Fleas and Ticks

Oh how small, but how wilful fleas and ticks can be. They may be small, but they are certainly not friends. Living in Canberra, where the weather is dry and gets very cold in winter, we have the advantage of not having the same flea and tick burden compared to more humid places, but these parasites are present here and we still need to be vigilant. When we travel to coastal areas with our small friends the risk of picking up a flea or a tick greatly increases.

What are fleas?
Fleas are biting insects that live by feeding on the blood of mammals. Fleas are black to dark brown, about two millimetres long, have six legs with many bristles on their flattened body and legs. Fleas can travel quickly, as they can jump up to 150 times their own height! When not on our cats and dogs, fleas can be found in bedding, floorboards, carpets, and in dust, laying eggs or mating. These eggs, once laid can remain dormant for up to six months, which can then hatch and go on to produce more fleas. Aside from making our small friends really itchy, fleas can cause allergic reactions and spread other parasites such as tapeworm.

How do I prevent fleas?
As with most things, prevention is often better than cure. Preventing fleas is relatively easy, for dogs there is an oral chew that is given every three months or cats have the choice of a monthly oral or spot-on skin treatment. Once a flea infestation is established in a home, it can be difficult to shift, requiring animal and environmental treatment. If you wish to discuss your small friend’s specific flea prevention requirements, please drop in to Small Friends Veterinary Hospital or call on 02 6262 2233.

What are ticks?
Ticks are parasites that live by sucking blood from their mammalian hosts. The appearance of a paralysis tick varies greatly depending upon its life stage and degree of engorgement. Paralysis ticks are grey in colour and have eight legs; the first and last pair of legs is darker than the two middle pairs of legs. Paralysis ticks are 2-3 millimetres long before feeding and grow to the size of a fat sultana when fully fed. Paralysis ticks may be easily confused with Bush or Cattle Ticks. Before heading to the coast, please call into Small Friends Veterinary Hospital to pick up the most appropriate preventative product for your small friend.

In the case of the Paralysis tick a toxin is injected by the tick, which causes nerve paralysis. In the early stages of tick paralysis, you may notice that your small friend’s legs seem wobbly or their voice has changed. As the symptoms progress you may also see vomiting or difficulty breathing. If untreated, the paralysis tick may then go on to cause respiratory failure and death.

What will safeguard my small friend against ticks?
The first thing to remember is that there is no product that is 100% effective against ticks. Ticks mainly inhabit bushy or scrubby country, along the east coast of Australia and including the ACT, so you can reduce the incidence of tick paralysis by following the points below:

  • Perform daily tick searches of your small friend’s entire body. Pay particular attention to lips, eyelids, ears, neck, paws and tail.
  • Use a preventive product regularly, and as per the manufacturers recommendations. High quality tick products can be purchased at Small Friends Veterinary Hospital: Bravecto™ for dogs and cats.
  • Keep a tick hook on hand to remove ticks when you find them. A tick hook allows removal of the whole tick (including the head), without squeezing on the tick’s body. Tick hooks can be bought from Small Friends Veterinary Hospital and carry a lifetime guarantee. A tick hook is much safer than tweezers as it greatly reduces the risk of leaving any of the tick behind.
  • If you do find a tick on your small friend, do not use irritant substances such as kerosene or petrol to remove and/or kill the tick, as this will only serve to cause pain and further distress your small friend.
  • Your small friend may pick up a tick without leaving the yard! Remember that ticks can travel on clothes, bags, camping equipment, etc and are able to attach to your small friend once you return home from a trip away.

Do I need to take my small friend to the vet once I have found and removed a tick?
No. If you are confident you have removed all ticks and that your small friend is not showing any symptoms of tick paralysis it should be OK to closely monitor your small friend at home. If you are unsure or if you suspect your small friend is showing signs of tick paralysis, please contact Small Friends Veterinary Hospital immediately on 02 6262 2233. Please remember, if you find a tick at the beginning of your small friends’ daily search, continue and complete the search to ensure there are no other ticks.

If you wish to discuss your small friend’s specific flea and tick prevention requirements, please drop in to Small Friends Veterinary Hospital or call, on 02 6262 2233.