By Erica Radhakrishnan


Protecting your cats and dogs against the irritating effects of fleas and ticks is not only good for their health but your family’s, as well.  

Summer is finally here, and so is the presence of these creepy, bloodsucking parasites - organisms that survive by living on and extracting nutrients from a host body at the expense of the host. 

Fleas and ticks thrive by biting and eating the blood of host creatures such as your family cat or dog.  Through this process, these critters can transmit diseases to your pet, some of which are zoonotic.  Zoonotic diseases are a concern as they can spread from animals to humans.  Examples of some infectious, zoonotic diseases include Lyme disease, “cat-scratch fever” and the plague.   The severity, symptoms and risks of these diseases vary in both humans and pets.

There are a variety of ways in which animal parents can protect their pets from fleas and ticks.  However, it is essential to know that the same solution may not be appropriate for every pet in your home.  Information such as your pet’s breed, age, species, weight, medical history, lifestyle and health status are critical factors to consider when choosing a parasite prevention option. Therefore, it is essential that you consult with your primary veterinarian to discuss each of your pet’s specific healthcare needs before using any over-the-counter flea and tick prevention products available to the public.  They will guide you in choosing the safest and most effective flea and tick prevention medications including the possibility of using collars and topical applications.

Regular grooming of your pet is a straightforward method for quickly determining the presence of fleas or ticks on your furry friends.  It is easiest to spot fleas on your pet’s bellies or in the “leg pits” of their limbs where their hair is less dense.  If you see black specks of “dirt” on your pet, this may be “flea dirt.”  Fleas excrete large amounts of partially digested blood cells that look like dirt indicating their presence.

Owners of multiple pets need to inspect and treat all of their cats and dogs should they find one with fleas.  In addition to treating pets, owners need to clean and treat their environment that includes a thorough vacuuming of all surfaces shared with your pets.  Do not forget to vacuum surfaces under furniture and basement areas.  If the infestation is significant, call a professional exterminator.  However, be sure to speak with your veterinarian and personal doctor before using insecticides such as flea bombs in your home or outdoor yard flea pesticides to ensure the health and safety of all your family members.

Ticks found on your pets need to be removed and disposed of quickly and appropriately.  Although not all ticks carry disease, scientists believe that it takes 24-48 hours of attachment for ticks to infect hosts.  To properly remove a tick, use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to your pet’s skin as possible.  Firmly and directly pull the tick out.  Do not twist, crush, or jerk the tick as you remove it because this could cause the mouthparts of the tick to remain in your pet’s skin releasing disease-causing bacteria into your pet’s bloodstream.  Once removed, place the tick in a sealed container such as an empty prescription bottle with alcohol.  You may choose to keep the alcohol-preserved tick for a few days while you observe your pet’s health.  Should they become sick, the tick could be tested for a specific disease to better treat your pet.  If no signs of illness arise, you may flush the dead tick down the toilet.