Flea & Tick Prevention

Overview

In addition to various Intestinal Parasites and the Heartworm, transmitted by mosquitoes; fleas and ticks present a significant threat to a pet’s health in their ability to transmit a significant number of pathogens.

Prevention

Regular administration or application of a flea and/or tick preventative is important to help ensure pets are free of such parasites and avoid the disease-causing agents they may harbor. It is essential preventatives be administered or applied monthly (or as otherwise indicated by the manufacturer or your veterinarian), and to all pets in a multi-pet household.

We maintain a wide range of flea and tick preventatives in various dosage forms, including topical for fleas, topical for fleas and ticks, oral for fleas and ticks, impregnated collar for ticks, and topical for fleas and Intestinal Parasites. Additional, alternative dosage forms may be available. Please consult your veterinarian as to which preventative and dosage form may be most appropriate for your pet(s).

See Lyme information for additional details concerning the disease and its prevention.

Cat Flea

Fleas are small, hematophagous (blood-feeding) insects ranging from one (1) to three (3) millimetres in length.1

A flea possesses stiff backwardly-directed bristles, or seta; adaptations that help it retain itself among the fur or feathers of its host.1 Due to the resistance provided by the seta when a flea is dragged, removal by its host through grooming or preening can be difficult.1

While there are approximately 2,500 described flea species, the most common encountered in and around the home is the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis).2

Despite its name; the cat flea can be found on a wide range of domestic and wild animals, including cats, dogs, cattle, and humans.3 Consequently, the cat flea remains the most common ectoparasite found on both dogs and cats; although other species of fleas may occasionally parasitize these animals.4

Life Cycle

Fleas progress through a complex life cycle, which includes egg, larval (three), pupa, and adult stages.5

Adult fleas feed exclusively on blood,6 and females lay their eggs directly on the host.34 The eggs may freely fall into the environment a few hours after having been laid;4 however, depending on the length and texture of an animal’s coat, eggs may remain on the host long enough to hatch.7

Larvae hatch after four (4) days and feed on debris and materials associated with the nest or surroundings of the host, especially adult flea feces,81 which are essentially tiny particles of dried blood.9 After roughly two (2) weeks, the last (third) larval stage beings to spin a cocoon and metamorphose.10 Adults emerge roughly three (3) to four (4) weeks later,10 with females hatching several days before males.

After hatching, adult fleas begin feeding immediately; and females begin producing eggs, at a rate of 40 to 50 per day, within 24 hours.4

Disease Transmission

Fleas can cause flea allergy dermatitis (FAD),3 in addition to a number of vector-borne diseases the cat flea in particular is capable of transmitting to its host.

Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD)

FAD is specifically caused by a hypersensitivity to antigens found in fleas’ salivary glands.4 FAD is the most common dermatologic disease found in dogs and can lead to a variety of skin problems depending on various factors.11

Tapeworm

Chiefly, the cat flea, along with the less common dog flea (C. canis), is the primary intermediate host for the most common type of Tapeworm, Dipylidium caninum.1213 Transmission occurs when flea larvae ingest D. caninum eggs along with other organic matter.1214 The newly-hatched tapeworm larvae are able to survive the flea’s metamorphosis to the adult stage, where the flea may be ingested when nipped or licked out of the fur of a dog or cat.12 Although rare; people can become infected with D. caninum in the same way, by accidentally ingesting an infected flea, with children most commonly affected.1516

Dipetalonema reconditum in Dogs

Similarly, both cat and dog fleas are paratenic (intermediate) hosts of the filariid nematode Dipetalonema reconditum,31 which can be transmitted by fleas to dogs.3 D. reconditum is member of the superfamily Filarioidea and is related to Dirofilaria immitis, the Heartworm.

Feline Calicivirus & Feline Panleukopenia Virus

The cat flea is also capable of transmitting both Feline Calicivirus,17 and Feline Panleukopenia Virus from infected to susceptible cats.1418

Feline Leukemia Virus

Additionally, it has been shown that cat fleas can carry Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV);1920 however, studies have not yet been performed to confirm its transmission potential.

Bartonella henselae (Cat-Scratch Disease)

Likewise, cat fleas can transmit Bartonella henselae among cats,421 and less commonly directly to humans.21 B. henselae is a causative microorganism of cat-scratch disease (CSD), transmittable to humans through the scratch or bite of an infected cat.22

Rickettsia

Furthermore, the cat flea can transmit Rickettsia in several species, particularly R. felis (cat-flea typhus) in cats, dogs, opossums, rodents, and humans; or R. typhi (Murine typhus) primarily in rodents, but also in cats, opossums, and humans,2324

Myxomatosis & Francisella tularensis in Rabbits

Moreover, the cat flea can transmit Myxomatosis to rabbits,314 along with Francisella tularensis (tularemia), which can also affect humans;325

Plague

Finally, fleas (including the cat flea) are the main vector for Yersinia pestis (plague), affecting humans and other mammals.325

Ticks

Ticks are small, hematophagous (blood-feeding) arachnids, which along with mites make up the subclass Acari.26

Tick species are divided into two major families, Argasidae, soft ticks; and Ixodidae, hard ticks.2728 The third family, Nuttalliellidae, contains only a single species, Nuttalliella namaqua,29 native to southern Africa, and whose preferred hosts are murid rodents.30

Adult hard ticks are characterized by a hard shield, or scutum, that covers the entire dorsal (back) surface of the male and part of the dorsal surface of the female.31

Of soft ticks, only Otobius megnini, the spinose ear tick, is known to parasitize both dogs and cats; but, along with other soft ticks, is relatively uncommon on pets.32

Tick Species Found on Domestic Pets

Dogs

Scientific Name Common Name
Amblyomma americanum lone star tick
Amblyomma maculatum Gulf Coast tick
Dermacentor andersoni Rocky Mountain wood tick
Dermacentor occidentalis33 Pacific Coast tick
Dermacentor variabilis American dog tick
Ixodes pacificus western black-legged tick
Ixodes scapularis black-legged tick
Rhipicephalus sanguineus brown dog tick

Cats

Scientific Name Common Name
Amblyomma americanum lone star tick
Dermacentor variabilis American dog tick
Ixodes scapulari black-legged tick

(Except where noted: Adapted from Ticks. Companion Animal Parasite Council. http://www.capcvet.org/capc-recommendations/ticks. Updated May 2014.).32

Hard Tick Lifecycle

Tick life cycles differ most significantly by the total number of separate hosts fed upon throughout the life cycle. Most ticks of public health importance are considered three-host ticks.34

Blacklegged Tick

Blacklegged ticks, commonly called “deer ticks”, are of chief public health concern as the vector for B. burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease.

Blacklegged ticks have a two-year, three-host life cycle. Eggs are oviposited in the spring, and larvae emerge approximately one month later. Larvae feed once in the summer, usually on birds and small mammals, at which stage they are most likely to become infected with the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria.

Larvae then over-winter, and in the following spring molt into nymphs, which then feed in late spring or early summer.

In the fall, nymphs molt into adults, which usually feed on larger mammals (often the white-tailed deer), on whose bodies they mate. Females die after laying their eggs, whereby the two-year cycle begins again.

Infected nymphs feeding on mice or larger mammals such as deer, dogs, or humans; and adult ticks, whose higher rate of infectivity may be due to their longevity and repeated exposure to infected mammals and birds, are considered the most likely source of infection for dogs and humans. An infected tick usually must be attached for at least 48 hours before transmission of disease-causing bacteria (spirochetes) can occur.353637

(Adapted from Greene CE, Straubinger RK, Levy SA. Borreliosis. In: Greene CE, ed. Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier; 2012: 450-452.35

Disease Transmission

Ticks can transmit a large number of pathogens, including bacteria and eukaryotes (organisms with nucleated cells).

The following table includes only known wild tick vectors in North America affecting dogs and cats. One or more additional tick species which have been found to harbor a certain pathogen (through confirmatory DNA testing) have not yet been implicated in its transmission; some may have also only been infected experimentally. Some of these and/or additional tick species inplicated in transmission of a certain pathogen also affect species other than cats and dogs, or are currently natively found only in other parts of the world. While still more tick species may have yet to be identified as vectors in the wild, others have only presented isolated risks (e.g., parasitizing (a) local animal(s) after having survived quarantine of a traveling host undetected) outside their native area(s) of distribution.

Pathogen Disease Transmitted Domestic Species Primarily Affected Tick Vector(s)
Anaplasma phagocytophilum Anaplasmosis Dogs Ixodes scapularis, I. pacificus38
Anaplasma platys Anaplasmosis Dogs Rhipicephalus sanguineus39
Babesiosis canis vogeli Babesiosis Dogs Rhipicephalus sanguineus40
Borrelia burgdorferi Lyme disease Cats, Dogs Ixodes scapularis, I. pacificus41
Cytauxzoon felis Cytauxzoonosis, Feline Cats Amblyomma americanum4243
Ehrlichia canis Ehrlichiosis Dogs Rhipicephalus sanguineus44
Ehrlichia ewingii Ehrlichiosis Dogs Amblyomma americanum45
Francisella tularensis Tularemia Cats, Dogs Amblyomma americanum; Dermacentor andersoni, D. occidentalis, D. variabilis33
Hepatozoon americanum Hepatozoonosis, Canine Dogs Amblyomma maculatum46
Hepatozoon canis Hepatozoonosis, Canine Dogs Rhipicephalus sanguineus4748
Hepatozoon felis Hepatozoonosis, Feline Cats (Unknown tick species)49
Rickettsia rickettsii Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever Dogs Dermacentor andersoni, D. variabilis50

Fleas

Treatment of Your Pet(s)

Emergency treatment of a flea infestation involves use of an oral insecticide which causes rapid death of adult fleas. Such products typically begin working in thirty (30) minutes and kill all present adult fleas within four (4) hours. Without long-term residual activity, however; use of a flea preventative should be maintained.

Treatment of the Environment

Vacuuming is one of the most effective ways to eliminate adult fleas in the household.14 Studies have demonstrated a roughly 95% decrease in a household adult flea population by vacuuming alone.5152 And, while the effect of vacuuming on eggs has not been fully studied; flea eggs do not have adherence properties, so should be easily vacuumed up along with larvae, pupae, and adults.

Because the flea life-cycle lasts roughly three (3) to four (4) weeks,10 vacuuming should be repeated daily for at least as long. Fleas will often concentrate in areas where your pet(s) regularly sleep, so be sure to also launder pet bedding weekly.

During initial treatment of the environment, it is also recommended to use a household insecticidal spray with an insect growth regulator (IGR), to prevent larvae from developing, and cause adult females to lay infertile eggs. The spray can also be used on surfaces where vacuuming is impractical, and will prevent subsequent infestations for months (typically between four (4) to seven (7) months depending on the strength).

Disposing of the vacuum bag between sessions is not necessary, but it should be sealed in a plastic bag and kept in the freezer when not in use, and for one (1) week after fleas have been eliminated from the environment, as the cat flea is unable to survive freezing temperatures longer than five (5) days.53

Ticks

Tick Checking & Removal

Checking for Ticks

To check your pet for ticks, gently brush your fingers through your pet’s fur, applying enough pressure to feel any small bumps.

Take care not to squeeze or crush any tick(s) you might find, as a disease-transmitting organism can be transmitted via the tick’s feces or circulatory fluid (hemolymph).

Tick Removal

We recommend bringing your pet in if you find a tick, so experienced staff can demonstrate full removal of the parasite and its mouthparts; which, if not fully removed, can cause foreign-body inflammation and/or continue to permit disease transmission.

References

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