With spring coming and going so quickly into summer-like weather, lots of people are taking the opportunity to spend more time outdoors earlier in the year. For many people, sunny, warm weather is the perfect time to take their pets out to enjoy local parks and trails or just be outside more in general. As your favorite furry friends spend more time outdoors, they can present a specific set of challenges for pet owners. Since ticks and fleas are at the top of that list, here are some helpful ways to ensure your pet has a happy, tick and flea-free summer!
Remove Ticks and Fleas From Pets
This is likely one of the foremost concerns with pets spending a significant amount of time outdoors. Ticks and fleas thrive in warm humid conditions. Like other insects, they absorb moisture directly through their body, and this makes warm humid conditions ideal for them. It is not uncommon to find a tick on your dog or cat, and while removal is easy, prevention is the real key.
The most common species of tick in U.S. is Ixodes Scapularis though the Argasidae family of tick is also present in N. America. Ticks can cause a host of health problems including Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. It is because of these potential health issues why it is important to remove any ticks you find on you or your pet.
For ticks, inspect your pet and pay particular attention to the ears. Ticks love the warmth and shelter pets' ears can provide. There are a couple methods for removing ticks. Using tweezers is the most common method, and having a pair of rubber or latex gloves can also be helpful. Remove the tick by grasping it with the tweezers as close to the point of entry on the animal's skin as possible. Gently but firmly pull with consistent pressure. Typically, the tick will release in a minute or two. Dispose of it, and wash your hands. Where using tweezers isn't possible, there is another method. Apply liquid soap to a cotton ball. Place the soap-soaked cotton ball over the tick for approximately 10-30 seconds, and often when the cotton ball is removed, the tick has let go of the host and is stuck to the cotton ball.
Once you've checked your pet for ticks, it can be helpful to give them a quick wipe down with a pet wipe. These will remove pollen, dirt and other debris your pet may have picked up while outside.
Fleas typically vary is species by the host the commonly choose.
- Ctenocephalides felis - Cat fleas
- Ctenocephalides canis - Dog fleas
- Pulex irritans - Human fleas
Tick and Flea Prevention and Removal Measures
While it is important to note that in the U.S., Ctenocephalides felis will commonly use both cats AND dogs as hosts, the methods to remove them, outlined below, works just as well on any type of flea.
After you remove ticks and fleas from your pet, the next task is to try to prevent them from coming back. To prevent your dog or cat from picking up ticks, most people use things like dips (shampoos), collars or insecticides applied to the coat, like Frontline. The problem with some of these is that the chemicals used can be very harmful to your pet's health. Regardless of the moderate to low toxicity of the chemicals (methoprene, fipronil, amitraz, tetrachlorvinphos), at certain concentrations, many have been shown to cause damage to the central nervous system or liver. Before you reach for the insecticides, try a few alternatives that employ more "natural" methods.
First thing's first, a basic bath. It seems too simple, right? It would be if it didn't really work. The fatty acids, like stearic, linoleic and palmitic, are found in common oils and fats like olive, peanut, soybean and castor oil. These naturally occurring fatty acids can and do kill fleas, and because fleas absorb moisture through the skin, they also absorb the compounds that can bring about their early demise.
Similar to these, Neem oil is another naturally occurring flea and tick repellent. It has been used for centuries in a variety of medicinal and pest control practices. Ecology Works pet shampoo uses this as a natural flea and tick repellent. Pyrethrum, an extract derived from crushed chrysanthemum flowers has been shown to be an effective and safe pesticide, but for allergy sufferers, particularly those allergic to ragweed, this can sometimes cause allergic reactions. Lastly, certain citrus peel sprays have also been shown to be effective.
Aside from bathing, another helpful tip when removing ticks and fleas is to invest in a flea comb. These are inexpensive combs with long, but very closely spaced teeth. Some deshedding brushes, like the Furminator, can actually work fairly well in this application. So not only can it remove loose hair, undercoat, and dander but also double as a flea comb. Combing or brushing is also a great way to inspect your pet for ticks.
In addition to treating your pet, pay attention to your pet's bedding. Wash it regularly with hot water. Next, vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. Not only can vacuuming with a quality HEPA vacuum cleaner remove allergens like dander and pollen but it can also help reduce fleas or ticks that your pet may carry back into the home. Replace the bag frequently if pests are a concern, and replace any HEPA filter annually.
Hot water extractors will often kill fleas (in all stages) in your carpet. Yet, while they may be an effective method to kill fleas, they often set you up for problems with mold. Extractors, commonly referred to as carpet cleaners, flood your flooring with hot water and soap, but if the carpet and padding do not adequately dry, you can inadvertently create mold or dust mite problems for yourself.
Lastly, steam cleaning is not only a great way to sanitize and release pet odors trapped in your flooring and furniture but also an effective method to kill flea larvae and eggs. Using a HEPA vacuum and steam cleaner provide a 1-2 punch that uses no chemicals or pesticides.
Chemical Pesticides and Insecticides - Effective, but Safe Flea and Tick Prevention?
If none of these solve your problem, you may have to consider chemical repellents. Keep a few things in mind before you choose. First, just because it is on the shelf does NOT mean it's completely safe. Toxicity levels are measured and standards are set based on concentration and exposure to humans. If two hours of exposure at a certain concentration is acceptable, that does NOT mean four hours of exposure would necessarily be safe.
Avoid any pet collars, dips or treatments that contain tetrachlorvinphos or proxpur, as these two can be some of the most harmful to pets. Like other organophosphate pesticides, there is growing research to suggest that absorption of these substances through the skin can lead to a variety of neurological disorders in humans. Do your research online and consult with your vet. Weigh your options and select the type that works best for you and your pet.
If treating your carpet is necessary, you can try an alkaline salt based product like Dust Mite and Flea Control. Using a boron derivative (Disodium Octaborate Tetrahydrate), it is effective in killing larvae and eggs and is safe for both humans and pets. Some people have also used diatomaceous earth to treat carpets. This is effective in that it essentially strips away the outer carapace of the insect leaving it to die of desiccation (dries out). Though it can be found in most gardening/landscaping stores, the problems with diatomaceous earth are twofold. First, it is really only most effective on the larvae. Second, diatomaceous earth often has silica sand in it which can present a whole other host of short-term and long-term respiratory issues if inhaled.
Most of these measures should solve any problems you have with fleas or ticks. If you find that the problem is too much for you, consult your vet (for your pet) or a local pest control professional (for removal in your home) for additional assistance.
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Author: K. Gilmore