It's almost summer, which means it's time for BBQ and playing catch with your dog in the sunshine.
Unfortunately, it's also time for your least favorite job: flea and tick prevention.
These tiny parasites can cause serious health issues in your dog if left alone. Here's how to spot them and how to prevent them.
Fleas are a common outdoor parasite. In fact, they're one of the most common pests that infect companion animals.
They're small, wingless insects that feed on blood. Don't be discouraged by the fact that they're wingless--they don't need wings when they can jump up to two feet in the air.
First, you need to know the signs that your dog has fleas.
The most common symptom of fleas is excessive itching, as well as gnawing and biting. That said, you shouldn't assume that your dog is flea-free just because she doesn't scratch.
Some dogs have sensitive skin and scratch incessantly when they get fleas, to the point of hair loss and scabs. But some dogs don't scratch at all.
Another common sign of fleas is seeing them. Unlike mites or ticks, fleas don't burrow--they scurry across the skin, which is part of why they're so itchy. They don't like light, so you're most likely to find them on your dog's belly.
However, many owners react in defensive horror that they haven't seen any fleas on their dog. Here's the problem: by the time you can see fleas in your dog's coat, they're likely covered in them.
There are two other signs of fleas that are often overlooked: behavioral changes and anemia. Since fleas are literally bloodsucking parasites, they can leave your dog lethargic. Since they're constantly itchy, they can also leave your dog restless, irritable, or just downright off.
You can spot anemia if your dog's gums become pale pink or white.
To prevent fleas, your dog should have regular preventative medicine. This can come in the form of an oral pill or liquid medicine applied to your dog's skin. Regular baths in flea shampoo are a great option, especially if your dog spends a lot of time outside.
If your dog does get fleas, you should also get rid of things they came into contact with when they had fleas (fleas could be hiding there and you don't want a repeat infestation).
Ticks are like cockroaches: they're big, they're ugly, and most people's gut instinct is to go after them with extreme aggression (after flinching away in horror).
Your dog doesn't know about ticks, though. They just know that they love playing in the long grass (where ticks love to hide).
Like fleas, ticks are wingless parasites that feed on blood. Unlike fleas, they feed by sticking their whole head under the surface of the skin, leaving their bottoms sticking out while they gorge on blood.
Ticks are visible to the naked eye, especially after they bite. This is for a remarkably disgusting reason--their entire body swells with blood.
Many dogs won't show obvious signs of ticks until the ticks have been there long enough to cause serious problems like anemia or transmitted diseases. So the best way to spot ticks is to regularly check your dog's whole body for bites and tick bodies.
Tick prevention is a multi-step process.
First, you should give your dog preventative medicine. Your vet can usually recommend one.
Second, you should regularly check your dog's whole body for ticks, especially if they spend a lot of time outdoors in grassy areas. The sooner you remove a tick, the less likely it is that your dog will contract a secondary disease from the bite, such as Lyme disease.
Once you remove a tick, make sure to take your dog to the vet to get checked for any signs of skin irritation. Your vet should also check to see if your dog contracted any diseases from the tick.
Flea and Tick Prevention Starts at Home
The most important thing to remember about flea and tick prevention is that it starts at home.
It's much easier to keep fleas and ticks off your dog than deal with an infestation. So make sure to do your due diligence--check your dog, give them their medicine, and keep them clean.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended to encourage treatment or diagnosis of any animal medical condition. For medical advice, contact your veterinarian.