Not only people enjoy the mild Florida winters. Without a hard freeze to kill off pests, the flea and tick populations continue to grow. The mere thought of fleas and ticks can creep out a pet owner, but learning about all the different diseases they can transmit is important. With spring fast approaching, know the best ways to protect your pet from these nasty bloodsuckers.

Illnesses caused by fleas

Itching and scratching are usually the first signs that a pet has a flea issue, but it’s possible for a pet to host a large number of fleas and only scratch occasionally. Owners can mistakenly believe that the pet doing all the scratching is the only host for fleas and that all the other household pets are flea-free.

Some pets develop a flea hypersensitivity and react more strongly to the saliva proteins passed along when a flea bites. These poor pets may scratch until their skin turns raw, leading to a skin infection.

Fleas can also be the culprit behind numerous other conditions, such as:

  • Tapeworms — This intestinal parasite ends up inside your pet after an infected adult flea is swallowed. Most tapeworms are diagnosed by the presence of worm segments in your pet’s stool, and treatment is quite simple.
  • Bubonic plague — Fleas spread the Bubonic plague by hitching a ride on their rodent friends. Prevalent in Europe during the Middle Ages, the plague still infects people and animals today. If  caught in time, the plague can be treated with antibiotics. Cats are more susceptible to this disease than dogs, and early diagnosis is critical for survival.
  • Cat scratch disease — Cats and humans alike can fall victim to cat scratch disease, which is transmitted by flea excrement. Cats pick up the bacterial agent from grooming or scratching at fleas and transmit it to people when they bite, scratch, or lick near open wounds. The most common signs infected cats exhibit are vomiting, lethargy, red eyes, swollen lymph nodes, and decreased appetite.
  • Mycoplasma haemofelis — This parasitic bacterial disease, which is transmitted by fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes, causes anemia in cats. When Mycoplasma organisms attach to the red blood cells, the cat’s immune system views the cells as foreign, and attacks and destroys them. In severe cases, cats may require a blood transfusion.  

Illnesses caused by ticks

As tick populations spread, more tick-borne diseases are seen. In Florida, we most commonly see the black-legged tick, the lone star tick, the American dog tick, the brown dog tick, and the Gulf Coast tick. Collectively, these ticks transmit several diseases, including:

    • Ehrlichiosis
    • Anaplasmosis
    • Babesiosis
    • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
    • Lyme disease
    • Rickettsia parkeri
    • Tick paralysis

Most pets with tick-borne diseases present with lethargy, anorexia, fever, joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes. With Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases, neurological issues and bleeding problems may also be seen. Pets with tick paralysis first become weak in the hind end, and then the paralysis slowly spreads up the body. Identifying the correct tick species and keeping a complete history of your pet’s symptoms are important when treating tick-borne diseases.

Flea and tick prevention

Take a multimodal approach to effectively battle fleas and ticks.

  • On your pet — Every household pet must be treated to prevent a flea or tick infestation. Many people treat only their dog, because only she goes outside, but indoor cats can be hidden reservoirs of parasite populations. Fleas and ticks can come inside on your shoes and pant legs. They can also hop on your pet when she is outdoors, hitch a ride inside, and infect indoor pets. Ensure every pet is treated appropriately with the newer flea controls to prevent fleas and ticks from taking over your home.
  • In your environment — Prevent your yard and home from becoming the perfect breeding ground for parasites by following these tips:
    • Mow your yard regularly.
    • Remove tall weeds.
    • Prune back bushes and shrubs.
    • Remove leaf litter.
    • Take steps to prevent rodents and other flea- and tick-carrying wildlife from making homes on your property.
    • Use pet-safe pesticides with a residual effect that prevents parasite development.

Still struggling with a flea or tick infestation in your home and on your pet? Stop by Palm City Animal Medical Center—we’ll help you choose the right treatment for every pet and rid your home of pesky parasites.