Spotting tiny fleas or ticks crawling through your pet’s fur likely sends shivers down your spine and makes your scalp itch. Worse, these pesky parasites are more than creepy-crawly insects—they can cause serious health issues for your pet. By learning how to spot fleas and ticks on your pet—and prevent them in the first place—you can keep your four-legged friend pest-free. 

What do fleas look like?

Fleas can be difficult to spot, considering that the six-legged adults measure only 2.5 millimeters long. They’re dark reddish-brown, with a thin, flat body, and wingless—despite the great distances they can leap, they cannot fly. Fleas are easiest to spot on a pet in their thinly furred areas, such as the abdomen and around the eyes and ears. Using a flea comb around the base of the tail can often reveal fleas if your pet is infested. 

What do ticks look like?

Ticks come in approximately 700 species, and vary in size and color according to species. Typically, they bite pets in their eight-legged nymphal and adult stages, and the adults can grow quite large after feeding—up to 1.5 centimeters in length. In general, ticks are most active in the spring and fall, but they can become lively enough to search for a meal whenever the outside temperature is higher than 35 degrees.

What problems can fleas cause for pets?

Fleas can cause a variety of health issues, ranging from disease to parasite transmission. Some of the most common problems fleas can cause your pet include:

  • Flea allergy dermatitis (FAD) — This is the most common condition caused by flea bites and is triggered by the protein in flea saliva. Only a handful of flea bites can make a sensitive pet break out in an itchy rash that can lead to hair loss, hot spots, and skin infections.
  • Tapeworms — Pets can groom fleas from their body and ingest tapeworm larvae that live inside fleas. Pet owners typically notice a tapeworm infection when the rice-like segments become stuck to the fur around the pet’s hind end.
  • Anemia — Small or young pets can become so heavily infested with fleas that they develop anemia.
  • Cat scratch fever — Also called bartonellosis, cat scratch fever is caused by bacteria-laden flea feces. When a cat scratches, the flea feces can get under their claws, and they “inject” themselves with the feces. Cats can also scratch people and infect them with cat scratch fever, causing serious illness.
  • Murine typhus — Typhus is transmitted by flea feces that infect broken skin where a flea bites. While rodents typically host the fleas that carry the bacteria, cats can contact rodent hosts and transport the fleas to people and spread infection.

What problems can ticks cause for pets?

Ticks can transmit numerous diseases that cause serious illness in people and pets. Some of the most common include:

  • Lyme disease
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Babesiosis

These tick-borne diseases often cause relatively similar signs, including:

  • Shifting-leg lameness
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Inappetence

Depending on the pathogen, your pet may also experience abnormal bleeding and bruising, neurological issues, kidney dysfunction, or ocular conditions. While tick-borne illnesses can be treated with antibiotics, they can be difficult to completely eradicate and may flare up again.

How can I prevent fleas and ticks from harming my pet?

Because fleas and ticks can cause serious health issues, your pet needs year-round protection from these parasites. Fortunately, plenty of options are available, depending on your pet’s lifestyle and needs. If your dog swims regularly, you may opt for a tablet or chew rather than a topical application that may wash off. If your cat is virtually impossible to medicate orally, you can try a long-lasting topical solution that is quickly and easily applied to their skin. In some cases, your pet can also be given a heartworm preventive in combination with their flea and tick prevention product, making protecting your furry pal from several parasites each month simple.

Many flea and tick preventives are available in various applications. Whether you prefer giving your pet a chewable “treat,” or applying a topical solution if they can sniff out the most well-hidden medication, we have the product to fit your needs. Contact our Palm Valley Veterinary Center team for advice on the best flea and tick prevention method for your pet.