It is not uncommon for pets to experience discomfort caused by external parasites such as fleas, ticks, or mites on their skin or in their ears at some point in their lives. These parasites can be extremely irritating to pets and can cause serious skin problems or even carry disease. Modern medicines make treatment, control, and prevention of many external parasites much easier than in the past.
Ticks are commonly thought of as insects, they are actually arachnids similar to scorpions, spiders and mites. Ticks are parasites that feed on the blood of their host, which can be an animal or a human.
Ticks can only crawl; they cannot jump or fly. Some species of ticks will crawl several feet toward a host. They can be active on winter days if the ground temperatures are above 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7.2 degrees Celsius).
Ticks are efficient carriers of disease because they attach firmly when sucking blood, feed slowly and may go unnoticed for a considerable time while feeding. Ticks take several days to complete feeding. Unfortunately, it only takes 36-48 hours for them to spread disease.
How To Remove a Tick
Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible. This reduces the possibility of the head detaching from the body upon removal. Pull the tick straight out with a steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick as this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin, increasing the chances of infection.
Continue applying steady pressure even if the tick does not release immediately. It may take a minute or two of constant, slow pulling to cause the tick to release.
After removing the tick, thoroughly disinfect the bite area and wash your hands with soap and water. DO NOT FOLLOW OLD WIVES’ TALES – Home remedies such as applying petroleum jelly or grease, or touching the rear of the tick with a hot match do not work effectively and are not recommended.
These techniques cause the tick to salivate and can actually increase the chance of getting a disease.
Fleas are prevalent throughout the United States. Temperature and humidity extremes can kill them, but they can survive for long periods of time under a surprising range of conditions. Developing fleas can even become dormant for many months if there are no hosts available. If your pet spends time outdoors or around other animals (even the wildlife that passes through – rabbits, squirrels, other cats, coyotes, etc.) the risk of picking up fleas increases.
However, even a completely indoor pet can become infested with fleas. We humans can bring fleas into our home on our clothing. Once fleas have entered a home, they can multiply very quickly under favorable year-round conditions, adding to the challenge of controlling them in a home environment.
Once they have found a host they begin to feed immediately and lay a large number of eggs. Adult fleas may stay on your pet, but the eggs and larvae fall off and remain in the environment where they can hide in places like your carpeting, bedding, furniture, and baseboards.
Fleas may not be easily visible on your cat or dog. If an infestation is heavy, you may see fleas on the animal’s skin, or you may find them by combing your pet’s fur with a flea comb. Adult fleas are the easiest stage of the parasite to find, but they account for less than 5% of an infestation. The other stages (eggs, larvae, and pupae), which make up the other 95%, are smaller and more difficult to find. You may also find small black/brown specks on your pet’s skin or bedding. These specks look like tiny coffee grounds and are commonly called “flea dirt.”
Flea dirt is the feces of adult fleas and is actually the digested blood of the host. When the dark particles get wet, the red color returns, which may help with identification. Some pets are allergic to fleas and can become intensely itchy from a single flea bite, whereas other pets may experience mild itching or none at all. Just because your pet isn’t scratching doesn’t mean there are no fleas.
Internal parasites can be found within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, heart, large blood vessels, and lungs of your pet. These can all be detected with the proper testing. While some may be visible with the naked eye, others are microscopic. Even more worrisome, some parasites are ZOONOTIC, which means humans can become infected.
Common internal parasites that are found in the GI tract include:
The internal parasite that is found in the heart, large blood vessels, and lungs is: