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What makes fleas flee and ticks tick?

People are not the only ones who have enjoyed the unusually mild winters of the past few years. Fleas and ticks have also prospered in the warm, wet climate, thus setting the stage for a predicted bumper crop of the irritating pests this summer and fall. To spare pets the displeasure of serving as a breeding ground, you should begin a control program as soon as possible.

Adult fleas you see surfacing on your pet represent only a small part of the problem. Talk about overpopulation! Ten female fleas can produce as many as 250,000 offspring in only one month. The eggs fleas lay on the pet fall off into the area the pet frequents. These eggs develop into free-living larvae, which, in turn, spin a cocoon and then live for up to one year in the pupal stage before emerging as adults. The successful strategy in flea control is to kill the immature stages as well as the adult form. Flea treatments, however, are never done," but must be repeated periodically.

Fleas and ticks are more than just a nuisance to you and your pet. Both live on blood meals and both can heavily infest the host; they can remove enough blood from an animal (particularly a small puppy or kitten) to cause a serious, even fatal, anemia. These pests can also cause skin infections that affect the health and the appearance of your pet. Fleas transmit tapeworms and can cause allergic skin disease, skin infections, and "hot spots." Even worse, ticks can transmit such diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Lyme disease to pets and people alike.

Fighting the Flea-and-Tick War

Fighting the flea-and-tick war can often seem like a losing battle. However, your choice of weapons and your knowledge of how best to use them can give you the upper hand. One weapon (product) by itself won't work. Several methods may have to be used together for best results. Flea treatment may fail because the wrong product was chosen, the product was not used properly, treatment was incorrectly timed, or treatment was not repeated often enough. Products used incorrectly are harmful to pets, people, and the environment. In many areas of the country where fleas thrive best, we may not be able to completely eliminate the problem but must be content to keep flea numbers down to an acceptable level. There are no quick fixes when it comes to fleas.

1. Flea sprays, dips, dusts, and shampoos-These products, for use on the animal, will quickly kill adult fleas only. The safest ones are natural pyrethrins or citrus-based products. One company makes a spray which contains an insect-growth regulator that prevents eggs on the pet from developing into adults. All these products must be applied evenly to the skin to be effective. Products containing Dursban will have some residual action if the dog is kept dry. Dursban products should never be used on cats or puppies.

2. Flea collars-Flea collars can be effective on cats and smaller dogs if changed frequently enough. Be sure cat collars have a stretch or breakaway feature for safety. Do not put them on too tightly, and watch closely for any signs of irritation under the collar. Herbal collars can have a repellent action but won't kill fleas. The latest studies with ultrasonic flea collars indicate they are ineffective. In addition, the noise they emit in the 40 kHz range is audible to both dogs and cats. There is speculation that this can cause behavior problems. At present their use cannot be recommended.

3. Oral and systemic insecticidesThese are prescription drugs your veterinarian can give you for your dog. Fleas that bite the dog will die so that, over time, the flea population in your pet's area will decrease. The drugs must be used carefully under your veterinarian's supervision.

4. Brewer's yeast, garlic, herbs, etc.-Although some people claim good results feeding their pets brewer's yeast or garlic, no studies have ever confirmed such benefits. These dietary supplements certainly can't do any harm and can give your pet healthier skin and hair that can better withstand flea attacks. These products can be obtained from your veterinarian, pet shop, or health food store. Other flea repellents include cedar chips, black walnut leaves and twigs, pennyroyal, and other herbs. These certainly do have some repellent action and can be used in conjunction with other flea-control measures. 5. Premises sprays, foggers, and carpet powders-These products treat the fleas living in areas your pet frequents. Sometimes it is easiest and best to have a reputable exterminator come regularly. If you choose to perform the extermination yourself, select products that have residual action and can kill the flea in the larval stages or keep the eggs from developing. Your veterinarian is your best source of information on products safe for pets and people. When using foggers, use one per room and follow up by spraying under furniture and along baseboards where foggers can't get. Daily vacuuming goes a long way toward controlling fleas. Carpet flea-control powders and insecticides inside your sweeper bag can kill the fleas and eggs in the carpet and those you vacuum up. Treat also the yard and other outdoor areas where your pet spends much of its time. Because fleas are adaptable and easily become resistant to insecticides, you may have to change products periodically.

6. Flea traps-Homemade or commercial flea traps help snag some adult fleas and can help if used with other measures.

7. Insect growth regulators IGRS) -These products hold a lot of promise to give us an edge in the flea war. Look for products that contain methoprene or fenoxycarb. Fenoxycarb is stable outdoors, whereas methoprene is not. Neither product will affect the pupal stage; in 6 to 8 days new adults will emerge. This doesn't mean that the product isn't working. The premises will need to be retreated with a product to kill adult fleas in 10 to 14 days. IGRs are safe for people and the environment.


Ticks live by sucking blood from the host. Ticks recently made the news because they can transmit a variety of serious, debilitating diseases to man and beast alike. They have been known to survive for more than two years in the absence of a host. Tick bites can abscess and cause large infected areas. Unfortunately, control often comes down to literally picking the ticks off your pet daily. There are a couple of products on the market that do have some repellent action. Products containing DEET should never be used on a pet or sprayed directly on bare skin. These are meant to be used on clothing only. Keeping grass and weeds mowed short and keeping animals out of wooded areas can prevent heavy infestations.

Tick-borne diseases range from an ascending tick paralysis to such febrile diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease. In all cases, prevention is the best course.

Steps that can be taken are:

1. Remove ticks promptly. Transmission of tick-borne diseases requires that the tick be attached for 24 hours or longer. Daily removal greatly reduces any chance of transmission.

2. Ask your veterinarian and physician to recommend tick repellents and killers that are effective and safe.

3. Do not remove ticks with your bare hands. Use tweezers or a tissue. Dispose of ticks properly. Squashing, burning, or simply throwing them into the yard only compounds your problem by releasing more ticks and toxins into the area. Keep a "tick jar" handy. Use any container with a screw-on cap. Fill it half full with alcohol or tick dip, and drop ticks into the jar. When the jar is full, you can discard it. Controlling Fleas and Ticks Safely

1. Always read the label carefully before using any product. Never use anything on cats not specifically labeled as safe for cats. Store these chemicals in a locked cabinet. Dispose of empty containers properly.

2. Choose products compatible with each other. If your pet is on any medication, check with your veterinarian before using any flea-control products. Do not use any wormers or other flea control products simultaneously without first checking with your vet.

3. Avoid flea collars that contain 2-chloro-I vinyl-dimethylphosphate (DDVP). This chemical is a known carcinogen in animals and people and can easily poison your pet. These are still on the market and are usually the cheaper-priced collars.

4. Apply any insecticide in well ventilated areas. Wear gloves and other protective clothing when dipping or spraying your pet.

5. Watch the pet carefully for signs of a toxic reaction after treating the pet or the premises. If you see vomiting or diarrhea, drooling, weakness, tremors, or convulsions, wash the pet with soap and water and rush immediately to your vet.

6. Never use any flea products on or around puppies or kittens less than three months of age, pregnant or nursing mothers, or debilitated or old animals without your vet's approval.

7. Begin treatment early in the flea season." In some areas a yearlong effort may be necessary.

8. Switch products as fleas become resistant. Repeat treatments as needed. Use a product with an insect growth regulator.

By knowing the enemy and launching a sustained, educated attack, you can win the flea-and-tick war. A


Tick paralysis-A toxin released by ticks can cause an ascending paralysis of dogs, calves, foals, and children. The condition starts as a hind limb weakness and incoordination and can rapidly progress to a total paralysis. Removal of the offending ticks is usually curative.

Lyme disease-Lyme disease hit the media as the disease of 1989. It has been found in 43 states. Many species of animals as well as man have been affected. The disease starts with a rash (in people, not animals), high fever, loss of appetite, swollen lymph nodes, and general body stiffness and reluctance to move. Delayed treatment can lead to serious complications of the joints, kidneys, nervous system, and heart. Diagnosis is often difficult, and testing is not yet reliable early enough to be of much help.

Rocky Mountain spotted feverDespite the name, this disease is common to the eastern two-thirds of the country. Like Lyme disease, a high fever with loss of appetite, depression, and lethargy are usually seen. Prompt treatment is necessary.

Canine Ehrlichiosis-Symptoms are similar to those of other tick-borne diseases. Prompt treatment is necessary to avoid future complications.
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Title Annotation:includes related article on tick-borne diseases; pet care
Author:Hoeppner, Gabrielle
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1990
Previous Article:Saying no to fat.
Next Article:Planning for a crowded planet.

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