Ticks are small spider-like acarids and fleas are insects, but these two tiny creatures have at least one thing in common—they are both parasites that feed on your dog’s or cat’s blood and can cause a lot of discomfort and more serious health problems.
Flea bites may go unnoticed on some pets, cause slight irritation in others and produce extensive itching, red lesions, hair loss and even ulcers in those animals with flea allergy dermatitis, which is the result of extreme sensitivity to flea saliva. Severe flea infestations can cause anaemia, especially in puppies and kittens. Fleas can also transmit several diseases, as well as tapeworm. The Paralysis Tick and the Brown Dog Tick are both seen in many parts of Australia, but it is the Paralysis Tick which is by far the most dangerous for dogs and cats, and can cause death in a very short time if your pet develops symptoms and is left untreated. Ticks can also be “vectors” or carriers of a number of bacterial diseases.
Ticks are wingless creatures that live exclusively on the blood of animals for three of the four stages of their life cycle. They are equipped with an apparatus called Haller’s organ which senses heat, carbon dioxide and other stimuli to allow the ticks to locate the presence of an animal food source. Once found, they crawl on and embed their mouth parts into the animal’s skin and proceed to suck up its blood. With paralysis ticks, the most dangerous, the engorging adult female tick (pictured) injects a toxin that causes paralysis seen as a variety of presentations, but usually starts with weakness of the hindquarters that progresses to total paralysis of all four legs. Other typical early signs include an altered meow or bark and vomiting. With time, the muscles of the throat and chest become affected, causing serious problems with breathing and swallowing. Death can occur in untreated animals as little as 24 hours after symptoms commence.
The paralysis tick season varies depending on where you live, with ticks requiring humidity and mild weather to develop. In paralysis tick-infested areas, you should inspect your pet daily for ticks, especially if they have been outside in areas where there is bush or tall grass. A thorough combing within 4 to 6 hours of exposure to such environments can help prevent ticks from attaching themselves to feast on your pet. Should you find a tick, it should be removed immediately, as the longer it is attached to its host, the greater the chance for paralysis. Use finger-nails, tweezers or a tick-removing device to grasp the tick as close to the dog or cat’s skin as possible and pull the tick out in one firm, steady motion. Always check if there is more than just one tick. To dispose of the tick, wrap it in several tissues and flush it down the toilet. Take your pet to the vet immediately if you are unable to remove the tick, it is inaccessible, or if your dog or cat is showing any symptoms of tick paralysis. Early treatment is vital for their best chance of survival.
Controlling fleas and ticks
When a parasite picks your pet for a meal
If, despite your best efforts at control, you find that fleas or ticks have crawled (or jumped) on board your pet, you will have to use a product that will kill and/or repel the parasites. These include once-a-month topical treatments, sprays, oral medication, shampoos, collars and, to combat fleas, injectable medication. Once again, you should ask your veterinarian for advice about what the most appropriate product for your pet is. And remember, it is perfectly normal to see live fleas or ticks on a pet immediately after a topical treatment, spray, shampoo, collar, etc. is applied. Many believe that this means the product is not working, but the fleas or ticks have to fully absorb the product before they will be affected, which may take from a few hours to a few days.
Facts about fleas
Worldwide, there are about 3,000 different types of fleas, but the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is the most common to be found on dogs and cats.
- Adult fleas can jump 600 times an hour. Each jump, in terms of the flea’s size, is the equivalent of a person clearing a 50-storey building.
- The record jump for a flea (usually 2-8 mm long) is 33 cm.
- In just 30 days, 25 adult female fleas can multiply to 250,000 fleas.
Tips about ticks
- A female tick can lay up to 3,000 eggs.
- Except for eggs, ticks need a blood meal to progress to the next stage of their life cycle.
- Some ticks can live for more than a year without a meal.