Flea and Tick Prevention for Dogs – What You Need to Know

Fleas and ticks are external parasites that infest dogs, cats, and other animals. With a little bit of planning, self-education, and practice, flea and tick prevention for dogs shouldn’t be daunting task. Here’s what you need to know…

Fleas

Fleas are insects that live on your dog’s skin and fur, where they feed on your dog’s blood. Fleas can cause allergic reactions, skin problems, anemia, and other health issues in dogs.

Flea Life Cycle
Flea Life Cycle

There are four species of fleas that infest dogs in North America:

  • Ctenocephalides felis (the cat flea)
  • Ctenocephalides canis (the dog flea)
  • Pulex simulans (a flea of small mammals)
  • Echidnophaga gallinacea (the poultry sticktight flea)

The flea species that is most commonly found on dogs is the “cat flea”, which may cause severe irritation and flea allergy dermatitis in dogs. In extreme cases, dogs will begin scratching and chewing their own skin; sometimes to the point of causing self damage.

dog scratching

Furthermore, fleas can transmit bacterial and parasitic diseases in dogs. It should also be noted that fleas can help transmit diseases to humans as well, such as typhus and tapeworms.

Ticks

Ticks are external parasites that inhabit the skin of dogs, cats, humans and other mammals. Although ticks are commonly thought of as insects, they are actually classified as arachnids, just like mites, scorpions and spiders.

There are two groups of ticks, the “hard” ticks (Ixodidae) and “soft” ticks (Argasidae). Hard ticks have a hard shield just behind the mouthparts, which may resemble the “head” of the tick.

tick
Hard Tick

Soft ticks do not have the hard shield and they are shaped like a raisin. Soft ticks prefer to feed on birds or bats and are not commonly found on dogs or cats (but it does happen).

Soft Tick
Soft Tick

There are more than 15 species of ticks in North America, but only a few of them commonly infest and pose a real danger to domestic animals. Ticks can potentially transmit diseases such as babesiosis, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Humans are also at risk for these diseases and need to be very careful.

The four ticks most commonly found in dogs and cats are:

  • American dog tick
  • Lone star tick
  • Deer or Blacklegged tick
  • Brown dog tick

So, how does your dog become infested with fleas and ticks?

Dogs become infested with fleas and ticks through contact with other animals or contact with fleas and ticks in the environment. Fleas are able to jump from host to host or from the environment onto the host. Ticks do not jump; they must crawl onto their host. Ticks can be picked up by simply brushing against things like shrubs or tall grass.

How to Tell if Your Dog Has Fleas and Ticks 

It’s a good idea to get familiar with some of ways to spot fleas and/or ticks on your dog; it will ultimately help you treat your pet a lot more quickly.

Finding Fleas

Generally, fleas can be seen moving on the surface of your dog’s skin and fur. They are dark copper colored and about the size of the head of a pin.

Run a flea comb through your dog’s fur to check for fleas and catch those suckers.

Another good way to tell if your dog has fleas is looking for “flea dirt”, which are the feces of fleas. Flea dirt looks like dark specks of pepper scattered on the surface of your dog’s skin. You may also be able to observe flea eggs which look like white specks in your dog’s fur.

Signs that your dog has fleas:

  • Presence of flea dirt
  • Presence of flea eggs
  • Scratching
  • Hot spots on the skin

Finding Ticks

Ticks can also cause itching and are usually visible on your dog’s skin. You can also use a flea comb through your pet’s fur to find ticks.

How to Find Ticks
Dog heavily infested with ticks inside the ear

When inspecting your dog for ticks there are a few spots where ticks tend to hide:

  • Between your dog’s toes (top and bottom)
  • Around the ears and in the ear canal
  • Neck and under the chin
  • On the belly

How to Remove a Tick From Your Dog

If you find a tick on your dog, you will need to remove it as quickly as possible. First, grab a few supplies: tweezers, empty jar, alcohol, and gloves if you have them. Then start the removal process.

Watch the video and check out the quick tips below for guidance.

Quick Tips:
removing tick with tweezers

  • Wear gloves while removing the tick. If you do not have gloves, be careful to avoid contact with your skin.
  • Using tweezers, grasp the tick as close to your dog’s skin as possible, but be careful not to pinch your dog’s skin.
  • Pull outward in a straight, steady motion, making sure that you have removed the entire tick since anything left behind could lead to an infection.
    • Do NOT twist as this may also leave behind the head.
  • Kill the tick by placing it in a jar of alcohol*.
  • Clean your dog’s skin and the tweezers with alcohol. Wash your hands.

* You may want to save the tick in a small container with isopropyl alcohol – you will need to bring this to the vet if your dog shows any sign of tick-borne illness.

Note – Have you heard that some people swear by the match, peppermint oil, or petroleum jelly method in order to get the tick to back out of the skin? Be careful! New research has indicated that these methods can potentially make things worse by agitating the tick and causing the tick to produce more saliva. This saliva can be full of disease carrying bacteria which is then left behind in the bite wound.

How to Prevent and Control Fleas and Ticks On Dogs

There are a few different methods for preventing and controlling fleas and ticks on your dog. Each one has its advantages and perhaps some disadvantages. It’s best to consult your veterinarian on which method may be the ideal choice for your dog.

Topical

Topical treatments are probably the most well-known method for flea and tick control. There are several topical (spot-on) treatments that can prevent and control fleas and ticks in dogs. Topical treatments such as Fipronil (Frontline) are applied on the back of your dog, usually between the shoulder blades, and can protect your dog for 2 to 3 months. These treatments can also be used monthly if you live in an area where fleas and ticks are commonly found.

Oral

There are pills and chewables that can also get rid of and prevent fleas and ticks. Oral methods have become quite popular lately since they are easy to administer, highly effective and don’t leave a wet mark or bad smell on your dog as with topical treatments. These pills and chewables are prescribed and have proved to control fleas and tick for up to 4 months in dogs. They can be given monthly if needed. Some common oral brands include Trifexis and NexGard.

Collar

Specially made collars (that goes around your dog’s neck) offer long lasting protection; killing fleas and ticks for up to 6-8 months. They are odorless and easy to use. Some common flea and tick dog collars brands include Seresto and Sentry.

Shampoo

Shampoos are more of a temporary solution for killing and repelling fleas and ticks. However they are effective in killing these parasites on contact. Shampoos can continue repelling fleas and ticks for about 7-10 days.

Spray

Sprays need to be applied on pretty much the whole body, avoiding the eyes, mouth, and nose. Sprays are a bit messier than other methods but it starts killing existing fleas and ticks immediately. Your pet will be protected for 1-3 months, give or take.

Flea and Tick Prevention for Dogs

As you can see, flea and tick prevention for dogs is really straightforward. Once you know which treatment method works best for your dog, it’s all management from thereon.

Still, one of the best ways to prevent fleas and ticks is by keeping your dog in a clean and dry environment. Fleas and ticks thrive in humid dark environments, so it is important that you keep your dog’s sleeping area as clean and dry as possible.

For the safety of your dog including you and your family, make it a habit to regularly check for fleas and ticks.

Hopefully you found the information helpful. Please use the comments section below if you have any questions or want to share other helpful tips related to flea and tick prevention for dogs. 


Additional Resources:

  1. How to Care for Dog

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