Spring Forward, Parasites Back: How to Prevent Dog Fleas and Ticks!

Ahhh, Spring. With the scent of flowers lingering in the air, the temperatures beginning to rise, and wildlife beginning to emerge from their winter dens, this season is full of promise. But you know what else spring is full of? Fleas and ticks. Just like everything else, fleas and ticks thrive in the warmer weather. The ideal temperature for these pesky parasites is about 70-85 degrees, although they can survive in cooler climates. For most states, flea and tick season runs from about May through September, so it’s best to get a handle on how to prepare now. As veterinarians, we hate to remind you of this inevitability, but protecting your fur babies and families from bites and infestations is part of our jobs.

Fortunately, our current means for preventing fleas and ticks are as easy to use as effective, but it never hurts to be informed. Below, we’ve shared some information about how your dog could pick up fleas and ticks, along with how to prevent, diagnose, and treat them should that happen. We want you to enjoy this wonderful season and all of the possibilities it brings with it, and with a bit of planning, you and your pets can do just that.

How do dogs get fleas and ticks?

Unfortunately, fleas are quite pervasive, as they can be carried on other dogs; they can be in the grass, your home, or even boarding or grooming facilities. If your dog is not protected against fleas and ticks, there are many ways for them to be exposed.

Ticks, on the other hand, always come from the outdoors. They are in tall grasses. If you live near fields or in woodsy areas, your dogs can pick them up as they walk or run through these areas.

Can my dog get fleas and ticks if they are primarily an indoor dog?

Yes, because even dogs that are primarily indoors have to go outside to go to the bathroom. Fleas and ticks can also be found on porches and decks, and other times friends and neighbors bring dogs over to your house, and these pets could bring in fleas and ticks. And if you have an outdoor cat, that’s another way your dog could be exposed, even if the dog only goes outside to do their business.

What are health problems associated with fleas and ticks?

Fleas are irritating to the dogs when they bite them for blood, and dogs can be allergic to them and have something called flea-allergic dermatitis. A dog will get annoyed by the flea biting and, when the dog retaliates by biting the flea, they can get tapeworms.

Ticks carry a multitude of problems. Lyme disease, which comes from deer ticks, is probably the one that we've heard of the most.

Tick bites can also result in the following diseases:

  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Tularemia

How effective are flea and tick medications?

Flea and tick medications have come a long way in the last 10 years or so. Pet owners used to give flea baths and flea dips, and, generally, people don't do that anymore. We started using preventives. There are topicals that not only kill fleas and ticks but also prevent them from jumping on a dog to begin with. The unfortunate part with topicals is that they’re not always easy to apply, and you have to get the topical all the way down to the dog’s skin—not just on their hair coat. That can be challenging in a very fluffy dog. Another consideration about topicals is that many dogs like to go swimming once the weather gets warmer. We also bathe our dogs, and with each of these things, we are washing off the topical and making it less potent.

In the last few years, oral flea and tick tablets have come into play. They are chewable little blocks that we offer our dogs as a treat. There are brands called Sentinel and Bravecto, but each veterinarian likely offers different products. There are once-monthly and once-every-three-month options, but the decision on that often depends on which ticks you are trying to prevent. These oral tablets are often the easier way to prevent fleas and ticks, as it’s not a two-person job.

Can I use over-the-counter flea and tick prevention?

Over-the-counter products are not as effective, and most pets have built up a resistance to them by now, as so many of them have been on the market for years. If it's an FDA-approved prescription from your veterinarian, it will work much better. We know much more about them and can help you understand when to use them, how to use them, and what to expect from the results.

What will my veterinarian recommend for flea and tick treatment?

It’s all about your lifestyle and that of your dog. We can either provide you with a state-of-the-art topical that will also be a preventive, a once-monthly oral tablet, or an oral tablet that you give every three months. Most topicals prevent and kill fleas, but they can be challenging to apply, whereas the oral tablets will kill fleas within minutes or hours, but the flea has to bite the dog for them to work. Your veterinarian will want to know what your lifestyle is like to choose the best product for you and your pup.

Would I be able to see fleas and ticks on my dog?

Fleas are tiny parasites that run through the dog’s hair coat and, although they are incredibly fast, you can usually see them. As veterinarians, we generally look at the underside of the animals where the hair is not so thick, and we'll look for one or more there. We can also look for something called flea dirt. We'll use a flea comb, comb it through the coat, and if we see things that look kind of like salt and pepper, we know that the pepper-like part is the excrement of fleas and the white, salt-like part is flea eggs.

On the other hand, ticks don't move very fast. They're going to be still. We might see a tiny bump or lump on the animal, but you can see they have a head and legs if you look closely. Ticks usually like to be up around the ears because dogs’ ears are very vascular, but they could be anywhere on your dog.

What should I do if I see fleas or ticks on my dog?

Call us right away so we can help you find the right product to use and nip the problem in the bud to prevent an infestation in your home. If you’re afraid to remove a tick for fear that you might not get it all, bring the dog in and we can remove it. It’s imperative to do that, as the tick-borne diseases we mentioned previously are zoonotic, meaning they can be passed onto human family members.

Perhaps you’ve gotten a bit lax about flea and tick preventives over the winter. As the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has noted, “Increased client adherence with longer-acting flea and tick formulations offers multiple benefits: pet owners are more likely to give medications that are easy to administer, and pets are less likely to experience gaps in coverage with longer-acting treatment.”

Contact us to find the most convenient and effective way to protect your dog from harmful parasites, not just this spring but year-round. You can also schedule your pet's next appointment here.

The Drake Center for Veterinary Care is an AAHA-accredited animal hospital located in Encinitas, CA. The Drake Center loves being a source of information for all pet owners across the country however if you have any questions regarding pet care and do not live in Encinitas, CA or surrounding cities, we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian.

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