The warm weather of summer is wonderful, but along with it comes the threat of fleas and ticks – those troublesome parasites that can plague both our pets and us. However, you and your pet are not doomed to be bothered by these pests. Some simple precautions will reduce the chance of an infestation and keep those little devils from ruining the summer.
Tackling the Outdoors
Fleas and ticks often make their way into your area on the backs of other wildlife, like rodents, deer, opossums, or raccoons, as well as stray dogs and cats. Fencing in the yard will make it more difficult for many of these wild creatures to enter your area as well as keep out stray dogs.
When planting flowers and shrubs, choose items that deer tend to dislike like tarragon, mint, marigolds, and bayberry. Avoid items that appeal to deer and encourage visitation such as azaleas, tulips, Hosta, and geraniums.
Fleas and ticks love cool, moist areas. Keep the grass mowed and bushes and shrubs trimmed back. Remove and dispose of all trimmings and grass as this will reduce the hiding places for fleas and ticks. If you store firewood in preparation for winter, be sure to stack it neatly in a place where it will remain dry. This will deter rodents from moving into the wood pile.
Any garbage stored outside should be in tightly covered or locked containers. This will prevent stray dogs and cats or wildlife from raiding the garbage in search of food. Raccoons are particularly good at removing trash can lids, so it’s a good idea to add a lock.
Tackling the Indoors
Cleanliness is the best way to avoid having the occasional flea or tick take up residency and multiply in your home. They reproduce quickly so if you see any, best to respond immediately. Vacuum carpets and floors regularly, including baseboards and crevices. Don’t forget to vacuum the furniture and under the cushions, too.
Change your vacuum bag frequently as any fleas or ticks that make their way into the bag will continue to thrive. Better yet, put a large piece of flea/tick collar in every fresh vacuum bag. The flea/tick collar will kill any pests you sweep up and you won’t need to be so vigilant about changing the bag.
Protecting Your Pet
So how do you know if your dog has fleas? You can comb through your dog with a flea comb – a very fine-tooth comb made to catch any fleas. It will also find any ticks that may be hitching a ride. Having your dog constantly scratching or chewing at themselves is a good clue, too.
You may see thinning hair at the base of your dog’s tail or behind the ears. If you separate the hair and look closely, you can usually see the fleas on your dog’s skin, particularly in those areas where the hair is thin. If you still don’t see anything, have your dog stand over a white paper towel and really scratch/rub over their skin so any skin flakes fall onto the towel. If you see little pepper specks, that’s flea dirt. If you add a few drops of water and those specks turn red, that’s from blood ingested by the fleas.
These days there are a plethora of preventatives on the market to protect your dog from fleas and ticks. One of the first items that comes to mind is a flea and tick collar. The important thing to remember when using a collar is that it should not be worn too tightly. Two fingers should fit easily under the collar when properly fitted to your dog’s neck.
There are topical treatments that can be used on your dog to combat fleas and ticks. The important thing to remember when using those is that they must get onto the dog’s skin; the hair must be parted, and the solution applied directly to the skin. If the solution lands mostly on the dog’s hair, the treatment will be ineffective.
Finally, there are several oral medications on the market for treating fleas and ticks. Some of these preventatives also target heartworms, too, so you can get a triple whammy with just one pill. As with any medication, check with your veterinarian to determine which one is best for your dog.
Treating Your Dog and Home
If you find fleas on your dog or in your home, you will want to take care of them immediately. Start by bathing your dog with a flea shampoo or getting them to the groomer as soon as possible for a flea treatment.
If you are bathing your dog yourself, keep a few points in mind about the bathing technique. Fleas are very good at hiding from water, and they hide in the orifices of the dog. When you start applying the flea shampoo, start by applying around all the orifices first – the ears, eyes, mouth, rectum, vulva, and penis. Then when the fleas try to run into these areas, the shampoo is already there and will kill the fleas before they have time to hide.
Be extremely careful around the eyes as flea shampoo can be very irritating if it gets into the eyes and can cause sores. Next, move to your dog’s paws and work up the legs toward the body. Finally, soap up your dog’s body with flea shampoo. Be sure to let the dog “soak” the recommended amount of time, so the fleas die.
Bathe your dog a second time with regular shampoo. If your dog’s skin is irritated, a medicated or oatmeal shampoo will help to soothe the skin. Once the dog is washed and dried, you can apply a topical treatment or a flea/tick collar. Do not use both as they may interact.
While you are bathing your dog, be sure to wash all of your dog’s bedding in hot water. You don’t want your freshly washed flea-free dog to head to their bed which could have fleas in it. If your dog sleeps in your bed, be sure to strip and wash all your own bedding in hot water, too.
Be sure to thoroughly vacuum your home, including baseboards and behind furniture. If your home is carpeted, it’s a good idea to then steam clean the rugs. Vacuum sofas, chairs, and under cushions. Once vacuumed, spray under cushions and furniture with a product containing pyrethrins. These products are generally safe to use around pets and children when applied according to package directions. Keep in mind that while pyrethrin-based products will kill adult fleas, they will not kill eggs or larvae so you may need to repeat this spraying treatment again in about two weeks. Carefully follow the product directions pertaining to re-application.
Usually if you deal with fleas and ticks when you first see them, you can treat the problem yourself. However, if you have a major infestation, you may need to resort to a professional exterminator to rid your home of these pests.
Having pets does not mean you are destined for problems with fleas or ticks. Following preventative practices will usually keep your home, yard, and pet free from these nuisances and that will definitely help you and your pet to live a happier, healthier life and have a fun-filled summer.