Flea and Tick Preventatives

Ask the Vet

by Dr. Cheryl Burke

Dear Doctor,
My vet recommends flea and tick preventatives for my beagle, “Copper” even though my dog does not have fleas and I have never seen a tick! I am nervous about chemicals and just don’t see the point!
Doubtful in Dundalk

Dear Doubtful,
As a pet owner myself I can certainly understand your reluctance to use a parasiticide on “Copper” when you have not seen evidence that a problem exists. Our job as veterinarians is to prevent disease and parasite prevention is a natural part of that job.  Fleas and Ticks are both parasites that feed on our dogs’ blood and are both capable of transmitting some very creepy infections to our dogs and to us!
Ticks present a particular challenge to vets and pet owners because they are difficult to kill, they are hard to even see and all of the various life stages are capable of transmitting illnesses. In some cases the life cycle of the tick from egg to nymph to adult can take up to 3 years. Because each life stage must feed, ticks are uniquely capable of infecting each subsequent host with the organisms it picked up from the prior host(s). In this way ticks can spread diseases from one species to another and can often carry more than one infection at a time. (Co-infection)
There are 5 species of ticks found in our lovely state of Maryland. The American Dog Tick (Dermacenntor variables), The Blacklegged Tick (Ioxides scapulars) aka the deer tick, The Brown Dog tick (Rhipicephalous sanguine us), The Gulf Coast Tick (Amblyomma maculatum) and The Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum) are all found in Maryland.  Each species has preferred hosts for its various life stages and all of the species want to drink your dog’s blood!

The table below details the various diseases that each tick can transmit.

American Dog Tick (Dermacenntor variables): Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) and Tularemia

Blacklegged Tick (Ioxides scapulars) aka the deer tick: Anaplasmosis species, Babesiosis and Lyme disease

The Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicepholous sanguine us): RMSF, Hepatozoanosis (from dogs eating the tick not from a tick bite)

The Gulf coast Tick (Amblyomma maculatum): Rickettsia parker and Hepatozoanosis

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum): Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia and STARI (humans)

Fleas are also very capable of spreading illness and transmit plague, Bartonella and rickettsial organisms to dogs, cats and people.

These illness are potentially very serious and can range from mild fever and joint pain to bleeding abnormalities, kidney failure, heart disease and even death. Every year several people die from RMSF in this country. The CDC website lists the prevalence of each of these diseases and their respectively mortality rates. Veterinary medicine does not have a national level reporting for vector borne diseases but the information gathered by IDEXX laboratories is reported on their website www.dogsandticks.com. You can search by zip code to see the incidence in your area of several of those diseases that might affect your pet.

The use of parasiticides benefits us all in several ways. Every tick or tick life stage that feed on a treated dog will die thus not reproducing nor spreading more disease. This means we can cut the life cycle short before it can produce eggs. The real challenge in preventing disease in our dogs is to kill the ticks quickly enough that they cannot transmit disease before they die.  Most literature suggests that ticks must be attached and feeding for 12-48 hours in order to successfully transmit diseases but organisms have been shared in as little as 3 hours. there have been some promising breakthroughs in tick and flea control products but with ticks we not only want them to die, we want them to die fast!

Fleas present their own challenge in that the adults can be quickly killed by any number of methods but that only kills a small fraction of the population of fleas that are actually present. The adult fleas represent less than 5% of the population we are trying to eradicate. Some products are insect specific and are capable of interrupting the development of the various fleas’ life stages, thus they can help to eradicate an infestation when combined with a good adulticide and can help to prevent an infestation in the first place.

Your veterinarian is right on track in recommending that you apply a safe and effective flea and tick control product. The diseases that these parasites transmit and the infestations they create are potentially deadly and certainly expensive.

Dr. Cheryl BurkeDr. Cheryl Burke, DVM, CCRP is the proud owner of Paradise Animal Hospital for the past 22 years, practicing companion animal medicine and canine rehabilitation in her hometown community. To reach Dr. Burke or Paradise Animal Hospital call 410-744-4224, or visit www.paradiseanimalhospital.com

 

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