Fleas and ticks feed on pets’ blood causing irritation, allergies, anemia and sometimes death. At times they spread diseases to family members. By injecting saliva into the skin, fleas spread diseases such as dermatitis where cats and dogs scratch their skins until they lose hair. Some fleas infect pets with worms. Ticks on the other hand spread over 15 diseases which include Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis. In humans, bubonic plague is a well known disease spread by fleas. Anaplasmosis spread by the black-legged-tick causes fever, head and muscle ache.
You can never be safe from fleas and ticks as long as stray cats, dogs and wild animals roam your backyard. Infected animals drop the pests on bushes where cats and dogs pick them.
How do you know your pets have fleas or ticks?
When you notice your cats and dogs over-groom or scratch persistently, it is time to check for fleas and ticks. Fleas are tiny and may not be easy to see but ticks being larger can be easily seen especially when engorged with blood. Affected pets become itchy and may have scabs and red sore areas. To confirm the presence of ticks, comb or bath them with soap water over a white background. Tiny black specks falling on the white background normally indicates presence of fleas or ticks.
Flea and tick control measures
Keeping the compound clean and dry is one very effective measure. Bushes and weeds should be cleared to get rid of the pets’ hiding places. In the house, carpets should be regularly cleaned or done away with altogether because fleas love them very much. Other areas to note are cushioning on furniture, cracks and crevices on the floor and sleeping areas of pets. Areas that are usually warm and moist are also good targets. In severe cases discard pet beddings and replace with fresh ones having cleaned the places with soap water to remove the eggs, larvae and adults.
Natural control methods have not been very effective so the only available options are use of chemicals. The hype about concoctions of brewers yeast, vitamins and fatty acid supplements has never worked. Although fresh garlic, vinegar, lavender and other natural ingredients are sometimes used they are never effective in eradicating fleas and ticks but only serve to expel them for a while. Many times you need to keep applying these concoctions on a daily basis but eventually fleas get used to them. Extracts from some natural products are not entirely safe. This might not go down well with environmentalists and enthusiasts of natural ingredients but that is the fact. What you need to remember is that natural does not necessarily mean safe.
It is not advisable to pull ticks from the skin because you can leave their mouthparts behind and cause a raw and painful area which is prone to infection. If you must remove ticks, use a tick scoop then wash the tick bite with soap water and apply antibiotics.
Chemical products are usually very effective in flea and tick control. They must be used according to instructions on the label to ensure safety and to avoid resistance. Most are made of pyrethroids or organophosphates and resistance to the chemicals can easily develop if used wrongly. Dog products should not be used on cats and vice versa. For example permethrin and amitraz included insome dog products are lethal and cats cannot tolerate them even in small quantities. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has warned of flea and tick control products which have adverse effects on pets, especially the spot-ons. Look for products that have been passed as safe by the Poison and Drug Control Board. Different chemicals have different levels of effectiveness depending on the life stages of fleas and ticks and combinations are at times recommended.
Mode of applications
Insecticides can be applied topically, orally, by injections or in combination of two or more.
They come in the form of dips, sprays, shampoos, powders, spot-ons, collar or foggers. The insecticide or acaricide is applied on the surface of the animal to kill or expel fleas and ticks. Powders can be cumbersome because they must remain for sometime on the body of the animal to be effective. Sometimes there is danger of inhalation as the pet moves about in the house. Complaints have been raised against collar applications due to their limited ability, irritability to the animal around the neck and the usual high chances of entangling the pets as they scratch their necks. Spot-ons are applied along the back of the neck. Dips contain chemicals that are very effective in controlling fleas and ticks though some are toxic. Flea combs are also quite effective in controlling adult fleas. Give attention to areas where fleas normally gather such as the ears, neck, toes and tail.
These are in form of tablets or liquids which are swallowed and absorbed into the bloodstream of the animal. If fleas and ticks suck blood from such an animal, they are either killed or sterilized.
This is usually applied in combination with topical treatments to prevent egg development of fleas and ticks.
Commonly used chemicals
These are natural products derived from pyrethrum. They are widely used topically to control fleas, ticks, mites and mosquitoes. Because they are easily degraded they are quite safe to use at home.
These are compounds synthesized from pyrethrins. There are many varieties in the market and are mainly used for controlling and repelling flying insects, ticks, mites, lice and fleas. They tend to be slow acting but lasts longer than pyrethrins. And being soluble in oils and not water, they make good spot-ons. However they are toxic to cats and therefore should not be used on them.
Amitraz is the most widely used of chemicals from the formamidines group. They are very effective on ticks and mange mites but have no effect against fleas. Products made from amitraz should not be used on cats. Mainly used as collars on dogs, they can be used at the same time with flea control products.
This group of products is used for topical application on pets. Some animals can develop sensitivity to these products so veterinary advice is important. A widely used product in this categrory is fipronil.
Products made from this ingredient have no effect on ticks but very effective on fleas. They are used for topical application to control fleas on cats and dogs. They are safe although some animals might develop sensitivity.
This is a contact insecticide that kills all stages of fleas on cats and dogs. It should not be used on weak or pregnant animals.
This is a fast acting and very effective ingredient against fleas, some mites, ticks and internal parasites. Applied topically, it is safe to use on pregnant and nursing females but should not be used on kitten under 6 weeks of age, weak or animals with broken skin.
An oral product used in dogs that are 5 months and above in age for killing adult fleas. Care should be taken for epileptic or breeding dogs.
These are fast acting oral drugs administered as pills against fleas and ticks in cats and dogs over 1 month of age and 1 kg body weight. They are quite safe to use and will be out of the animal system within 24 hours.
Insect Growth Regulators (IGRs) and Insect Development Inhibitors (IDIs)
Products containing IGRs and IDIs are available in the market. They act on immature forms of fleas, ticks and mites. Where flea infestation is high they should be used in combination with products that kill adults to be effective. Many are used as foggers and sprays but are also applied topically, by injection or orally to cats and dogs. The products have not been very effective in controlling fleas and ticks but they are very safe to use.
Linalool is one of citrus extracts used for flea and tick control. Although passionately promoted as natural products, citrus extracts have no advantage over conventional products except for their aroma. They are ineffective in heavily infested areas and must be used in combination with more powerful insecticides. They used in dips, spray and shampoos. Care should be taken as they can be toxic if not used correctly. Some animals have developed sensitivity to citrus products and some have been lethal to cats.
Borax used as carpet powder kills adult fleas and inhibits development of immature ones.