Spring is in the air. But unfortunately, we also enter the flea and tick seasons here in Illinois. Even though fleas and ticks are here year-round, they thrive during warmer, moist weather. From April through July, we usually experience them the most. If you do not take preventative measures, they can cause health problems for your pets. So we will cover flea and tick prevention so you know how to detect them, get rid of them, and most importantly, how to prevent them.
The first thing you may notice is your pet scratching frequently. While this is often a sign your pet has fleas, pets may also scratch from allergies. Secondly, you may be able to see them crawling through your pet’s fur. Thirdly, and one of the easiest ways to detect fleas is by their “flea dirt”. These are tiny brown or black particles in your pet’s fur. It looks like tiny particles of dirt. The way to tell the difference is by combing your pet with a flea comb and wiping the dirt onto a wet paper towel. If it is flea dirt, it will turn a brown or reddish color. It is the digested blood of your pet that the fleas excrete.
Fleas can quickly jump onto your pet from other animals such as squirrels, rats, opossums, etc. They can also jump onto your clothes and then jump onto your pets. A flea can jump upwards as high as 7 inches and sideways up to 13 inches!
Fleas are not only a nuisance. They can cause skin irritation and allergies in pets. Also, they are transmitters of parasites such as tapeworms and heartworm. Both tapeworms and heartworm can be fatal to pets.
To learn more about tapeworms go to Pets&Parasites.org.
For more information about heartworm see our blog about Mosquitos and Heartworm.
Ticks in Illinois
Ticks are eight-legged bugs. They have highly developed mouth parts that can pierce the skin of your pet and feed on their blood. Ticks feed on blood to survive and produce eggs. An adult tick can start small (e.g., the size of an apple seed). But as they feed off a pet, they grow in size.
You will most commonly find ticks outdoors in leaf litter, shrubs, or bushes. Ticks also exist in non-wooded areas. You can also find them in tall grasses. Ticks grab on to and cling onto passing animals. For this reason, it is essential to check your pet for ticks after you’ve spent any time outdoors. If you feel a small bump on your pet, be sure to part your pet’s fur and take a closer look.
According to the IDPH, there are at least 15 species of ticks in Illinois. However, only a few of these ticks are likely to be encountered by people: American dog tick, lone star tick, blacklegged (deer) tick, and the brown dog tick.
- Blacklegged tick (or deer tick) * the blacklegged tick is of the most importance to Iowans because it can transmit bacteria that cause Lyme disease. For more information on Lyme disease visit AVMA.org
- American dog tick or wood tick
- Lone star tick.
- Brown dog tick
Images from TickCheck.com
Tick Bites in Pets
Following are symptoms of tick bites in pets:
- Lethargy (not wanting to play like normal)
- Loss of appetite
- Unusual panting
*Contact your vet if your pet is experiencing any of the above symptoms.
How to Rid Your Pets of Fleas and Ticks
It takes diligence to get rid of fleas. Here are steps you can take:
- Treat Your Pet. Contact your veterinarian and find out the proper treatment for your pet. It is vital for your pet’s safety that you use the right one.
- Use a powerful vacuum. Vacuum your floors, upholstery, and mattresses. Cracks and other tight spaces are usually good hiding places for fleas and their eggs, larvae, and cocoons. If you can, use a vacuum with a bag you can dispose of without coming into contact with its contents.
- Use a steam cleaner for carpets and upholstery, including pet beds. The combination of high heat and soap is the enemy of fleas in all stages of life. Pay special attention to any hot spots where your pet usually lies down.
- Wash all bedding, including your pet’s, in hot water. Dry it at the highest heat setting. If the infestation is severe, consider getting rid of old bedding and starting anew.
- Use flea traps. Flea traps may not eliminate all fleas, but they can dramatically bring the numbers down in the home and make them more manageable. One brand is the Victor M230A Ultimate Flea.
How to Remove Ticks from Pets
There are old myths about how to remove ticks. Some people thought you could remove a tick by exposing it to heat. Another is dousing the tick with peppermint oil. Others believed that you had to twist the tick to get it out. These are neither safe nor effective methods.
For the safest method, watch the video from PetMD below.
Watch this video on How to Remove a Tick Properly:
Flea and Tick Prevention
The best treatment for fleas and ticks is PREVENTATIVE treatment. Various brands of medicine cover both fleas and ticks.
We provide treatment and medications for flea and ticks. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your pet or observe any of the above symptoms, please contact us.
*Important note: make sure you get the proper treatment for your pet, especially for your pet’s weight. Using flea treatment meant for a dog on a cat or giving too high a dose to an animal can be fatal. Check with your veterinarian so you can be sure you are using the proper treatment.
Dr. Stacey Funderburk