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The Secret Life of Fleas and Ticks

What to Look For

Signs your pet may have fleas can include flea dirt (small dark flakes), excessive itching or scratching, redness and inflammation, hot spots, and pale gums. You may also see adult fleas on your pet’s coat and skin.

Adult ticks are often visible to the naked eye, so you may spot them on short-haired pets. But with longer-haired pets, it’s best to do a thorough inspection with a flea comb.

For dogs, ticks can transmit numerous diseases that are dangerous to pets: Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, hepatozoonosis, and anaplasmosis are all contractable from ticks. Some of these diseases can be fatal if not treated swiftly.

Signs your dog has Lyme disease include depression, swelling of lymph nodes, swollen joints or lameness, and loss of appetite. Ehrlichiosis can cause internal and external bleeding, while Rocky Mountain spotted fever induces fever and rashes on your dog. Hepatozoonosisalso induces fever, depression, weight loss, poor body condition, muscle pain, atrophy and weakness, mucus and pus discharge, and bloody diarrhea. Anaplasmosis causes fever, lethargy, lack of appetite, weight loss, bruising, joint pain, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or diarrhea.

If you suspect your dog has any of these diseases, it’s critical to get him or her to a veterinarian immediately.

As for our feline family members? Fleas transmit bartonella, the causative organism of cat scratch fever in humans. Tapeworms use fleas as an intermediate host for transmission between cats. Ticks also transmit myriad diseases that are extremely dangerous to cats. Hemobartonellosis is a relatively common disease that causes a life-threatening form of anemia that typically results in pale gums, lethargy, poor appetite and rapid, open-mouth breathing. Cytauxzoonosis and tularemia are less common but are equally harmful. Cytauxzoonosis causes severe anemia, fever, lethargy, liver disease, and compromised breathing, and is usually fatal. Tularemia causes fever, lymph node enlargement, and abscesses. Though uncommon to cats, ticks also cause Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, babeseosis, hepatozoonosis, or anaplasmosis, all of which cause fever, anemia, lethargy, weight loss, bruising, joint pain and lameness, difficulty breathing, vomiting, or diarrhea. Each can be lethal. If you suspect your cat has any of these diseases, it’s critical to get him or her to a veterinarian immediately.

What is It?

Fleas are insects that can start your pet scratching with one bite. They have exceptional jumping skills, leaping vertically up to seven inches to hop on a host to feed and lay their eggs. Females can lay up to 5,000 eggs in a lifetime. Depending on weather conditions (they thrive in warm, humid climates), the eggs take about three to five days to hatch. Then they enter their larval stage, in which fleas are so small they are invisible. Larvae feed on flea dirt and other organic debris. Once fully fed, larvae spin cocoons, thus entering the pupal stage. Pupae usually hatch within eight to nine days, but can stay dormant for up to six months. When they hatch from their cocoons, they are adult fleas. The entire lifecycle is anywhere from 16 days to 12 months.

Ticks are parasites that belong to the arachnid family (like spiders and mites) and live in wooded or grassy areas where they attach themselves to pets walking by. Female ticks find hosts to feed, mate, and lay eggs upon, while the males generally occupy hosts for mating purposes. Females can lay up to 1,000 eggs at a time. Once hatched, they enter their larval stage and feed on their host. Once full, they drop off their host and molt into their nymph phase, during which they look for a new host. With the onset of adulthood, they lay in wait in grass or bushes seeking to attach themselves to a new host. Like their flea counterparts, they prefer warmer climates, and generally require three hosts to complete a lifecycle.

What It Means for Your Pet

Both fleas and ticks are small but dangerous. Fleas are ravenous and can consume 15 times their own body weight in your pet’s blood. A serious infestation can cause your pet to become anemic. It’s not uncommon for pets to have sensitivity to flea saliva and just one bite can cause a severe allergic reaction, leading to painful and intense itching. Fleas also transmit a variety of diseases such as bartonella and typhus, as well as tapeworms.

Female ticks can consume more than 100 times their body weight in your pet’s blood, which can lead to anemia. Their bites may trigger allergic reactions, but even more dangerous are the diseases they can transmit.

How You Can Help

Taking steps to prevent your pet from getting fleas and ticks is the best thing you can do to avoid having your pet experience severe discomfort and potentially suffer from serious illnesses. A regular monthly regimen using PetArmor® or PetArmor Plus (for pets living in highly infested areas) is a great way to keep your pet free from flea and tick infestations.

Should you see that your pet has fleas or ticks, PetArmor recommends: PetArmor Plus Shampoo to immediately eliminate fleas and ticks that you see. To protect your pet going forward, we recommend PetArmor squeeze-ons to be used once every month. Wait one week after treating with shampoo or spray to treat with a squeeze-on.

Often when you see fleas, there is a good chan