Now that spring has sprung, it’s time to be on the lookout for the common annoyance of fleas & deer ticks. This can be especially true if you, like me, have pets and children. A flea infestation can be incredibly hard to get rid of, and let’s not forget the danger of Lyme disease associated with ticks. We had our own scare with ticks mid-spring of last year when our little one had roughly twenty of them stuck to her. Luckily everything was fine as they were tiny, early nymphs but I’m now overly cautious to say the least. In this post I’ll talk about identifying and preventing fleas and ticks. I’ll write a part two later on for getting rid of them if you’re “infested”.
Identifying a flea infestation can often be very simple. Observing your pet’s behavior is your first step: if your pet is scratching excessively, you should examine the fur. Infested animals have reddened skin and may lose hair. The hind quarters of dogs and the head and neck of cats are most commonly effected areas.
Upon inspection you may see insects visibly moving between hairs or red and black droppings on the skin. If you do see the insects or the droppings, you should contact your veterinarian immediately to discuss flea treatment options.
Fleas are approximately 2.5 mm in length. Their bodies are flat and without wings. Their six legs are long and assist them in jumping great distances. Locating fleas in your pet’s fur does not reveal the true extent of the infestation. Eggs, larvae and pupae will also thrive within your home or yard and are difficult to see. Flea larvae are dirty-white in color and measure 3 to 5.2 mm in length.
Identifying Deer Ticks
Deer ticks, also known as the blacklegged tick can sometimes be confused with other tick species. Like other ticks, their bodies are flattened and they possess eight legs. They appear particularly similar to brown dog ticks. Due to the arachnid’s small size, it can be difficult to locate the deer tick on its host. Adult deer ticks are approximately the size of a sesame seed, with larval and nymph specimens much smaller.
Deer ticks do not jump from plants to their hosts. They cling to the edges of leaves and transfer themselves with their front legs to the fur, skin or clothing of a passing host. On humans, deer ticks are commonly found in the areas near the nape of the neck or along the lower scalp.
The size of the deer tick can vary depending on the sex of the tick and feeding state. Approximately the size of a sesame seed, a female adult deer tick measures about 2.7 mm in length. The males are smaller. These ticks are orange brown in color but may change to be rust or brown-red in hue following feeding. The body becomes engorged after a meal and may expand considerably.
Flea & Tick Prevention
The best way to control fleas and ticks is of course not to get them at all, however this is most unlikely during the lifetime of your pet. Flea & tick infestations are very similar in the ways they occur. Therefore the steps you can take to prevent fleas & Ticks are very similar as well:
- Be vigilant but work on the premise that your pets will get fleas and/or ticks especially if they spend a considerable amount of time outside
- Tick prevention on humans is simple, check, check, and re-check. Anytime you’re you or your children have been outside you should check all areas of the body for any “clinging” ticks
- Be sure to wear socks, shoes, and if possible long pants while outdoors. While this is most unlikely in the heat of the summer, I come back to check, check, and re-check!
- Consult with your vet as to what solutions are most appropriate for your pet, especially if it is old, very young, or pregnant
- Treat your pet or have your vet administer to your pets regularly a reputable, safe commercial product; unless the label says otherwise, never use cat products on dogs or vice versa; always follow the product’s directions
- Buy a reputable, safe flea/tick collar for your pet; replace it according to directions
- Wash your pet’s bedding and soft toys regularly with hot water
- Regularly vacuum all areas used by your pets and close by frequently; seal and discard the vacuum bag in an outdoor container and/or clean the vacuum thoroughly
- If you acquire used animal bedding, toys or even used bedding and furniture for your family assume it is infested and wash/treat for fleas accordingly
Identifying a flea and tick problem early before it becomes an infestation is extremely important. Identification can be easy if you know what you’re looking for, and prevention is even easier as long as you’re diligent. As I said check back later as I’ll write a part two to this post, Battling Fleas & Ticks…
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