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HARASSING HITCHHIKERS: How to control and prevent fleas and ticks.

Fleas have a fairly simple life cycle. Approximately five percent of the population is in adult form. Eggs make up about 50 percent of the population of cat fleas, the species that infests our dogs and cats in North America and beyond. Eggs are released by the adults while on the host dog. The eggs then fall off into the environment and hatch into larvae a few days later.

Larvae are about one third the total flea life cycle. They feed on adult flea feces, which contain digested blood, and also other flea eggs and debris within carpet or bedding. They spin a cocoon of silk, pupate and emerge as adults in a couple of weeks or longer if conditions are not right.

The right combination of temperature and humidity help trigger them to hatch. They prefer warm temperatures but below 95 degrees. Their ideal humidity is between 70 and 90 percent. Newly hatched adults jump on a potential host as soon as they sense one. Adult fleas want to stay on their host for as long as possible, taking 25-50 blood meals per day. Dogs and cats, as well as many species of wildlife, serve as hosts for fleas.

Ticks have a more complex life cycle than fleas. They often have three hosts over a lifetime, dropping off of the host in between stages. Eggs hatch into larvae with just six legs as opposed to the nymphs and adults with eight legs. The larval ticks feed on small mammals, typically mice and other rodents. The larvae then drop off to molt into a nymph stage.

This stage finds a new host mammal. The juvenile then drops off again and molts into an adult. With dog ticks, all the life stages can happen in one year. Deer ticks have an overwintering period between larvae and nymphal stages.

An adult female tick may produce thousands of eggs then die. Ticks spend a large part of their time off of the host and in the environment waiting for a host. They spend time questing or waiting to catch onto a host in transition areas between grasslands and woodlands.

The cat flea has a wide distribution all around the world in temperate to tropical areas. There have not been any significant changes in their spread recently. They seem to have colonized all possible habitats. Fleas prefer areas without freezing so they can reproduce year round.

Ticks are widespread in North America. The brown dog tick is found throughout the lower 48 states. The American dog tick is found anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains. The Lone Star tick is found in Iowa, east to the coast and south to Texas and has been moving north.

Deer ticks are found throughout the country, with certain pockets they don't seem to inhabit. Ticks are probably more active into the colder months than we previously thought.

* DANGEROUS DISEASES Parasites like fleas and ticks take energy away from their host in the form of a blood meal. They also can transmit disease during that exchange. These diseases are often worse than the simple parasitism. Fleas and flea bites can transmit bacterial diseases such as plague, murine (mouse) typhus, cat scratch disease and some Rickettsial diseases. Fleas may also carry immature tapeworms that will be transferred to a dog as they are chewed off the body and ingested.

Ticks have the ability to transmit many diseases to dogs and people. Deer ticks transmit the bacteria that causes Lyme disease after they initially pick it up from their early mouse hosts. When feeding on their second or third host infected fluids from within the tick mix with body fluids of the host and allow transmission of the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi.

Many Rickettsial diseases are transmitted by blood meals from ticks to dogs and humans. These include Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Anaplasmosis and probably many others that have not been identified yet. Tularemia is another bacterial infection spread by ticks.

In a separate category is tick paralysis. This disease is caused by a neurotoxin in some tick saliva that causes generalized weakness and partial paralysis that typically resolves quickly, within days, once the tick is removed. The onset and cure can be very dramatic, as seen in a recent episode of Chicago Med.

* EFFECTIVE REMEDIES Over the past several decades the safety and effectiveness of flea and tick products has generally improved. Medical products should always get safer, more effective and cheaper, otherwise they don't benefit the market.

The public has demanded single products that work for both fleas and ticks. Unfortunately in the last 10 years some companies with effective flea-only products have added old school, less safe tick medications to their products to make them combination products. This has reintroduced products that are definitely not safe for cats and less safe and effective for dogs.

Some of these over-the-counter medications don't have the guarantees that name brand products have. They may also not have any customer service support if an adverse reaction happens. These products should be avoided.

Frontline, a fipronil product, was launched over 20 years ago. It made a huge improvement in the safety and effectiveness of combination flea and tick products. I have very little faith in the generic fipronil products that claim to be just like Frontline. They may contain the active ingredient now that the patent has run out, but they cannot have the same carrier product. Therefore these generic products don't do the job when it comes to spreading over the dog's body effectively.

Seresto collars do a great job for fleas and ticks. The possible drawback is that the initial cost of the collar is significant, around $80. The collar should work for 8 months because it has a very controlled release of its active ingredients.

Unfortunately if the dog pulls the collar off going through a fence then that money is all gone. Now you can take these collars off and put them on as needed. They are very strong but have a release point when pressure is put on them so a dog should not get choked by one if it would get caught in a fence or some other way.

The makers of Frontline have recently come out with a new product that controls fleas and ticks. It is called Nexgard and it is in a chewable treat form. We have found it to be better than Frontline, which I did not think was possible. We have dogs in our practice area that may get exposed to more than 100 ticks per day.

On Frontline, these dogs would occasionally have ticks get attached in their ears. With Nexgard that just does not happen. It is well received in its chewable form, but some dogs are cautious about eating it the first time. During following treatments they are glad to have it.

Bravecto is another new generation oral flea and tick medication. It is given every three months. We currently give Nexgard because it is to be given monthly, which matches up with the Heartgard Plus heartworm month preventative dosing schedule.

Ask your veterinarian what preventative products are working best in your area and then follow through. Our gun dogs spend lots of time in the environment that fleas and ticks inhabit, so we owe it to them to provide the best protection possible.

BY JOHN HOLCOMB, DVM
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Author:Holcomb, John
Publication:Gun Dog
Date:Jun 1, 2018
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