From Overcoming to Preventing Fleas and Ticks — What You Should Know as a New Pet Owner

Fleas and ticks are a threat to pets all year round, though these pests do become most active during the warmer months, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). While flea and tick season varies across the country, preventative measures are the best way to protect your pet throughout the year and during peak seasons. However, for new pet owners, properly preparing for these pests can leave many feeling overwhelmed, and not knowing where to begin — or forgetting to prepare for peak season — can be a stressful reality. From the reasons why prevention is so important to how you can address these pests when they do appear, here’s what you should keep in mind.

Why prevention is so important

For new pet owners, fleas and ticks might not sound like more than a nuisance, though it’s important to understand that there are a variety of health concerns involved. For those who are unfamiliar with fleas, these insects appear as tiny little reddish-brown flecks that bite your pet and are capable of jumping. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) notes that in addition to excessive scratching and hair loss, fleas can cause health complications like anemia and can even transmit intestinal parasites (like tapeworms) to your pet. These pests are known to reproduce quickly, meaning that preventative measures and treatment play important roles in avoiding potential infestation.

Ticks, on the other hand, resemble the appearance of a small spider, and attach themselves onto your pet’s skin to feed on their blood. According to the ASPCA, ticks can be found anywhere on your pet’s body, and goes on to explain that while these parasites don’t often cause obvious discomfort to your pet, it’s still important to address, as ticks can transmit diseases through their bite. According to The Cleveland Clinic, “A tick bite can infect humans and animals with bacteria, viruses and protozoans (organisms made up of one cell) that can cause diseases,” further noting that these conditions can be very serious and may include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis, to name just a few.

Finding fleas or ticks — now what?

As a new pet owner, finding pests can be alarming, though it’s important to keep in mind that there are ways to address the situation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that getting rid of fleas is a difficult process, and for moderate to severe infestations, is one that will take months to control and requires a four-step process for complete elimination. Sanitation is the first step, which involves thoroughly washing your pet’s bedding and vacuuming/sweeping floors. Pet treatment (the second step), should be applied to every pet in the home, while home treatment (third step) should start at the same time. Following-up is the fourth step, with the CDC stating “In order to get rid of fleas in all stages of the life cycle, two or more follow-up treatments within 5-10 days after the first application are needed. Additionally, vacuuming and sanitation practices should be ongoing throughout this period to pick up all remaining eggs and juvenile fleas.”

Regarding ticks, the AKC notes “Pathogen transmission can occur as quickly as three to six hours after a bite occurs, so the sooner you remove the tick the less chance there is that your dog will get sick.” AKC further goes on to explain that there is a proper way to remove the tick, and recommends that pet owners do so with a fine-point tweezers to avoid tearing the tick and spreading possible infections to the bite area. After spreading your dog’s fur, it’s important to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. From there, AKC states: “Very gently, pull straight upward, in a slow, steady motion. This will prevent the tick’s mouth from breaking off and remaining embedded in the skin. People often believe it’s the head of the tick that embeds in the skin. But ticks don’t have heads, in the conventional sense, so what gets inserted into your dog is known as “mouth parts.”” Afterwards, it’s important to wash your hands and clean the bite site with rubbing alcohol (don’t forget to disinfect the tweezers, too), and keep a close eye on your pet so you can get in touch with the vet in case of any changes.

Prevention — it doesn’t have to be overwhelming

Thankfully, there are a multitude of ways to protect your pet from fleas and ticks. AKC notes that “Prevention is best managed with one of the many veterinary-approved flea and tick products available on the market,” and recommends speaking with your vet to determine the best course of action. This can be a great place to start, as the number of products available can be overwhelming for first-time pet owners. In addition to medication, however, there are other ways you can proactively prevent fleas and ticks. For example, making it a habit to groom your dog or cat is a great way to not only bond with your furry friend, but can play a role in keeping an eye out for anything out of the ordinary (and will allow you to address a pest as soon as you see one). Regularly cleaning your pet’s bed and keeping your lawn’s grass cut short are additional measures worth taking, while getting in touch with your vet and/or professional residential pest control can help in getting pests under control if they do become an issue.

As a new pet owner, fleas and ticks can sound like a complicated and overwhelming matter. However, by speaking with your vet about prevention and knowing what to do in case you do find a flea or tick, you can proactively protect your pet’s health all year round.