By Cesar Millan

When we adopt a dog we make a promise, which is a commitment to provide for their needs for the rest of their lives. This doesn’t just mean feeding them and walking them, though.

If a dog has behavioral issues, it is our responsibility to figure out what’s causing them and to solve the problem. Returning a misbehaving dog to a shelter is not an option. And if a dog has health issues, we are also responsible for doing what is necessary to take care of them.

But providing for a dog’s health doesn’t just mean going to the vet when the dog is sick. We need to provide preventative care as well, which includes not only regular check-ups, but also taking steps to make sure our dogs do not fall victim to two of the most common dangers out there: fleas and ticks.

But why are such tiny things so dangerous? Let’s find out.

Fleas

Fleas have been around longer than humans or dogs and survived when many other species became extinct. In the modern day, some fleas only live on one specific type of animal. Others are happy on many kinds of animals, including birds and mammals. And, of course, mammals includes humans, dogs, and cats, among many other species.

A single pregnant flea can produce up to four thousand eggs at a time, which take about three weeks to mature to adulthood. Untreated, one pregnant flea can lead to billions of descendants in just a few weeks.

Because fleas drink blood, they also spread disease, not only between animals of the same species, but between species. This includes viruses, bacteria, and parasites. It also includes the bubonic plague, making fleas one of the biggest killers of humans ever. The infamous Black Death during the fourteenth through sixteenth centuries in Europe killed two hundred million people.

In dogs, fleas can transmit tapeworm, cause uncomfortable but non-threatening conditions like skin irritation, or induce fatal levels of anemia.

Ticks

Ticks are equally as ancient as fleas, and also dine on the blood of their hosts. Their life cycles are much longer than fleas and they do not reproduce in the same numbers or as quickly, but many species of ticks must have a blood meal before they can move on to the next stage of their development.

Like fleas, ticks also spread disease, and can infect a host with multiple diseases at the same time. These include things like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but ticks can also cause blood clotting through transmission of bacteria, as well as an allergic reaction to red meat, which is particularly dangerous to carnivores, like dogs and humans.

Unlike fleas, a tick’s eggs can be infected while they’re still inside the mother, so a tick can be born infectious — and there are a lot of diseases that ticks can give to your dog, several of which can be fatal.

Prevention is the best cure

In another article, we explain how to keep your home free of fleas and ticks, but your dogs still have to go outside to walk, and outside is full of these pests as well. That’s why it’s important to use a topical flea treatment that eliminates the problem on your dog.

Talk to your veterinarian about a topical anti-flea and tick product, which not only kills adult fleas and ticks, but destroys the eggs and larva as well. Remember that 4,000 egg number? This is why only killing the adults, like shampoos do, is ineffective. Shampoos rinse off, but topical treatments last for thirty days, which is slightly longer than the entire egg to adult cycle.

Killing ticks outright is also much more effective than trying to remove them yourself. If not done properly, you can wind up leaving a tick’s head stuck in your dog’s skin, which can lead to further complications.

Ticks are also notoriously difficult to crush, so even if you do manage to pull one out alive, there’s a good chance it can escape and hide, meaning it can latch onto your dog (or you) when it’s feeding time again. And remember: ticks have to eat before they can move on to the next stage in their life cycle, so it’s not a matter of if, but when.

As summer begins, so does the prime flea and tick season, although they can be a danger year-round in warmer, humid climates. They are also a nearly invisible danger. So you owe it to your dogs, and to yourself, to take every precaution possible to keep that promise and provide for their needs, now and for the rest of their lives.


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