Much like the ambulance-chasing lawyer, fleas and ticks are tiny bloodsuckers that make a living off your dog's suffering. Avoiding these little parasites is a little harder than their human equivalents, unfortunately, but they are considerably less expensive to deal with -- and you can show no mercy.
Taking your dog with you on that invigorating hike through the park offers fresh air, exercise -- and the possibility of a few tiny stowaways once you get home. Even playing with other dogs or cats could introduce a few fleas or ticks to your otherwise parasite-free pet. Outdoor areas with long grass are flea and tick playgrounds, meaning that a single sprint through a meadow could offer your dog more than just a fun time out on a Sunday afternoon.
The quintessential image of a dog going crazy chewing and scratching himself isn't necessarily the best indication of the presence of fleas or ticks. Some dogs don't seem at all bothered by the bites of these tiny hitchhikers, while others suffer an allergic reaction in their skin. Watch for signs of incessant scratching, but also check for visual signs of the pesky parasites. Flea dirt, otherwise known as flea poop, looks like ground pepper and is evidence that at least a few of the bloodsuckers are taking up residence on your pooch. Ticks burrow their heads into your dog's skin to drink their blood, and look a little like apple seeds. The more blood they drink, the larger and more engorged they become, until they grow to the size of raisins or even small grapes. They fall off once they've gorged themselves on your dog's blood, but then you'll have a fat, bloated tick somewhere in your house -- ick.
Removing ticks takes a delicate touch, as pulling or squeezing too hard could cause the head to break off in your dog's skin or cause the release of disease-spreading fluids into your pet. Pet stores sell special tools for removing ticks quickly and easily, but you can use a simple pair of tweezers to grasp the entire tick and pull back steadily to get the whole body out. Ignore the old wives' tales of using nail polish or a match to remove a tick, as these don't work and could end up harming your dog.
Fleas are a little more difficult to get rid of, as they live their entire life cycle in about three weeks and can thus rapidly increase their numbers. An adult female can lay hundreds of eggs during her life, meaning your pet's flea population could reach the hundreds or even thousands in the matter of a few months. The temperate environment of your home is the perfect breeding ground, too. Effectively removing fleas means killing the adults and all eggs, larvae and pupae on your pet and in your home to stop their life cycle completely. So be prepared for lots of cleaning and vacuuming to ensure that you have ruthlessly eliminated every trace of the flea family tree.
Treatments and Prevention
Commercial shampoos, sprays and powders abound for the killing and prevention of fleas and ticks, both for your pet and for your home. Some kill only adult fleas, some kill all flea stages, and others kill and repel fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Whichever treatment you choose, do your research or talk to your veterinarian to find one that is specially formulated for your pet's size. Too much pest repellent on your pet may cause health issues and side effects that are worse than dealing with the pests they're designed to prevent. Reapply the treatment as prescribed to give your pet year-round protection, keep him healthy, and enjoy a home that's free of fleas and ticks.
- dog image by Peter Toth from Fotolia.com