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    Tractor Supply Company

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    Getting Rid of Dog Skin Parasites: Fleas and Ticks

    Authored by Tractor Supply Company

    Your dog can pick up fleas and other parasites during its regular trips outdoors. A flea bite can cause irritation, itchiness, and hair loss, among other miseries. A dog with a serious flea infestation is not only at risk for further disease, but also puts carpets, furniture, bedding, and even humans at risk of similar infestation.

    Detecting fleas

    You can see fleas in your dog’s coat or in their bed. The adult flea (Ctenocephalides canis) will be jumping around on your dog-or on you. Flea eggs in bedding that hatch into larvae will then migrate to your dog and feed while they mature. The immature fleas will be smaller, crawling or jumping through the dog’s fur.

    Fleas can easily leave your dog’s body and lay eggs in your carpet, furniture, and your dog’s bed. Getting rid of these may require a professional pest control company to come “bomb” your house.

    Other visible signs of fleas are:

    Hair loss: If your dog is losing hair around its neck and tail, it is likely there is a flea infestation.

    Scratching: If your dog is scratching a lot, comb its fur with a flea comb to see if there is an infestation.

    Flea feces: A flea-combing will also let you detect flea droppings, which look like red specks, on your dog’s fur.

    Flea bites: When you notice behavioral problems such as irritability and intense scratching, check your dog’s skin for small red bumps. If left untreated, a flea infestation can actually become harmful as your pet scratches at the bites. Flea feces are the most common causes of an infected scratch. Flea feces can easily be removed by using a fine-toothed flea comb.

    Flea allergy: A dog’s immune system can be hypersensitive to the antigens or proteins in flea saliva-the substance a flea injects into the animal as it sucks out blood. This results in flea allergy dermatitis (FAD). Dogs with this condition can be scratching intensively without the presence of a flea infestation. FAD can appear in dogs between the ages of two and five years.

    If your dog has a flea allergy, you may see hair loss from the middle of the back to the base of the tail base and down the rear legs, a region veterinarians call the “flea triangle.” If your vet diagnoses FAD in your dog, the best course is to take strict measures to prevent flea bites and infestation, through combing, baths, and controlled outdoor exercise.

    Flea bite dermatitis: This condition can be mistaken for a flea allergy in a dog. The symptoms include thick, long, red patches of irritated skin, pustules, itching, and hair loss.

    Your veterinarian can help you choose the best shampoos, dips, or other professional pest-control flea treatments for your pet and your household.

    Getting rid of dog parasites

    If you’re a new dog owner, your veterinarian can assess your new pet to determine whether it has fleas or other parasites like tapeworms, lice, mosquitoes, and deer, dog, or black-legged ticks. Parasite control for your dog should include regular baths and checking the coat, as well as looking out for symptoms of infestation.

    Tapeworms: A tapeworm is a flatworm-like intestinal parasite that gets into dogs in a roundabout way that depends on fleas. Newly hatched fleas, or larvae, ingest a tapeworm egg as they feed on the dander and dirt in a dog’s coat. Then, as a dog is grooming itself (or another dog), it can ingest a flea that is carrying the tapeworm egg. Once inside the dog’s digestive tract, the tapeworm egg hatches, and the new little parasite attaches to the dog’s intestinal wall and starts its own life cycle.

    Visible symptoms of tapeworm in your dog are:

    • Weight loss even when eating normally
    • Lethargy
    • Distended abdomen
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Dull coat

    As the tapeworm matures, it splits up into individual segments (proglottids), which carry eggs and show up in the dog’s feces. Proglottids look like grains of rice or cucumber seeds. They may be seen moving on the hairs around the anus, or more commonly, on the surface of fresh dog poop. Exposed to air, the proglottid dries out, breaks open, and releases fertilized eggs into the environment.

    Tapeworms also grow in prey such as rabbits and rodents. If your dog is a hunter, regular deworming may be needed.

    Still, flea control is critical to prevent tapeworm infection. If your dog lives in a flea-infested environment, they can quickly be reinfected. Since tapeworm medication is effective, reinfections are almost always due to fleas and not a failure of the deworming product.

    While humans can contract a tapeworm, you cannot get tapeworms directly from your dog. The flea is necessary for transmission. A human must somehow swallow an infected flea to become infected. Strict and frequent flea control will eliminate any risk of children becoming infected.

    Ticks: Tick-borne diseases can be dangerous to dogs and not appear until sometime after the bite and the infection. Possible diseases include Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, among others. Symptoms of tick-borne disease in your dog include:

    • Stiffness
    • Lameness
    • Swollen joints
    • Loss of appetite
    • Fever
    • Lethargy or depression
    • Weight loss
    • Runny eyes and nose
    • Nosebleeds
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Seizures
    • Neurological problems
    • Skin lesions
    • Pale gums

    If your dog is outside a lot, it’s important for you to check their coat frequently for ticks and remove them. Talk to your veterinarian about what tick-killing products are best for your pet. You can also ask about vaccination as a preventive measure.

    Mosquitoes: Yes, mosquitoes bite dogs as much as humans. They also carry big risks for your dog’s health. Dogs can contract West Nile virus and encephalitis from mosquito bites. These diseases are rare in dogs but are not unknown. More common, and quite deadly, is the heartworm parasite.

    The Food and Drug Administration has reported that heartworm disease in dogs is most common along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts, from the Gulf of Mexico to New Jersey, and along the Mississippi River, but has been reported in dogs in all fifty states. Symptoms of heartworm disease include:

    • Persistent cough
    • Fatigue
    • Decreased appetite
    • Weight loss
    • Extended belly from fluid buildup in the abdomen
    • Labored breathing
    • Pale gums
    • Dark or bloody urine
    • Heart failure

    You can protect your dog from insect bites in three ways: topical medication, insect-repellent dog collars, and oral medication. Topical medications are applied monthly, at the base of the neck or between the shoulder blades. Most kill fleas and ticks, and some also prevent heartworms. Oral medications are fatal to insects that bite. Dog Collars contain a concentrated chemical that can kill and repel fleas and ticks. The drawbacks to dog collars are that they can be irritating to dogs, they can have a strong smell, and they can be harmful to humans, especially children if touched.

    Lice: The good news is lice that target your dog don’t target humans, so they won’t bite you or infect you or your children. The bad news is that lice really, really like your dog. A lice infestation can cause as much itching, hair loss, and misery as fleas, and can lead to serious health problems if left untreated.

    Adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed, yellow to medium brown in color. You can check for lice with a flea comb, but look carefully at the hair shafts instead of just the skin. Lice and their eggs, or nits, are sometimes mistaken for dandruff. Spot the difference by removing some suspect hair from your dog and shaking it. If the small flakes fall off, it’s dandruff. If they cling to the hair, it’s probably lice. Even a good shampoo won’t dislodge lice.

    Other signs of lice infestation include:

    • Scratching and intense itchiness
    • Rough, dry, or matted coat
    • Hair loss, specifically around ears, neck, shoulders, groin, and rectal regions
    • Small wounds or bacterial infections from bites by sucking lice
    • Restless behavior
    • Anemia
    • Tapeworms and other bacteria or parasites that are spread by lice

    Lice are transmitted by direct contact with another infested animal, or from bedding, collars, or brushes. Check your dog’s coat after a visit to dog daycare centers, dog shows, kennels, and parks.

    Monthly application of flea and tick topicals keep most dogs lice free. For this reason, lice are most commonly found on animals that are old, sick, stray, or feral.

    If your dog does become infested, or if you take in a stray with lice, start flea treatment by clipping matted hair off the dog. Then use a flea comb to remove live and dead lice on the rest of the coat. Immerse the comb for at least ten minutes in water mixed with a flea shampoo or other insecticide after combing. Remember, a flea comb won’t kill the eggs and won’t prevent them from hatching. Always go by a veterinarian’s guidance about what products are safe to use, based on your dog’s health, breed, and age.

    Insecticide treatments given topically or in shampoos will kill immature and adult lice, but will not affect the eggs, so any flea treatment will have to be repeated at regular intervals for one month or more, as eggs hatch and become vulnerable. All dogs in the household should be treated. Be sure to keep an infested dog and his bedding away from other animals for at least four weeks after treatment.

    It could pay to replace your grooming tools because it can be difficult to remove the sticky eggs from combs and brushes.

    Natural methods of flea control

    Your dog may have FAD, but managing an allergy is vastly different from dealing with an infestation. Infestation is an immediate condition that requires active treatment. If OTC or prescription medicines sound like they would put your pet’s health at risk, there are natural alternatives.

    Apple cider vinegar: ACV, made from fermented apples, is one of the oldest fermentation processes known to humankind and has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It has many uses for dogs when diluted. For example, it can soothe itchy ears, improve digestion when added to water, and remove doggy odors from around the house. It doesn’t kill fleas, but it does repel them! For minor flea infestations, bathe your dog with its regular or flea-killing shampoo, followed by a thorough rinse. Then spray on apple cider vinegar, diluted fifty-fifty with warm water. Do not towel-dry your dog, but allow them to shake the water out and then air dry. The apple cider vinegar rinse will acidify your pet's skin, making it unattractive to fleas and ticks.

    Borax: Warning: Do not put borax on your pet's skin to kill fleas! Borax should not be put directly on human or animal skin.

    Borax (also referred to as sodium borate, sodium tetraborate, and disodium tetraborate) is a natural mineral. Its primary use is for cleaning, and it comes in various commercial forms. It is also used as a pesticide. Borax will not only kill fleas, but it will also kill other insects, including those that feed on human or animal blood.

    Prepared and used correctly, borax is safe for household flea control. Proper preparation includes keeping children and pets away from the area where borax is being used. You also need to be sure to wear a face mask and gloves.

    • Find a container with a lid, and poke holes in the lid.
    • Fill the container three-fourths of the way with borax, and add two tablespoons of baking soda. Shake well so that the borax and baking soda mix together.
    • Sprinkle the mixture liberally on your carpet and furniture where the flea infestation exists. You can work the mix into your carpet a little deeper with a steel brush.
    • Leave the mixture on the carpet and furniture for as long as possible. Remember to keep pets and family members out of the treated areas during this time.
    • Vacuum the excess mixture thoroughly, and throw the vacuum bags in the trash outside to prevent fleas, their larvae, and eggs from coming back inside.

    Borax works by dehydrating fleas after they ingest it. The mixture sticks to their exoskeletons, legs, and antennae, so fleas “clean” themselves by licking it. In doing so, they ingest the sodium content and dehydrate from the inside out. This method kills fleas in the adult, larvae, and pupae stages naturally. However, flea eggs do survive. To kill this second and final round of fleas, use a topical flea spray.

    Coconut oil: Coconut oil kills and repels fleas due to the ingredient lauric acid. A solution can be rubbed through your pet’s coat, or you can add one teaspoon per twenty pounds of your dog’s body weight twice daily in food.

    Diatomaceous earth: Diatomaceous earth acts as a desiccant (dehydrating) agent and only works well in dry environments. Apply it as dust to dry sites, such as doghouses and pet bedding.

    Baking soda: Baking soda is another desiccant for use on carpets and furniture, similar to borax.

    Salt: Salt is sodium and absorbs moisture, making it another desiccant. Refined household salt or finely ground sea salt can be sprinkled over carpets and furniture in the same way you use borax. Let it sit for twelve to forty-eight hours, without disturbance from pets or family. Vacuum the area well after that time.

    Flea comb: The teeth of a flea comb are very tightly spaced, which trap and remove fleas, flea eggs, and flea feces from your pet’s fur. A good combing also removes ordinary dander, dirt, and other debris from fur.

    Flea Medications and medicated products

    Here are some manufactured products to kill and repel fleas and ticks that are available and popular. Check with your vet before trying the following solutions:

    Seresto is a division of Bayer AG, a multinational manufacturer of products for home health care, agriculture, and medicine. It is odorless and both repels and kills fleas, flea larvae, ticks, lice, and aids in preventing mange. The collar should not be used on animals other than dogs.

    Repels and kills lice, ticks, and fleas on both dogs and cats. Three active ingredients kill adult fleas, eggs, and larvae, and remain effective for one hundred days after application. Apply to infested areas of the home for better flea control. Keep away from children, and do not use on pets under six months old.

    Another Bayer product, used as a monthly topical application that kills and repels fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes. It kills lice and repels biting flies. It is not for use on cats.

    Fleas can make your dog miserable, and tick-borne diseases can threaten its life. Diligent care of your dog’s coat and skin is loving and responsible pet parenting. Isn’t the time spent with your dog worth it, to improve the life you will have with your companion?

    Tractor Supply makes caring for your dog easier with our wide selection of dog supplies. From grooming needs, to toys and dog beds, we have everything you need for your best furry friend! Subscribe to our autoship program and receive regular deliveries of food, treats, flea & tick preventatives, supplements and more, all while saving you time and money.