Australia may have a reputation around the world for dangerous animals that cause harm e.g. spiders, sharks, snakes and Mitchell Johnson, (as an Englishman I have noticed the recent rise in attacked by the latter!). However, as the warmer weather makes its presence felt, there are other nasty critters out there that pet owners need to be aware of, in particular fleas and paralysis ticks. Of course, fleas are a problem all year round as we keep our homes nice and warm throughout winter but they are more prevalent in the summer months.
Flea - Image courtesy of Succu, wikimedia
According to my colleagues at PocketVet, only a small part of the adult flea population actually lives on your pet. The fleas’ eggs and larvae live in the environment and can survive for up to a year, so it is important to not only treat your animal directly for fleas but also decontaminate the environment as well. Wash your pet’s bedding using the hottest cycle and regularly vacuum/clean carpets. While it can help to use flea treatment, it is not recommended to use them alone as they fail to address the environmental flea infestation.
Fleas will tend to jump onto your pet only to feed and then jump off again. Some dogs and cats can have a reaction to flea saliva resulting in a skin condition called Flea Allergy Dermatitis or FAD. Treatment of FAD can be complicated and veterinary consultation is recommended.
Signs of fleas in dogs:
- Scratching, biting and hair loss, especially at the base of the tail and rump
- You may actually see the fleas themselves (especially over the rump and in the groin region)
- It can be difficult to find the fleas, but is relatively easy to check for flea dirt. Simply moisten a cotton ball, part your pet’s fur and place the cotton ball on the skin over the rump. If the cotton ball takes on black specs surrounded by a reddish area, this may be flea dirt and can indicate that your pet has fleas.
If in doubt, play safe and call your local vet to discuss an appropriate flea control program for your pet.
The main tick of concern for pet owners is the Paralysis Tick (Ixodesholocyclus) as it can cause paralysis and death within 2-4 days of attachment. Whilst Paralysis Ticks occur naturally only in certain geographic areas (mainly along the coastal eastern seaboard of Australia) apparently they have are now in some areas of Gippsland. They can also hitch hike, attaching themselves to pets who visit these areas during the warmer months, particularly if they are allowed to run through scrub. Ticks may also hitch a ride back with you or a neighbour in cars, rugs, towels or plants.
If you notice a tick on a pet that is not displaying signs of tick paralysis, remove the tick straight away.To do this there are a couple of methods. The first one is to grasp the tick firmly where it attaches to your pet’s skin and give a quick sideways pull. The one I use on my dogs works well for me and involves simply putting your finger on the tick and moving it in a circle. Don’t put a lot of pressure on the tick – just enough so you can feel it turning under your finger. I am not going to humanise this and say that the spinning makes the tick dizzy, but after about 30 seconds of this, the tick falls right off. What you do with it then is your decision – I have to admit that I am not a Zen Buddhist about it but at least the tick’s last meal was a good one…
Tick - Image courtesy of Borislav Dopudja, wikimedia
It is better not to try and kill the tick first as the dying tick may inject more of its potent toxin into your pet. The “burning it off with a hot match head”method is also hit and miss – you might actually miss the tick and burn your pet! If you are not confident removing the tick go to a vet immediately to make an appointment to have it removed.
Once the tick is removed keep an eye on your pet. Put them somewhere cool and quiet for about 24 hours. If your pet starts to display any signs of tick paralysis, such as vomiting, weakness, staggering, breathing difficulty, or altered bark, seek immediate veterinary attention as this is a genuine serious emergency. If your pet is showing any of the above signs, do not offer food or water as these may be accidentally inhaled in tick-affected dogs.
Treatment also includes a regular searching for and removing all ticks. This may include clipping the animal for easier access (although there are some cats and dogs that do not suit the shaved look!) and/or the use of medication to kill remaining ticks. Tick antiserum is administered to counteract the toxin and supportive care is provided during recovery. This can be costly in comparison to the time it takes to check your pets after an excursion outside.Remember, no tick prevention is 100% effective and should always be used in combination with daily searches of your pet. Searching your pet shouldn’t cease once you return from tick-affected regions but should continue for at least 7 days after returning home as the little swines start off very small. Use your fingers to feel over the entire body, especially under the collar, on the face and around the front of your pet. Don’t forget to check carefully between the toes, under the lips and in the ears.
Enjoy your Summer!
Tony has been dog training (in association with his mother Jan Fennell) since 1999. The Dog Listener book has been translated into over 25 languages. He has been on radio and television on 4 continents and teaches the Amichien Bonding dog training process all over the world in English and French.