The Dangers of Ticks and Fleas

Fleas and Ticks can be a serious problem for dogs, especially during the summer months. Many pet owners regard these parasites as a nuisance but some are unaware of the potentially very serious illnesses that can arise from the bites of these pests.

There are some potentially very nasty consequences from tick bites such as Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. Even fleas can cause nasty skin reactions and in very severe cases, blood loss can lead to anaemia. Here is a rundown of what to look for and how you can protect your dog.

The Dangers Of Ticks

Ticks are parasites that have particularly unpleasant habits. If you have been walking your dog in woodland, or where sheep graze – especially if there is a lot of bracken around, it is a good idea to check him over for what look like tiny brown or black spiders crawling in his fur.

These are the immature ticks and they are most likely to be found on the muzzle, round the ears, on the legs and the soft skin of the tummy. They climb up onto the dog and firmly attach themselves to the skin where they feed on blood, their bodies becoming increasingly swollen and engorged, until they finally drop off. The colour of the tick will change as its body becomes more and more distended and usually changes to a lighter brown or grey.

It is a very good idea to learn how to remove ticks effectively. Your vet will be happy to show you how to do this and special tools are available for the purpose – although ordinary tweezers can be just as effective when you know what you are doing. The trick is to be gentle and never to try to twist the tweezers once you have a grip as this will break off the head part of the tick in the dog’s skin and could cause an infection. Once you have got a firm hold, just slowly pull it away and when it is out, apply a small dab of antiseptic on the spot.

Prevention of tick bites is the best plan though as these little pests can carry a variety of diseases. If you are walking your dog in areas where ticks are likely you would be wise to protect yourself from bites as well as Lyme disease can be very debilitating for people too. This disease is most often carried by the deer ticks that dogs pick up in woodland. The ticks carry a bacteria called Borrellia Burgforferi and it is this which causes the infection.

You may think that you have gotten away with it when your dog shows no symptoms immediately after a bite, but symptoms often do not manifest for a couple of months. Symptoms include joint inflammation and swelling, lameness, loss of appetite and lethargy. The first thing you are likely to notice is that your dog is not willing to get up out of its bed, or is reluctant to walk or play and the reason for this is that the joints become very painful. If you suspect Lyme Disease in your dog, do not hesitate to consult your Vet as in severe cases, Kidney failure can result.

You can find out more about the problems that tick bites can cause people in this helpful article at the Borreliosis and Associated Diseases Awareness UK web site.

Effective tick protection for your dog can be in the form of either a tick repellent collar or topical applications of treatments such as ‘Front Line’. Insecticidal shampoos do offer some protection but should not be relied on.

The Problems Of Flea Infestations

Fleas can also cause diseases in both humans and animals. It was fleas that transmitted Bubonic plague which wiped out so many thousands of people in Medieval Europe in the middle of the Fourteenth Century. This is still the worst pandemic the world has ever seen! Fortunately, fleas are less of a problem than they once were as effective preventative treatment is now available. If you take the proper precautions, your dog should not suffer any adverse symptoms as a result of flea bites.

One of the more common problems that dogs bitten by fleas will experience, is dermatitis. Just as with humans, skin sensitivity and allergies vary widely from one individual to another and whilst one dog might hardly be affected at all, another dog might have such a severe reaction that the continual licking and scratching will lead to skin inflammation and even infected open sores. In very severe cases where the dog is neglected and becomes infested with fleas, severe hair loss may also result and Rescue centres, in particular, see many cases of dogs in this sorry state every year.

Very severe infestations of fleas can also lead to anaemia which is surprising when you think how tiny an individual flea is. However, if you notice your dog appears lethargic and weak and he has had a problem with fleas, a blood test at your Vet’s will determine if this is the cause of the problem.

Mild dermatitis can be treated with medicine from your Vet which will help to calm down the itching and irritation and with shampoos to soothe and heal the skin.

A problem that many people are surprised to learn can be transmitted by fleas, is Tapeworms. Fleas can carry other parasites and tapeworm eggs can be transmitted to your dog if fleas are ingested whilst your dog is licking, scratching and biting at his fur to try to rid himself of the irritation.

Once the flea has been swallowed, tapeworm eggs can hatch inside the digestive tract of your dog. The immature worm will fasten itself to the wall of the intestine and grow there until it is mature enough to reproduce. It then lays eggs which pass out of the dog in the faeces and you would be able to see spaghetti-like white eggs in the stools of your dog if he is infected. Symptoms of tapeworm infection include weakness, lethargy, loss of condition and vomiting.

Tapeworms must be treated in order to break the cycle and your Vet can prescribe a wormer for this purpose. To protect your dog from fleas, you can either use a combined flea and tick collar or a spot on treatment, applied to the dog’s coat. Most of these topical preparations protect against both parasites.

Author Alison Graham writes on heartworm treatment and pet health and invites you to visit her site where dog health issues and all aspects of heartworm disease are discussed

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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One comment

  1. In my area, ticks are pretty rare. The first time I saw one on my dog, I was clueless about what to do. Good stuff to know before your dog gets a flea or tick bite.

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