondary skin infections on dogs and cats. Adult fleas feed on the host’s blood. Some dogs and cats develop an allergy to flea bites, which causes them to scratch excessively. Fleas also carry the larval stage of the tapeworm Dipylidium caninum. Fleas have the potential to transmit other infectious agents both to pets and humans. Fleas can cause itchy red bites on the skin of sensitive humans, typically around the ankles. In most cases ticks only cause local irritation and skin infections. Ticks can bite humans causing a local skin reaction and transmit diseases e.g. Lyme disease.
How can fleas and ticks be prevented or treated?
THE GOOD NEWS IS ALL OF THE ABOVE PROBLEMS CAN BE PREVENTED BY SUITABLE AND REGULAR PARASITE CONTROL ON YOUR ANIMAL AND IN THEIR ENVIRONMENT.
Pets should be regularly treated with a suitable product from the veterinary surgeon.. Flea collars, shampoos and powders are not ideal. All dogs and cats in the home should be treated. Treatment of the environment (house, car etc) is also essential. It is important to note that some dog preparations which are perfectly safe in dogs are very dangerous when they are used on cats.
Ticks should be removed individually with a specially designed tick remover, taking care that the mouthparts are removed. Ticks can be repelled or killed using a spot on treatment.