Fleas and ticks can not only cause significant health issues for your pet, but can also transmit certain diseases to you and your family. Our team at Sale Creek Veterinary Services wants to explain why flea and tick prevention is an important part of your pet’s health care plan.

#1: Fleas can cause flea allergy dermatitis in your pet

Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) is one of the most commonly diagnosed allergic skin issues seen in dogs and cats. When a flea bites your pet, they inject saliva into the skin, and many pets are hypersensitive to a protein in the flea’s saliva. Typical reactions cause constant and intense itching, and pets may excessively scratch, lick, chew, and rub. In addition, skin lesions, including hair loss, skin crusts, red papules, and thickened skin, can occur. Finding a flea on your pet provides an obvious diagnosis, but many pets groom away the parasites to alleviate the itching. The presence of flea dirt in the pet’s hair coat or bedding is also indicative of the problem. Removal of all fleas from the pet and the pet’s environment is necessary to alleviate signs, and medications may be needed to control the inflammation and secondary infections.

#2: Ticks can transmit Lyme disease to your pet

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by Borrelia burgdorferi that is transmitted by the black-legged tick. An infected tick can pass the disease to your pet after attachment for 24 hours. Signs include fever, lethargy, joint pain, enlarged lymph nodes, and intermittent lameness, and kidney failure can occur in severe cases. Diagnosis is made by testing the pet’s blood for antibodies that indicate an active Lyme disease infection. The infection typically responds to a certain class of antibiotics, and supportive therapy may be needed, depending on the condition severity. Our veterinarians can help you determine if the Lyme vaccine that is available is right for your dog. You can’t get Lyme disease directly from your pet, but if your pet has been in the vicinity of an infected tick, you may have been exposed. 

#3: Fleas can transmit tapeworms to your pet

Pets can ingest fleas while they groom, and if they swallow a flea infected by tapeworm larvae, the larval parasite can mature to an adult tapeworm once the pet digests the flea. Tapeworms attach to the small intestine wall to gain nutrients, and can grow up to 11 inches long. As the parasite matures, body segments break off and are eliminated in the pet’s feces. In puppies and kittens, tapeworms can cause issues such as malnutrition, anemia, and intestinal blockage. In adult pets, tapeworms rarely cause serious problems, but the parasites may irritate their hind end when they are eliminated, causing them to scoot or drag their hind end on the floor. Diagnosis is made by finding parasite segments in your pet’s feces, or on their hind end, and treatment involves an appropriate deworming medication. Humans can also be infected by tapeworms if they accidentally swallow an infected flea.

#4: Ticks can transmit anaplasmosis to your pet

Anaplasmosis is an infection most commonly caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum that is transmitted by a black-legged tick that has been attached for 24 hours. The bacteria target the white blood cells, and cause signs including lethargy, fever, muscle and joint pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Since signs can be similar to Lyme disease, blood tests will be performed to determine the cause. Anaplasmosis typically responds to a particular class of antibiotics. You can’t get anaplasmosis directly from your pet, but if your pet has been in contact with an infected tick, you may also have been exposed.

#5: Fleas can transmit bartonellosis to your pet

Bartonellosis is a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella spp. when an infected flea bites your pet. Infected cats are typically asymptomatic, but may experience a transient, mild fever for two to three days. Dogs tend to have more serious problems associated with bartonellosis. Signs include fever, nose bleed, heart infection, and heart arrhythmias. The organism can be cultured from blood or tissue samples for a bartonellosis diagnosis. Treatment typically consists of a course of antibiotics, and only pets exhibiting signs are typically treated. You can be affected by bartonellosis if you are bitten by an infected flea, or if your infected pet bites or scratches you.

#6: Ticks can transmit babesiosis to your pet

Babesia are a parasite species that target red blood cells transmitted by the black-legged tick that must feed for two to three days before transmission can occur. The Babesia organisms attach to red blood cells, and penetrate the cell to complete their life cycle. Your pet’s body recognizes the infected red blood cells as foreign and destroys them, killing the red blood cell and the parasite. If enough red blood cells are targeted, anemia can occur. A condition called immune mediated hemolytic anemia, which kills the uninfected red blood cells, can also occur. Signs include weakness, fever, and red or orange colored urine. Blood testing can diagnose babesiosis, and treatment typically involves an antibiotic and antiparasitic combination. The Babesia species that affect pets typically don’t cause problems for healthy people, but immunocompromised people may be infected.

Providing year-round flea and tick prevention is the best way to protect your pet from these concerning health issues. If your pet is experiencing issues related to a tick or flea problem, contact our team at Sale Creek Veterinary Services, so we can begin treatment as soon as possible.