Rockland, What’s the Fuss About
a Few Fleas and Ticks?
By: Dr. Howard Gittelman, DVM
With spring just around the corner, pet owners begin to emerge from the deep sleep of a long cold winter. Our bodies begin to thaw as the ambient temperature rises and the daylight hours lengthen. We look forward to participating in outdoor activities sharing the invigorating experience with our pets. Unfortunately, the same is true for those pesky little parasites that feed off our pets unknowingly.
From the beginning of time, parasites have lived side by side with animals and humans, trying the delicate balance, which exists between them.
The spread of infectious diseases have been the bane of this relationship with the victors often trading places. If the parasite spreads a deadly disease to the host, the parasite ultimately loses; the host dies taking the parasite’s food source with it.
Parasites are quite adaptable, however, at finding a replacement host in short time. From the host’s perspective eliminating parasites, doesn’t seem to have a down side that is immediately evident.
Pets, and their owners, are both susceptible to a myriad of infectious disease that are spread from parasite to host. These vector born diseases, can be spread through the saliva of a biting arthropod, contact of its excrement with a break in the skin, or by ingestion of the parasite or its excrement.
Susceptibility of the host to these diseases depends on multiple factors. Understanding the biology of the parasite, the infectious disease and host immune response to these challenges are critical to controlling the spread of these vector born diseases.
Children and the elderly are more susceptible due to their naïve or weakened immune systems. Outdoor enthusiasts have a much higher risk of repeated exposure and based on probability are more likely to be exposed.
Environmental factors play a pivotal role in the success of a parasite to a given local and its ability to spread and infectious disease.
What Bites & What Works???
Fleas (Figure 1), ticks (Figure 2), and biting mosquitoes (Figure 3) are the most common parasites that beleaguer pets and their owners and protection against them requires a multifaceted approach. Fortunately, as veterinarians, we have an excellent choice of professional strength products available for dispensing to our clients.
Before recommending a product we consider the following conditions:
- your lifestyle
- the number and types of pets in your household
- if small children are present
- where your pets sleep
- whether you live in an apartment in an urban community
- if your home in a reforested suburban community
- if you and your pets in Florida for the winter months.
Selecting the appropriate product, and method of control, requires careful consideration to these factors.
Essential to the control of any parasite requires a clear understanding of the biology and reproductive physiology of the organisms. Fleas are obligatory parasites of dogs and cats spending their entire adult life living, feeding and reproducing on the pet. The eggs produced by the female flea, however, fall off the pet into the environment where the rest of the life cycle is completed. They thrive best in humid environments and substrates that allow the immature fleas to complete their life cycle. If the conditions are ideal, 10 adult female fleas can lay up to 250,000 eggs in 30 days. Considering the population dynamics of the flea life cycle is important that efforts be directed at preventing flea eggs from hatching: killing adult fleas alone is ineffective at controlling flea infestations. In contrast, in a tick’s lifetime, it will have multiple hosts ranging in species and availability and can take up to two years to complete its life cycle. Controlling tick infestations requires attention to the environmental source, which is usually in the immediate proximity of the home. The juvenile deer tick feeds predominantly on small rodents that live in and around the foundation of homes, planting and stone walls. The adult stages usually feed on deer and small mammals including dogs and people.
Although people can protect themselves from ticks and mosquitoes by wearing protective clothing, application of topical insecticides or repellants are required to protect your pets.
Flea control requires use of products that interfere with the insect’s reproductive capacity for maximum efficacy. Traditional flea collars and insecticides that kill adult fleas are ineffective at controlling fleas and flea infestations.
In contrast, topically applied tick repellants and acaricides are the best means of control of ticks on dogs and cats. Efficacy of topical tick control products approach 100% during the first 3 weeks following application, however, when environmental pressures are high, no product will be able to prevent all ticks from feeding on your pet.
Scheduled environmental application of acaricides is extremely helpful in decreasing tick pressures and works synergistically with topically applied products.
If you would like more information on how to prevent the spread vector borne diseases or the products we recommend, contact one of our staff members at (845) 638-3600.
You can trust the veterinarians and staff at Animal Medical of New City to make the best recommendation for your pet and your family.