Flea Tick dog in grass

It is Flea and Tick Season. Is your pet protected?

July 25, 2022 Bradley Quest, DVM

With summer in full force across the country it is very important for pet owners to protect their pets against flea and tick infestations. In warmer parts of the country flea and tick problems can exist year-round, but no matter the location, there are times of the year pets can be exposed to these pesky parasites. Flea and tick infestations are not only uncomfortable for your pet, but these parasites can cause serious health problems and even carry disease-causing organisms.

Adult fleas typically feed on animal blood. Once on their host, their sharp mouths can penetrate skin and they can consume blood from small capillaries found under the skin. An adult flea can consume over 15 times their body weight in a day or 15 microliters.1 This may not sound like a lot but when added up can be serious if there are several fleas feeding on an animal at once.  Fleas reproduce quickly and can lay up to 50 eggs a day. The eggs fall off and are spread in the environment, which could be carpet, upholstery, or outside if the weather is warm enough. The flea eggs can produce adult fleas in as little as three weeks if conditions are right.

Fleas can transmit bacteria that can cause diseases in people. Some of those are bacteria that can cause the plague (Y. pestis), a form of typhus (R. typhi), and cat scratch disease (B. henselae).2 Fleas can also transmit some kinds of tapeworms to other animals or even people. Flea allergy (flea bite) dermatitis is the most common skin diseases in dogs and can be a major problem in cats as well.3 The allergic reaction in the pet is a result of compounds in flea saliva that get injected under the pet’s skin. These compounds trigger an immune reaction that can be devastating for a pet. Persistent scratching (pruritis), chewing, licking, and rubbing can be symptoms. These can affect their paws, ears, base of tail, and other areas where hair loss and scabs can develop. In more serious cases the skin can be abraded so bad that a moist dermatitis (hot spot) can develop that may require prescription medications to treat. In some pets that are extremely sensitive to flea bites, only one flea bite can set this allergic reaction into motion causing much discomfort for the pet. In very severe flea infestations, a pet may become anemic where their red blood cell count gets so low from fleas taking blood that the pet may become lethargic and if prolonged can result in death from too much blood loss, especially in puppies and kittens. 

Ticks typically live in tall grass and wooded areas and are most active when the weather is warmer. This means they may not be a problem in some areas of the country where it gets cold in the winter, but in warmer regions they can cause problems year around. Ticks will attach to passing pets off tall blades of grass or weeds. Then they will find a suitable spot on their host pet and burrow their mouth parts into the skin to take their blood meal. Once attached ticks can feed for a few hours up to several days. They will fall off when engorged to lay eggs and complete their life cycle.  Most ticks have four different life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult.  At each life stage a tick must consume a blood meal from a host to continue to live. For some tick species this can take up to three years.4

In addition to causing anemia from large infestations on pets, ticks can carry bacteria that can cause other diseases, such as Lymes (B. burgforferi), Ehrlichiosis (E. canis) and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (R. rickettsia). All these diseases can be devastating to pets as well as people if infected.5 

The good news is that flea and tick infestations and diseases they carry can be prevented with diligence and care. Flea and tick preventative medications are better now than ever before. These medications come in oral and topical forms with many new generation products being introduced all the time. Topical products containing the active ingredients fipronil, fluralaner, selamectin, and flumethrin can all be effective. The frequency of application can be from four weeks for spot on products to up to eight months for long lasting collars.

Oral flea and tick preventatives containing afoxolaner, sarolaner, nitenpyram, and spinosad are all effective. Some can be bought over the counter, and some require a veterinary prescription.  There are flea and tick preventative options that come in combination formulas that may also contain heartworm and other internal parasite preventatives.  Some of these products control both fleas and ticks while others are only effective against one or the other. It is always best to consult a veterinarian to help understand what the best preventative is for individual pets and what times of the year flea and tick preventatives are necessary based on the pet’s lifestyle and where they and their owners live. 

  1. Dryden MW, SM Gaafar. Blood consumption by the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae). J Med Entolmol. 1991. (3) 394-400.
  2. Bitam I., et al.Fleas and flea-borne diseases.  Int J of Inf Disease 2010. Vol 14. (8). 667-676.
  3. MSD Merck Veterinary Manual. Dryden M. Flea allergy dermatitis in dogs and cats. 2021
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. How ticks spread disease. cdc.gov/ticks/life_cycle_and_hosts.html
  5. Read JS. Tickborne diseases in children in the United States. Pediatrics in Review. 2019. 40. (8). 381-397.

About the author: Dr. Bradley Quest, DVM is the Principal Veterinarian at BSM Partners. He has practiced clinical veterinary medicine and has developed, studied, and clinically tested pet health products for the past two decades.

Follow us on LinkedIn for the latest updates on all things happening here, at BSM Partners.

This content is the property of BSM Partners. Reproduction or retransmission or repurposing of any portion of this content is expressly prohibited without the approval of BSM Partners and is governed by the terms and conditions explained here.