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Dog Ticks and Fleas Q&A

WebMD veterinary experts answer commonly asked questions about fleas and ticks on your dog.
By Sandy Eckstein
WebMD Pet Health Feature

Although there are more than 2,200 kinds of fleas, it only takes one type to cause a lot of misery for you and your pet. We went to internationally known flea and tick expert Michael Dryden to find out how to fight fleas and eliminate ticks. Dryden has a doctorate in veterinary parasitology, is a founding member of the Companion Animal Parasite Council, and has conducted research on almost every major flea and tick product on the market.

Q:  How did my dog get these fleas and ticks?

A: The way animals get fleas is some other flea-infested animal - a stray dog or stray cat, or some other neighbors’ dog or cat, or urban wildlife, mainly opossums and raccoons - went through your neighborhood, your yard, and the female flea is laying eggs and the eggs are basically rained off into your environment. We call them a living salt shaker. And then those eggs developed into adults and those fleas jumped onto your pet. That’s how it happened.

Dogs generally get ticks because they’re out in that environment, walking through the woods or high grass, and these ticks undergo what’s called questing, where they crawl up on these low shrubs or grass, generally 18 to 24 inches off the ground and they basically hang out. And when the dog walks by or we walk by and brush up against these ticks they dislodge and get onto us. Ticks don’t climb up into trees. That’s an old myth. They just lie in wait for us. It’s sort of an ambush strategy. They can live well over a year without feeding.

Q:  Can fleas and ticks cause my dog to get sick? What kinds of illnesses can she get from them?

A: Probably the most common thing is, when these fleas are feeding, they’re injecting saliva into the skin. These salivary proteins are often allergenic and animals end up with allergy. The most common skin disease of dogs and cats is what’s called flea allergy dermatitis, where they bite and scratch and lose their hair.  It can take only a few fleas for this allergy to become a problem.

If you have a lot of fleas, since they’re blood-sucking insects, especially if you have puppies, pets can become anemic and even die with heavy infestations. Fleas also commonly transmit tapeworms to our pets, at least one species.

With ticks, there are a dozen to 15 or more tick-transmitted diseases that our pets get from ticks. There’s Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, ehrlichiosis, and more. Many of these diseases can kill pets.

Q: Are fleas and ticks worse in some areas? Where?

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