Q: I have indoor/outdoor cats and dogs and have recently started finding ticks on all of my pets. Any suggestions on what products I can use to combat this problem before it becomes an infestation?
John K., Boone, N.C.
A: Excellent, timely question, John. It’s my guess that you’re not alone in finding these creepy crawlies on your pets this time of year.
As a matter of fact, I found a tick on my dog, Annie, just last week, but thanks to the flea and tick preventative I have her on, it was thoroughly deceased.
But your question got me thinking about what the best preventatives for both fleas and ticks available this year might be, so I turned to an expert for advice on how to best answer your question.
Howard Johnson, D.V.M., at the Animal Hospital of Boone has been practicing veterinary medicine locally for more than 26 years, and in that span of time, he has seen his share of parasites. I asked him if right now is the worst time of the year for fleas and ticks.
“Actually, we tend to see more fleas in early fall and late summer,” he said. “Ticks are most common in winter and spring, because, unlike fleas, they can survive cold temperatures. Tick species, such as Ixodes (otherwise known as the deer tick), will die only when there are sustained temperatures of 10 degrees or less. Above 10 degrees, most ticks are dormant and will become active only when temps reach 35 degrees or higher. Ticks overwinter under the bark of trees or deep in grass or leaves, where they’re somewhat insulated from the cold. Fleas, on the other hand, die off fast when temps get below freezing.
“Say we have a cold snap of several days in the teens and 20s, then it ‘warms’ into the 40s briefly. Ticks will come out of dormancy and will seek out a blood meal on a dog, cat, human or other animal.”
Johnson noted that pets and people are most likely to pick up ticks in piney, wooded areas, and the lowlands of North Carolina tend to have a higher concentration of both types of parasites, with fleas being especially numerous in the Low Country during this time of year.
So, thanks to Dr. Johnson, I now understand that there are other times of the year — and other places — where fleas and ticks are actually worse than they are right here, right now. But we’re going to stick with the original title I came up with for this column, simply because I like it.
I also asked him which preventatives he and his practice most recommend.
His response was, “If ticks are a particular problem where a pet lives, I would recommend the Seresto collar, which gives the added benefit of getting fleas, as well. If there are no ticks in the region where the pet lives, I would suggest using a product that’s less expensive and is just for fleas. Ticks tend to be found in ‘pockets’ around our region, whereas fleas seem to be found pretty much everywhere.”
Another benefit of the Seresto collars is that they can be used on both dogs and cats.
“The collars are not cheap, but they last for up to eight months and are one of the few products that are safe and effective on both cats and dogs,” Johnson said.
He noted that while some of the other products may work well in repelling fleas and/or ticks from dogs, these same products can be fatal to cats, even if applied in low dosages. For that reason, he recommends using only products approved for use on cats on any of our feline friends.
I also asked him what other issues can arise with a flea or tick infestations, and I have to admit that his answer was quite frightening, even to someone who thought she was well-versed in flea- and tick-borne maladies.
“There are so many other issues that can arise when dogs become infested with fleas and ticks that are actually worse than the bite itself,” he said. “Fleas can carry other parasites, like tapeworms, and all it takes is for the dog to ingest one flea for tapeworm to infect.”
Dr. Johnson also noted that fleas at high concentrations can also cause anemia, which can be fatal, especially in very young puppies, kittens and in pets with health issues. He also mentioned that large numbers of fleas on a pet can also result in a yard or home infestation.
“We recommend that clients who find a high volume of fleas on their pet bomb their house with an anti-flea product and treat their yard while treating their pet at the same time,” Johnson said. “We’ve found that a product called Spinosad, which can be purchased at Lowes or Home Depot, is effective in curbing yard infestations. It’s also a natural product and safe for pets and children. Borax can also be used to curb fleas in homes with hardwood floors. Sprinkle the product and spread it around, letting it sit for at least 10 minutes before vacuuming or mopping.
“Ticks are very problematic because they can spread very serious diseases, likes Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which are both found here and can also infect humans. While dog ticks are larger and easier to spot or locate on your pet, deer ticks, which are responsible for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, are very small and very hard to spot on you or your pets. Most are no bigger than the period at the end of this sentence.”
Just in case that hasn’t spooked you into running to your veterinarian for a Seresto collar or some other type of parasite preventative, here is some more great news: Pet owners also need to consider the effects of internal parasites and mosquitoes at this time of year, even here in the High Country, where we tend to enjoy cooler springs and a climate that seems not to speak of diseases that we once considered “tropical” or “exotic” in nature.
“Early spring and summer are also when we see a rise in internal parasite infections,” Johnson said. “Hookworms, roundworms, whipworms and tapeworms all start to show up frequently in all types of pets and other animals in the spring. We recommend deworming pets about every four months and even more frequently for outdoor cats and dogs. Like flea and tick infestations, internal parasites can weaken even the healthiest dogs and cats and, in severe cases, can even cause death.”
And, as if all that weren’t troubling enough, Dr. Johnson also discussed heartworm in dogs, a serious condition caused by the bite of infected mosquitoes where worms will actually take over the dog’s heart. I asked him if heartworm seems to be on the rise in the High Country, a region which seems to historically have a much lower incident of heartworm than other areas in the Carolinas, mostly because of the cool springs and moderate temperatures.
“Some App students recently did a study on the prevalence of heartworm in dogs in the High Country. What they found is that about 10 percent of local dogs that were not on any type of preventative tested positive for heartworm. The number may or may not be much higher than that, but I think those numbers are pretty accurate when compared to the results we see when testing dogs here at the clinic.”
So, what is the good news in all of this? The good news is that, while there are some scary insects, worms and other blood-suckers out there that can cause your pet harm, there are also some effective preventatives on the market that can help you keep your pet healthy.
Sure, you may have to get your wallet out and give up all of your summer vacations to successfully fend off all of the foul freaks we’ve mentioned here, but hey, what’s a few bucks when compared to the peace of mind that comes from knowing we’re doing our very best to keep our four-legged friends happy, healthy and parasite-free?
BooneDogs is a weekly column by Melissa Bahleda, certified canine behavior counselor and founder of PARTNERS! Canines, a Boone-based nonprofit shelter dog rescue organization.