Written by: Robin L. Tabuchi, Research Entomologist, University of California, Berkeley.
For many of us across America, the winter was mild, especially here in California. My two dogs loved this warmer weather because it meant more hikes, visits to the beach and impromptu stops at the dog park. Although it was certainly appealing to enjoy the outdoors this winter and early spring without bundling up, the mild winter has helped increase flea and tick pressure for the summer.
Fleas are furry friend foes. Flea bites itch, cause allergic reactions and hair loss, and they can transmit tapeworms. Adults fleas jump high and can hop on your pet from almost any environment. They are laterally flattened and can move swiftly through dog fur without capture. Scratching, biting and “flea dirt” are the most common signs your pet has fleas.
Temperatures typically remain warm through the winter in California, so most of us are prepared to protect our dogs year round. For many others across America, you likely saw fleas much earlier this year and should be on guard to control them before infestations get out of hand. My basic recipe for a flea-free home includes administering pet meds, cleaning and knowing when to contact a professional.
- Both of my dogs take a monthly flea preventative (examples include: Advantage, Frontline, Sentinel and Program). I also have a flea comb and check for “hitchhikers” often.
- Flea eggs and larva are usually found in or near pet bedding. Inspect bedding for flea dirt and wash bedding at least once a month in hot water. Frequently vacuum any place in the house where the dogs lounge.
- If you don’t control an infestation early, you will likely need to contact a professional because washing and vacuuming alone will not be sufficient. Fleas also multiply quickly in the yard and can be more difficult to control without help from a professional.
Unlike fleas, ticks can’t jump. Instead, they climb tall grasses or shrubs and wait for a host to brush up against them. Although any dog can pick them up, dogs with light (white or yellow) coats are more apt to attract them. When ticks find a host, they usually attach around its head, ears, armpits and toes.
Thoroughly inspect your dog immediately after hikes, even if you use a tick preventative. Ticks have barbed mouthparts, and once attached, are difficult to remove. The bite can become infected if the tick isn’t removed properly. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease (deer tick) and Rocky Mountain spotted fever (dog tick). If you remove a tick yourself, bring the specimen to your veterinarian for identification.