An itchy animal is never a good sign. If you find that Fido and Kitty have been scratching or biting themselves vigorously, a bug check is in order. A parasitic infestation of fleas and ticks can be fatal for our furkids. Here’s how to identify each insect and what to when an infestation strikes.
What are fleas?
Fleas are small, wingless, bloodsucking insects that can jump great distances (up to 18 cm vertically and 33 cm horizontally). While dog fleas are not as common as cat fleas, both their bites can cause irritation, serious discomfort and loss of blood. Fleas tend to leave dirt on the host’s body and these appear as black specks of dust on the skin or fur. However, they are actually dried blood excreted by the flea. These insects feed on animals then jump off and lay eggs in the environment. They thrive in humid areas and are very resilient. Infected fleas can transmit tapeworms and certain blood borne parasites to pets. A heavy burden may lead to anaemia and even death.
What are ticks?
Ticks are bigger in size compared to fleas. Baby ticks are less than 1mm in size and can grow between 5mm to 10mm as an adult depending on species (there are over 900 species). Ticks move much slower compared to fleas and do not jump. Instead, they bite firmly into the skin of the host and attach themselves there until they’re well fed. Infected ticks can transmit illnesses such as Lyme disease and tick fever to pets. Like with fleas, a severe infestation can cause anaemia and death.
How to get rid of fleas
- Bathe your pet. Start by washing the neck first as this prevents the fleas from jumping to the head during the bath.
- Dry your pet thoroughly as fleas thrive in humid environments.
- Use a fine-toothed comb to rid your pet of any remaining fleas. Fleas are covered with tiny hairs that allow them to “grip” onto the host’s fur. Using a flea comb is the most effective way to dislodge them.
- Apply a flea-killing product after the bath. This could be a flea collar, oral medication, spray, dusting powder or spot-on treatment. You should be able to obtain these from pet shops or veterinarian. You may even consider holistic treatments that involve herbal and natural therapies, but do consult a veterinarian before using any.
How to get rid of ticks
- Use a pair of tweezers to grasp the head of the tick where it attaches to the skin or wear gloves if you plan on using your fingers.
- Pull on the tick gently and steadily. If you yank the tick too quickly, you may leave part of the mouth behind and that may cause an infection. Once you apply pressure, the tick’s mouth will release its grasp and will come away cleanly.
- Apply disinfectant on the bitten area.
- Place the tick in alcohol to kill it.
- Save the tick in a resealable plastic bag, labelled with the date it was found. This helps to identify the species of tick, in case your pet becomes ill later on.
- Repeat steps 1 to 5 until you are sure you have eliminated all ticks.
Prevention is better than cure
Cleanliness and constant monitoring is the key when it comes to making sure your furkids stay parasite-free. It is best to take action when you first spot a flea or tick as makes it easier to treat and control. Fleas and ticks can lay thousands of eggs and these multiply exponent if you don’t nip it in the bud.
Be careful when using flea and tick control on your pets. It is important to read the label first or ask your veterinarian which products are safe to use on which species of pets. Rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs are sensitive to certain ectoparasite control products that can be safely used on dogs and cats, and are deadly if used on birds or other species (fish, turtles or reptiles).