Written by Jeanne Champagne, Director of Boxer Rescue of NWA Published in Northwest Arkansas Health & Wellness Online Magazine Revised June 2014
While country living may seem a big dog’s “dream,” there is a price to pay for sharing space with wild critters. Deer can transport ticks, and squirrels, opossums and raccoons have enough fleas to keep Frontline Plus and K9-Advantix in business for decades. The most important thing to consider are the diseases that fleas, ticks and mosquitoes can potentially inflict on your furry pets.
From Lyme disease to Ehrlichiosis (ticks are the carriers) to Heart worm disease (mosquitoes are the carriers) to tape worms (fleas are the transmitters), protecting your pet from becoming hosts to these parasitic disease vectors is something to seriously consider. But it’s not just the country setting that carry the intruding critters. City dwellers must deal with these intruders, too.
There are many things you can do on your property to decrease the number of fleas, ticks and mosquitoes and therefore minimize the risks of certain diseases that can inflict your pets. Understanding how fleas, ticks and mosquitoes receive a personal invitation to move in and feast on you and your pet is key to controlling them.
Ticks are second only to mosquitoes in carrying disease from one person to another, but ticks are the number one vector in transporting disease-causing organisms (bacteria, viruses, protozoa) to your pets. Resilient and wide spread from country sides to city parks, ticks hang out on the edges of leaves and branches to ambush the unsuspecting hosts that brush against the vegetation where they lie in wait. Ticks love rotting wood, tall grass, weeds, or leaf and brush piles, so keeping lawns mowed, leaves raked and brush piles removed is one way to minimize their presence. But don’t be fooled; ticks can live without food for up to a year!
Transported by other pets, wild animals or even the wind, these adaptable arachnids come in many species, all of which have one thing in common: they like blood. Some tick species feast on at least three different hosts before they actually die, and ticks can carry the infections of one host (or pet) into the bloodstream of another host (or pet). Check your pets daily to remove any ticks that might have attached. In most cases, ticks need to be on the host for 4 or more hours before transmitting diseases such as Lyme or Ehrlichiosis.
Fleas find their way to your pet via other flea-infested animals (opossums, squirrels, raccoons, your neighbor’s flea ridden dog.) The female flea is also known as the “living salt shaker” because her eggs are sprinkled all over the environment. When the flea egg matures, the adult parasite hops a ride onto its host – your pet – for a blood feast. Dogs often have an allergic reaction to flea saliva proteins, which causes itching and skin dermatitis; it only takes a few fleas to cause this condition. A flea ridden pet can become anemic if these parasites feast continually on their blood.
Because fleas and ticks are sunlight and humidity sensitive, they will find protection under leaf piles, tall grass, shrubs and bushes and in shaded crawl spaces or under porches. Keep grass cut, shrubs trimmed and leaves raked to minimize the chances of a flea infestation. Wash your pet’s bed in hot water at least once a week to keep fleas and their eggs at bay.
Mosquitoes are the culprits that carry heartworms to dogs by feasting on an animal that has been infected by the microfilariae. Within 10 to 14 days, microfilariae (heartworms) mature to the larval stage inside the mosquito. When this same mosquito bites your dog or cat, the infective larvae enters into the pet’s bloodstream through the mosquito’s bite. The larvae take about 6 months to mature into adult heartworms which have a lifespan of up to SEVEN years! Heartworms are fatal to pets if not treated.
The best way to keep mosquitoes as far away as possible is to eliminate their ideal breeding ground which is mostly standing water found in stagnant bird baths or pet water bowls that aren’t changed regularly, stagnant ponds, pails and buckets that have stagnant rainwater or any standing water that isn’t replaced at least a few times a week.
To control fleas and ticks, you can dust the property with food grade diatomaceous earth (according to label directions) over the area where the dogs have free reign. Diatomaceous earth is a natural product made from ground shells (it is like a powder, but the small diatom shells slice up parasites like ticks and fleas without harm to children, adult humans or pets.) Many spread Diazinon or other products outside the dog area to control ticks transported by the many deer and other wildlife we have in our area.
We have yet to find any natural products that work well enough to keep the dogs free from these disease carrying parasites, therefore we do use monthly flea and tick control such as K9-Advantix, Frontline Plus, Nexgard or Pet Armor to ensure the dogs are provided the most protection. Purchasing these products from your veterinarian offers one great advantage (though you’ll likely pay more than you can find on line)- companies will usually guarantee their products if you can prove you bought it from your vet.
Whether you live in the country or within city limits, it is important to keep your beloved pets as free from fleas, ticks and mosquitoes as possible not only for their comfort, but also for their health. Talk to your veterinarian about the best way to control these parasites on your furry friends, and if you use any pet control, whether natural or not, be sure to follow manufacturer’s instructions.