Tick & Flea Prevention
In the Ku-Ring-Gai area, fleas are a problem all year round for dogs and cats, while ticks are more of a problem in the spring and summer. Sometimes we see cases of tick paralysis at other times of the year, particularly in very bushy areas where there are lots of possums and bandicoots residing (ticks’ natural hosts).
What are Paralysis Ticks?
Paralysis Ticks (Ixodes holocyclus) is a nasty parasite that can be fatal to dogs and cats in Australia. They are common down the east coast of Australia during spring and summer, however paralysis ticks can be found all year round. Possums and bandicoots are the natural hosts of the paralysis tick, meaning that the tick lives on them quite happily without making them sick. Ticks attach to our pets as they walk through grass or bushland where native fauna such as possums and bandicoots have been. Most pets are affected without even leaving their backyard!
How do paralysis ticks make my pet sick?
Paralysis Ticks have a year long life cycle, consisting of eggs, larvae, nymphs and adult paralysis ticks (the most dangerous stage). Adult paralysis ticks have a pear to oval shaped body and are usually grey in colour. They attach to the skin of the dog or cat and feed on their blood. While feeding, the tick secretes a toxin (poison) from its mouthparts which effects the animal’s nervous system. When ticks first attach they are small but they increase in size over about a week as they become engorged with blood. They range in size from a few millimetres to 1cm in width as they feed more.
What are the symptoms of paralysis tick poisoning?
- Wobbly gait, especially hind legs
- Muted barking
- Rapid, noisy breathing
- Slow, grunting breathing
- Coughing, gagging, drooling & vomiting
- Less apparent signs include lethargy & loss of appetite
- Once signs of paralysis tick poisoning appear, dogs and cats can become ill very quickly. If your pet is showing any symptoms, it is important they are seen by a vet immediately. The earlier the treatment, the better their chance of survival. If left untreated they will die. The vet administers tick anti-serum which prevents any further poisoning from the toxin. Hospitalisation and other treatment may be required for several days.
What are Larval Ticks?
- The eggs of a paralysis tick are laid in grass and scrub. When they hatch, the larvae wait for an animal to brush past and then jump on. Sometimes, if a pet has wandered into a tick nest, hundreds of tiny larval ticks (often known as grass ticks) will jump on all at once, leaving your pet very itchy and irritated. These pin-head sized larval ticks usually don’t cause paralysis but still need treatment, so please contact us if you notice anything suspicious.
How should I protect my pet from ticks?
Preventing tick paralysis is a much safer and cheaper alternative to treating the condition once it has occurred. Oral or topical preventatives have become the cornerstone of prevention of this potentially fatal disease and are discussed below.
- Search pets every day for ticks
The most important tick prevention is a thorough search of your pet’s skin and coat every day during the paralysis tick season. This should be done even if tick control products have been given. It is best to feel for ticks with the tips of your finger. Adult ticks are often at least 3mm in diameter. Start in the common places such as the head and neck, ears and face. About 70% of ticks are located in these areas (Don’t forget the lips). Then move to the rest of the body, using all 10 fingers to creep through your pet’s coat, looking for a bump or irregularity. Remember also to check in between the foot pads.
If you find a tick, try to remove it as quickly and smoothly as possible. Do not attempt to kill the tick first. Hold onto the tick’s body and pull and twist firmly. There is an excellent device called a Tick Twister available at Gordon Vet Hospital which makes life easy when removing ticks. Grip the tick as close as possible to its mouthparts (where it meets the skin) to avoid leaving these in. If in doubt, it is always best to call us for advice.
How does my pet get fleas?
It all starts with a few adult fleas jumping on to your pet, be it at the park, on a bushwalk, kennel / cattery or even in your own garden. From here the lifecycle of the flea begins and they can breed at an enormous rate. Before you know it you have an infestation that is hard to control! Fleas are a real pest to dogs and cats in Australia, causing them constant itchiness, hair loss and irritation. Getting a flea problem under control on your dog can also be a real pest to pet owners!
What is the flea lifecycle?
- It starts with adult fleas: They can jump 150 times their body length, easily jumping from dog to dog or cat
- Once on the coat they feed on the dog or cat’s blood and the females start laying eggs
- Eggs – Female fleas can lay 2000 eggs in their lifetime – 50 eggs per day. The eggs drop off into the environment where they live in carpet, furniture, bedding and gardens (i.e. in your home!)
- Larvae – The eggs develop into larvae which burrow further into carpets away from light. They live on organic debris in the environment, spin a cocoon to become a pupa and mature to an adult
- 95% of the flea population is the immature stages in the environment. Only 5% are adults living on the dog or cat!
How do they breed so fast?
Under the right temperature conditions the flea lifecycle from egg to adult is shorter (2-3 weeks). This is during spring and summer when it is warmer. During winter, the immature egg and larval stages can lie dormant in the environment for up to 6 months. Then when the temperature warms up, they all complete their life cycle and mature into adults, causing a sudden explosion of adult fleas and a massive infestation in your home! Today, with more in home heating the flea cycle usually continues all year round. More than 500 fleas can hatch from a 40cm x 40cm piece of carpet!
What are the signs of a flea problem?
You can see fleas in your dog or cat’s coat by parting the coat near the base of the tail. If no live fleas can be seen, sometimes flea droppings are visible (small black specks).
Sometimes pets can develop an allergy to fleas, called Flea Allergy Dermatitis. It is caused by the flea saliva and they develop a nasty painful dermatitis (skin problem) when they are bitten by a flea. Most of the time, this skin reaction is around the tail area in dogs but can be anywhere in cats. Since only one flea bite every 10 days can keep these allergic pets scratching, it is unusual to actually find fleas on the pet at the time (particularly in cats). These pets need to see a vet as soon as possible.
What is the best way to treat fleas?
The only way to treat fleas is to stop the flea life cycle. 95% of the flea population (and problem) is in the pet’s environment (i.e. where they live), so to properly treat a flea infestation it is necessary to treat BOTH the pet and the environment. Year round use of flea treatment and prevention is recommended to keep fleas under control. All pets in the household must be treated and if a treatment is missed, the problem can continue for months more.
The effective options for flea and tick treatment in dogs and cats are:
- Spot on Treatments (Topical products) – More information below
- Tablets (Chewable) – More information below
- Environmental Treatment – Indoor treatment includes regular vacuuming of the carpet to remove the eggs and stimulate the dormant fleas. Steam cleaning the carpet kills flea larvae also. All bedding that the pet sleeps on should be washed in hot, soapy water and left to dry in the sun. Foggers or surface sprays that target fleas contain highly effective chemicals to treat inside the house. The best ones contain an ingredient to kill both adult fleas and the other life cycle stages (insect growth regulators). For the outdoor environment, professional treatment with an adult flea killer is recommended for gardens and dog kennels.
Tick and Flea Prevention Products
In addition to daily searching, regular administration of tick and flea control products greatly reduces the risk of tick poisoning and flea allergy dermatitis.
Be aware that tick control products indicated for dogs only are NOT suitable for use in cats. We recommend:
- Bravecto Chew – A chewable tablet given every 3 months
- Bravecto Top-spot – A liquid medication applied to the back of the neck every 6 months
- Nexgard Chew – A chewable tablet given once a month
- Advantix – A liquid medication applied to the back of the neck every 2 weeks (highly toxic to cats)
- Seresto Collar – A neck collar that is replaced every 4 months for ticks
- Bravecto Top-Spot – A liquid medication applied to the back of the neck every 3 months
- Revolution Plus – A liquid medication applied to the back of the neck every month (also covers most intestinal worms)
- Seresto Collars – A neck collar that is replaced every 4 months of ticks (off label use)
- Frontline Spray – A spray applied every 3 weeks over the body of cats (Use gloves and rub into skin and coat)