Written by Claire Atkinson M.A. – Dog Behaviourist
Fleas and ticks are probably the worst among the various parasites that affect our pets’ well-being.
Know your pest
Fleas are flying insects, active all year round but more so in hot weather. As they bite, they inject saliva into the skin. This causes intense itchiness, exacerbated by scratching that can develop into sore and infected wounds. While not easy to spot unless they are jumping, their droppings have a black granular appearance that can be seen when combing through the fur, catching the droppings on a white card. Some animals are allergic to fleas – even one bite can set off a reaction leading to non-stop scratching and chewing, and, in severe, chronic cases, hair loss and skin thickening. Since it is guesstimated that one flea on an animal means about 100 in the surrounding area, you get an idea of the problem!
Ticks are arachnids (spider family), and wait patiently in woods and high grass for a suitable host – you or your dog. They are tiny and reddish in colour, until they feed, when they become bloated and grey. Tick-bite fever in humans (biliary in dogs) can be life-threatening and the wound can become inflamed and infected. Ticks should always be removed as soon as possible with tweezers, drawing the tick directly outwards to ensure the head disconnects. Do not burn, cover with paraffin, motor oil or petroleum jelly, or squash the tick to ‘remove it’ as this causes it to regurgitate its stomach contents – including any diseases it may be carrying – right into you or your pet.
A host of solutions
There are many commercial products available, and many different opinions on the subject, so do check with your vet as to the best treatment for your dog or cat. Medical treatments are usually specific for dogs or cats, so do be extra careful. All the clinically formulated treatments contain chemical ingredients to which your dog or cat may be allergic. These products are available as ‘spot’ treatments applied directly to the animal’s skin (lasting about a month), collars, and chewable tablets (lasting about 3 months). There are also dips, sprays, shampoos and powders for external use.
Natural remedies are available. Diluted lavender or cedar oil can be used with a bandana round the neck. Freshly squeezed, diluted lemon juice can be effective. Organic apple cider vinegar, diluted, is often recommended as a spray and can also be added to the drinking water. Our local Khakibos (an aromatic plant) spray is also popular. Organic diatomaceous earth (not the one used in pools) comes in powder form to rub into the coat. All these treatments require regular applications to be effective.
And, of course, regular grooming and keeping clean the house and pet beds all help to control the pesky beasties.