A Guide To Fleas, Ticks & Other Pet Pests

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Inviting a pet into your home and heart brings lots of love into your life. Unfortunately, it may also bring some unwanted pet pests.

Hidden Dangers of Mosquitoes

A female mosquito feeds by poking a hole in the skin and inserting two of her tubes into that hole. One tube draws in blood for her to feed on and the other sends saliva containing an anticoagulant down so she can continue to feed without her victim's blood clotting. This back and forth flow of fluids transmits illnesses including viruses, helminthes and protozoa.

Mosquitoes are often thought of as a pest exclusively for humans; however, they're a problem to our animal companions as well. Mosquito bites stress and annoy pets as much as they do humans and these bites can carry serious diseases including:

  • Heartworms: These sneaky parasites hide in your pet's body for many months before becoming active and life threatening. Baby heartworms ride through a pet's bloodstream until they reach adulthood, growing up to fourteen inches in length. They then set up camp in the blood vessels between the heart and lungs. Heartworms affect both dogs and cats. Once infected, treatment is difficult for dogs and no treatments are currently available for cats. Luckily, some cats are able to fight off the worms on their own.
  • West Nile Virus: West Nile is classified as a flavivirus, which is a type of arbovirus. These viruses require a host to be transmitted, and in this case the hosts are birds. Mosquitoes bite infected birds and then transmit the virus to those they bite. Not only humans can be infected; pet horses, birds, cats and dogs are susceptible. This illness is life threatening to humans, horses and some birds. Sadly, no treatment is currently available to pet birds or horses that become ill with this disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, dogs and cats affected with West Nile generally don't get sick and are not thought to be contagious.

fleas and ticks pet pests

Protecting Your Pet From Mosquitoes

Mosquito borne illnesses are scary, but luckily you can take some steps to protect your pet:

  • Have your cat or dog tested for heartworm every year, and give her heartworm prevention medicine as prescribed by your veterinarian.
  • To protect your horse, contact your veterinarian about the equine West Nile virus vaccine.
  • Control mosquito population on your property by getting rid of all standing water and if necessary, having a professional treat the area with insecticides.

Flea and Tick Troubles

Fleas bring your pet untold annoyance as they leap into his fur to find a blood meal. Most pets are allergic to flea saliva, which means flea bites become terribly itchy. All the scratching may result in broken skin, rashes and skin infections. Additionally, fleas carry parasitic dog tapeworms, and large infestations can cause anemia in very young, old or sick animals.

Fleas live on your pet's skin, underneath the fur. Once your pet becomes infested with fleas, the problem spreads to your entire house. Fleas lay eggs that drop off your pet and onto your carpet or furniture, where they hatch and can jump onto your pet, you or anyone else in the house. Although they don't live on humans, they will bite us!

Like fleas, ticks like warm bodies where they can find a blood meal. The real danger from ticks is in the diseases they carry. In dogs, ticks can bring a number of diseases, among them:

  • Lyme disease
  • Canine anaplasmosis
  • Canine ehrliciosis
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Ticks carry even more diseases in cats, including:

  • Ehrlichia
  • Relapsing fever
  • Cytauxzoon
  • Q fever
  • Tularemia.

Protecting Your Pets from Fleas and Ticks

Try these simple measures to protect your pets from fleas and ticks:

  • Bathe your pet regularly and inspect fur for fleas and ticks, removing any insects you find while wearing gloves. Ticks should be removed with tweezers and disposed of in an airtight container.
  • Use flea and tick preventative treatments as prescribed by your veterinarian.
  • If your pet does become infected, treat your whole house as well as your pet, as instructed by your veterinarian to prevent re-infection.

Intestinal Parasites

They may make us squeamish, but intestinal parasites are a common reality for many dogs and cats. These are a few of the most common:

  • Roundworms
  • Whipworms
  • Hookworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Giardia
  • Coccidia.

To protect your pets against parasites:

  • Get your pet's stool checked for parasites regularly.
  • Consult your veterinarian if your pet is experiencing diarrhea or vomiting.
  • Some heartworm preventative medicines also protect against intestinal parasites.
  • Parasitic infections sometime require multiple treatments because certain parasites can only be killed at specific stages of their life cycles. Always treat these infections exactly as your veterinarian instructs and have a stool sample checked after treatment to make sure all parasites are gone.
  • Some parasites, such as gardia, are preventable with a vaccine.

Bacterial Problems

Any time your pet is wounded, he risks infection. Even the smallest cuts may become infected with opportunistic bacteria. Fortunately, these infections can be treated with topical and oral antibiotics. Be sure to get your pet to the vet if you see unusual redness, odor, hair loss, pus or discharge around a wound. To prevent infection, bathe wounds in medicated shampoo as instructed by your veterinarian.

Most pets don't get through life without having to deal with at least a few pet pests. With your loving attention, however, suffering and illness can be kept to a minimum.

Last Updated: June 10, 2012
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About Roberta Pescow Roberta Pescow holds a bachelor's degree in communications from City University of New York, Queens College and is a freelance writer and editor in the NJ area. The author of "A Life In The Service" and "A Monster's Tears," she enjoys writing informative articles, personal essays, fiction and music.  Roberta is a proud mother of two. Her other interests include fitness, photography, sculpture and meditation. She is a voracious reader and holds a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwan Do. Roberta enjoys decorating her hectic, but happy home and garden in original and affordable ways.  

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