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Disease Carrying Pests: Protecting Pets from Mosquitoes, Flies, Fleas and Ticks

Summer means the warmth of sunshine and the smell of freshly-mowed grass, but it also means the insects come out in full force. Flies, fleas, mosquitoes, ticks – you and your dog and cat can’t escape them. However, with the right control and prevention, you may be able to escape the diseases and parasites these pests can carry.

What Do Fleas Carry: Flea Problems in Dogs and Cats

Fleas are tiny insects that bite and feed on the blood of animals, causing problems that range from slight irritation to severe itching or lesions. Fleas reproduce quickly, and in just a few days can result in an flea infestation on your pet, your house and your backyard. A flea comb can help you detect the fleas and flea dirt on your pet.

One parasite fleas carry with them is tapeworm. Dogs and cats can easily get tapeworms by ingesting the flea, which will attach itself to the animal’s intestinal wall. Tapeworms are made up of small, independent segments that will break off into the intestines, resembling grains of rice in the stool. As these segments dry up, the eggs inside are released and will be ingested by flea larvae, continuing the cycle. In dogs and cats, tapeworms can cause weight loss, poor hair coat or anal itching, with a gradual decline in overall health if not treated properly.

What Diseases Do Ticks Carry?

Ticks are arachnids that feed on the blood of humans, mammals, livestock and more. They’re usually found in grassy, forested areas, and since they cannot fly, they are usually no higher than three feet above the ground. Ticks will attach themselves to the skin of their victim to find their next meal, falling off after they are satisfied. They carry a variety of diseases, including Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis and more.

Lyme Disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which causes fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, lameness, swollen lymph nodes and more in dogs. Ticks that carry Lyme Disease must be attached for 48 hours before transmission of the disease takes place, with symptoms occurring up to two to five months later. Treatment for Lyme Disease includes antibiotics such as tetracycline, doxycycline or amoxicillin.

What Diseases Do Mosquitoes Carry?

Mosquitoes are flying insects that seem to affect every human or animal. Attaching to the skin, they feed on the blood and then leave itchy, irritating bites behind. Mosquitoes have a two week life cycle and reproduce rapidly, so it seems they never end. However, since they lay their eggs in standing water, it tends to limit how many grow. Mosquitoes carry a variety of diseases, including heartworm in dogs and cats, malaria in humans, equine encephalomyelitis in horses and West Nile in many animals.

The mosquito-based disease that affects pets the most is heartworm. Heartworms spend their lives in the blood vessels connecting the heart and lungs, eventually spreading to the right side of the heart. Heartworms develop and mature in six to eight months, but they may live up to five to seven years, obstructing the blood vessels that lead from the heart. Animals with heartworm don’t often show symptoms, though some may have a decreased appetite and weight loss, listlessness, cough, lack of endurance and more. The best way to avoid heartworm is through monthly preventatives. Many heartworm preventatives contain ivermectin; however, caution is advised when using ivermectin with breeds that have the MDR1 gene concerns. Studies have shown dog breeds such as collies, Shelties and breeds that have collie and Sheltie genetics in them, have a higher sensitivity to the effects of ivermectin. For these breeds, consider using Bravecto for mange therapy and Sentinel if you’d rather avoid giving medications containing ivermectin.

Flies on Dogs and Cats

Although many flies seem to fly around aimlessly, bugging everyone in their path, there are also many flies that feed on blood, causing numerous bites and potential infections. Since dogs are unable to defend the thin skin and hair around their face and ears, flies tend to seek out this area.

The fly bites cause small, hard, round bumps, called fly strike. These bites can be painful, itchy and bleed easily, creating the perfect breeding ground for fly eggs and maggots if left untreated. Antibiotic ointments and topical insecticides can be used to treat the infection and repel other flies from the area.

Bug Bites on Dogs and Cats

In general, there are a variety of products that can help prevent infestations and diseases from fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and other insects. Shampoos, sprays and dips will help kill the fleas and ticks that are already on your pet. Spot-on treatments and collars will give your pets further protection to prevent the pests from coming back. It’s also important to treat your home and yard with premise sprays.

Defending your pets from insects and their diseases will take some effort, but your pets will thank you for the protection!

Try Revival’s Flea & Tick Finder

Revival’s Flea and Tick Finder is a free tool to help choose the right flea and tick preventatives for your dog or cat.
Flea and Tick Finder button

If you have more questions on disease carrying pests or need additional help with how to control insects and bugs on dogs and cats, call us at 800.786.4751.

Written by: Marty Greer, DVM

Director of Veterinary Services

Marty Greer, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, has 40+ years’ experience in veterinary medicine, with special interests in canine reproduction and pediatrics. She received her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Iowa State University in 1981. She’s served as Revival’s Director of Veterinary Services since 2019. In 2023, Dr. Greer was named the Westminster Kennel Club Veterinarian of the Year.

If you need help, call us at 800.786.4751.