Flea & Tick Prevention 101

While the milder weather, resumption of dog walking and dog grooming services, and re-opening of off-leash dog parks is most certainly cause for celebration, the warmer temperatures also mean the return of the most peskiest of pests – fleas and ticks!
Unfortunately, fleas and ticks do more than just "bug" our beloved pets – as
parasites that attach and feed on the blood of other organisms, they have the
potential to cause serious harm to our canine companions.

Black-legged ticks in particular may carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, which can be transmitted to dogs and humans through the bite of infected ticks, and can result
in severe illness if not detected and treated early enough. As Toronto's tick
surveillance program demonstrates
, the number of black-legged ticks in our city is
growing and their territory is expanding every year. In addition to the risk of
disease transmission, flea and tick bites can also cause extreme discomfort for
our pets as the bite site may become itchy, irritated and inflamed, and as with
any open wound, there is always the risk of infection.

Since these critters don't seem to have received the memo about social distancing,
it's up to us to take the necessary steps to protect our pups from fleas and ticks!
And as any competent veterinarian will tell you, the best approach for keeping
your dog safe during flea and tick season is prevention, which means managing
your environment, protecting your pup, and ensuring early detection of fleas and
ticks.
Environment
Ticks prefer to hide out in damp and shaded areas, and are generally found in wooded areas or anywhere where there is tall grass, bushes or leaves on the ground. So, when walking your dog in these areas, it's best to stay on the trail and keep your pup on a leash so they aren't tempted to wander off into the brush. If you have a backyard, prevent creating a comfortable home for ticks by keeping a well-maintained lawn. Grass should be short and piles of branches or leaves should be removed right away.

Since fleas can be tracked into your home on clothes, shoes and pet fur, prevent an infestation by washing all bedding in hot, soapy water and vacuuming all
surfaces and furniture on a regular basis.

Depending on where you live, whether you engage in "high-risk" activities like hiking and camping, and if you have other pets or children in your household, your vet may have specific advice or recommendations when it comes to selecting the right preventative for your pup.
Protection
There are a ton of products on the market when it comes to protecting your pup from fleas and ticks, and they differ in a variety of ways – route of administration
(oral preventatives, topical solutions, sprays, collars), duration of effectiveness (hours, weeks or months), type of ingredients (antiparasitic drugs versus all-
natural ingredients), and even the ways in which they work to protect your dog (most topical and oral preventatives work by killing fleas and ticks after they've bitten your dog whereas some sprays act as insect repellents that aim to ward off fleas and ticks and prevent the bite altogether). Talk to your veterinarian about the best option for flea and tick protection for you and your dog – depending on where you live, whether you engage in "high-risk" activities like hiking and camping, and if you have other pets or children in your household, your vet may have specific advice or recommendations when it comes to selecting the right preventative for your pup. Also, keep in mind that ticks are known to be active and out searching for food anytime temperatures reach 4 degrees Celsius and higher – as our winters continue to get shorter and milder due to global warming, some vets recommend using year-round protection against ticks and fleas.

Detection
Inspecting your pet for fleas and ticks is a critical component of prevention. Invest in a fine-toothed flea comb and run it through your dog's fur on a regular basis to check for fleas and flea dirt (tiny black specks that are essentially flea poop).
When you return home from walking your dog through a wooded area or tall grasses, remove your pup's harness and collar and examine them carefully from tip to tail to check for ticks – use your hands to feel for any bumps and pay close attention to those parts of the body where ticks love to hide, such as inside the ears, underneath the armpits and tail, and in between the toes. Adult ticks can be as small as 3 millimetres making them hard to spot, but they grow bigger as they feed, so it's a good idea to re-examine your dog a few hours later since engorged ticks are much easier to detect.
I've found a tick - now what?!
If you do find a tick on your pup, don't panic! Only about 1 in 5 ticks (~20%)
actually carry Lyme disease, and as long as ticks are removed or killed within 24
hours of attaching to a host, the likelihood of disease transmission is extremely
low. And even in the worst case scenario – if the tick that bites your dog carries
Lyme disease and passes it on to your pup, not all dogs exposed to the bacteria
that causes Lyme disease will get sick, and those that do get sick can be treated
with antibiotics.

How To Remove A Tick:
If you find a tick on your dog, it should be removed immediately. The faster it's removed, the less likely it is to spread disease to your pet.
  1. Use a pair of fine-point tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible; once you have a firm but gentle grip on the tick (no squeezing!)
  2. Pull straight upward using slow, steady pressure until the whole tick is removed.
  3. Clean the bite site with a saline solution (one teaspoon of salt plus two cups of warm water) and monitor for any signs of infection (swelling, redness, discharge).
Keep a close eye on your pup and follow up with your vet immediately if you notice any concerning behaviours, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, joint swelling, generalized weakness, stiffness or pain, difficulty walking, limping or an unsteady gait – these may be signs of Lyme disease or tick paralysis, both of which are treatable but require urgent medical attention.
If you find fleas on your pet, contact your vet for the most up-to-date advice on
treatment options for you and your pup, and be sure to treat all animals in the
household – fleas are happy to hop from host to host so it's best to assume that
all pets in the home are affected!

Remember that when it comes to fleas and ticks, prevention is the name of the
game! So, if you and your pooch have got a case of spring fever, by all means,
get outside and enjoy the fresh air – just be sure to keep your furry friend pest-
free by managing your environment, using some form of flea & tick protection,
and inspecting your pup regularly for any sign of these pesky parasites!
MAY, 26 / 2020

Text author: Sarah Kmiec
Photography: Unsplash