Protecting our furry friends from external parasites, such as fleas and ticks, has been a mainstay of veterinary medicine and public health for decades. This month we focus on external parasite prevention and discuss some concerns that may not come to mind when thinking about fleas and ticks!
Fleas cause obvious disease: they're itchy, they suck blood, and they're gross! Some pets are allergic to flea saliva and have extreme pruritus (itchiness) that can lead to discomfort, hair loss, and secondary skin infections. Severe flea infestations can even cause life-threatening anemia (blood loss) in small, very young, or very old pets.
What you might not know is that fleas can carry microscopic parasites that cause even more diseases. Flea larvae can eat tapeworm eggs and carry them in their bodies until adulthood. When cats and dogs eat a flea from licking and chewing at an itchy spot, they ingest these eggs and are then infected with a tapeworm (Dipylidium caninum), an intestinal parasite. Tapeworms can cause trauma to the small intestine and steal vital nutrients away from the dog or cat. This can lead to weight loss and malnutrition. In addition, fleas can transmit bacteria through bites to animals and humans. Some diseases you may know include Cat Scratch Fever (Bartonella) and the bubonic plague!
When we think ticks we think Lyme disease! Did you know that ticks can also spread Ehrlichia and Anaplasmosis two other tick borne diseases?! Remember humans can get tapeworm, Cat Scratch Fever, Lyme, Ehrlichia, and Anaplasmosis! If you are seeing fleas and/or ticks in your home or on your pet, your family is at risk too!
Please appreciate how far we have come in protecting our furry family members from these creepy crawly external parasites by giving monthly flea and tick preventatives!