Pet talk: Don't let fleas, ticks wreak havoc on animals

Pet talk: Don't let fleas, ticks wreak havoc on animals

By Sarah Netherton/University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine

Fleas and ticks can afflict a pet all year long, but the summer months play a crucial role in preventing a parasite infestation.

That's why Dr. Leslie Gellatly, a veterinarian at the Chicago Center for Veterinary Medicine, part of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, recommends treating dogs and cats with topical flea and tick control once every 30 days year-round.

"Fleas and ticks are bothersome to pets, and they can carry diseases," Gellatly says. "When the flea bites a pet, this is not only painful to the animal; but if swallowed, the flea can transmit parasites."

Tapeworms are transmitted to cats and dogs when a pet swallows a flea that is carrying tapeworms. Once in the pet's body, the tapeworms mature and live in the intestines, impairing the pet's ability to absorb nutrients from its food and potentially causing other problems.

The more obvious downside of fleas is flea allergy dermatitis, which is the most common skin disorder in dogs in the United States. Cats can also suffer from this type of dermatitis.

Flea allergy dermatitis causes sores on a dog's lower back, base of tail and inner thighs. The dog may be restless and uncomfortable and and may scratch, lick and chew at the affected areas.

In cats, patients with flea allergy dermatitis commonly visit a veterinarian for excessive grooming with hair loss and crusting sores on the neck, back, inner thighs and abdomen.

"Flea allergy dermatitis is more prevalent in the summer months, but it has the potential to be a problem all year — depending on the climate in which the pet lives," Gellatly said.

Ticks can carry many diseases, including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Ehrlichia. Preventing tick attachment is important because these diseases can be fatal to cats and dogs. Ticks generally need to be attached for at least 24-48 hours to transmit disease.

Gellatly recommends consulting a veterinarian to determine the products that will work best for your pet.

One factor to consider is your pet's lifestyle. There are different parasite preventatives for cats depending on whether they go outdoors, for example. Similarly, dogs that spend time in wooded areas may need a higher level of protection than do dogs that remain in towns and cities.

"Not all flea and tick products are the same," Gellatly said. "The quality of control of different over-the-counter products varies."

In addition, some topical dog products can be lethal to cats, and some over-the-counter products have an increased risk of reactions.

For more information about parasite prevention, speak with your local veterinarian.

An archive of pet columns from the UI College of Veterinary Medicine is available at Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy,

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