Ticks, Fleas, Mosquitoes, and Your Dog
Summertime is great for hiking and camping with your dog. But it’s also great for picking up unwanted hitchhikers. Chiggers, fleas, flies, mosquitoes, and ticks abound in wilderness areas, parks, and even roadside rest stops — ready to make both you and your dog miserable.
Bugs are more than just pests; they can pass on deadly diseases to your dog.
- Fleas carry diseases such as bubonic plague and parasites such as tapeworm.
- Mosquitoes can carry heartworm and West Nile virus.
- Ticks can carry diseases such as Lyme disease, canine ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Your veterinarian can recommend several excellent spot-on topical preparations that will kill and repel fleas and ticks. Some topicals will also repel chiggers, mosquitoes, and flies. The Preventic collar will kill ticks. Ensure the collar or topical you plan to use is appropriate for your dog’s age, and ask if it will react with your dog’s medications or any flea sprays or powders. If you’re camping in areas where Lyme disease is a problem, ask if a Lyme disease vaccination might be appropriate. Be sure your dog is up-to-date on his heartworm medication, too.
How Do I Keep Bugs From Biting My Dog?
Follow these handy tips for hiking and camping bug-free:
- Trim the hair on your dog’s legs and underbelly to keep him from picking up stray critters. Keep him out of the scrub, and don’t let him run loose.
- Use a topical product such as K9 Advantix, Advantage, Frontline Plus, or Biospot on your dog. Check with your veterinarian to ensure they do not react to other medications or flea and tick preparations.
- Use a Preventic collar in heavily tick-infested areas. Check your dog frequently for ticks when you’re hiking, and remove them promptly.
- Use a flea comb on your dog every day to remove any extra pests.
- Use a tarp for ground cover to keep pests off you and your dog. Fly strips (sticky strips that attract flies) are a non-poisonous way to combat flies and other flying insects at camp. OFF makes a mosquito lantern that will help keep your area mosquito-free while camping.
- Don’t use DEET products directly on dogs because they can ingest the poison while grooming. (It’s OK to use them for your bug spray.)
Are Tick and Flea Control Products Safe?
Dr. Katy Nelson, a Virginia-based emergency veterinarian, has rarely seen flea and tick repellents’ adverse reactions in her career. “Maybe I’ve seen three or four dogs have reactions — allergic, itchy, or swollen faces. You give medication or a bath, and they’re fine,” she says.
Nevertheless, the Environmental Protection Agency has recently become more concerned about anti-flea and tick chemicals’ harmful effects. After an increase in reports of incidents associated with these medications in 2008, the EPA has made product-labeling rules more stringent and has also increased safety review standards. Below, Nelson weighs in on the pros and cons of using chemicals — and more natural alternatives — to keep your dog flea-free.
Safety Standards For Flea and Tick Control Products
Flea and tick products contain small amounts of chemicals. The companies that produce the products have tested them in much higher doses than are prescribed and recommended. When used correctly, flea and tick repellents for pets are overwhelmingly safe.
“Research has shown us that these products are extremely safe for animals and the people who come into contact with them,” says Nelson. “I’d rather my clients risk a little chemical exposure than have a dog who goes into kidney failure because of Lyme disease.”
The Risks of Traditional Flea and Tick Products
The EPA’s new rules reflect the fact that incorrect usage has caused the bulk of the problems. Most such products now require more explicit labeling and detailed instructions. If you’re not sure about the instructions, make a quick call to your veterinarian.
Side effects in dogs have included skin irritation, vomiting and diarrhea, and in rare cases, seizures. It is unclear, however, whether the pet owners who reported these problems used the products correctly. It is always a good idea to monitor your dog’s reaction to flea and tick products, especially the first time you use them.
The Benefits of Traditional Flea and Tick Products
Flea and tick products keep fleas and ticks at bay, protecting your dog not only from disease-carrying bites but also from ingesting fleas — often carriers of tapeworms. Dogs are good groomers. If a flea is biting them, they’re likely to eat it long before you see it.
Ticks transmit disease by drinking the blood of an infected animal, harboring the infective organisms, then feeding on their next victim. The risk of tick-borne illness is even greater than that from fleas, if only because ticks carry more deadly diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Many traditional repellents also contain protection against flies and mosquitoes. “A dog who spends the day outside is likely to be bitten by mosquitoes 500 times,” says Nelson. Mosquitoes transmit heartworm larvae, so keeping your dog from being bitten is also crucial to heart health.
Natural Tick and Flea Prevention for Dogs
Natural flea and tick repellents abound. Some are ingestible, containing ingredients like garlic, while others are “spot-on” and contain active ingredients like peppermint and cinnamon oils.
“Natural products can potentially help some. But they don’t have the guarantees and the backing of veterinarians and the pharmaceutical companies, who will pay in full for disease treatment if your dog gets, say, heartworm while using their products,” says Nelson.
Even with their stepped-up standards, the EPA continues to recommend the use of products containing chemical pesticides. “Most people use the products with no harm to their pets,” the EPA has noted. “They can be appropriate treatments for protecting public health — both animals and humans.”
“Since the preventatives have been available, the incidence of heartworm, intestinal parasites, and tick-borne diseases has reduced dramatically. The risk of these diseases is much worse than the risk of using a preventative that contains chemicals,” says Nelson.