How does my dog get fleas and ticks?

Unfortunately, we live in the Southeast, and there's an upside and a downside. The upside is that this is a beautiful place to be. The downside is that we have a flea problem at a significant time throughout the year. They're going to come from outside, so if your dogs or your cats go outside at all, that's going to be the primary source of fleas. However, we can also go outside, and fleas get on us, and we can bring them into our house, which exposes our dogs and cats to them. Outside is going to be the primary source.

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

Can fleas and ticks spread from my dog to my home and my family?

Absolutely. I'm going to speak from personal experience because most people think that their dog doesn't have fleas because they don't recognize them, and they don't feel or see any fleas. And that's far from the case. I can't tell you how many times we see owners go away on vacation, drop off their dogs at a boarding facility, come back a week later, say on a Sunday afternoon or evening, after going down to the beach or whatever, walk inside their house, and they get covered with fleas. They never knew they had a problem in the first place, but once the pets are out of the house, the fleas will find you. Fleas are unique. They're what we call species-specific. They prefer dogs first, then cats, and then people. So as long as you have dogs and cats in the house, they're going to be the primary targets for the fleas before you.

Can my dog get fleas and ticks if they are primarily an indoor dog?

Absolutely. Unfortunately, we do have ticks year-round in this area. We do have fleas for a significant part of the year. Every time they go outside, they have the potential risk of picking up fleas and ticks.

What health problems can fleas and ticks cause in my dog?

Good question. They're different. It all starts with fleas. With fleas, my primary concern with puppies is potentially life-threatening anemia. Fleas are bloodsuckers. That's what they feast off of. They have to suck blood in order to be able to reproduce. And, unfortunately, if you get a puppy or puppies or kittens for that matter, and they have a lot of fleas on them, they can actually suck so much blood that these puppies and kittens can die from loss of blood, what we call anemia. That's one of the primary considerations as far as a life-threatening concern goes. Otherwise, we commonly see what we call tapeworms in dogs and cats. They get those primarily from ingesting fleas. Fleas can be an incredible source of intense itching, biting, scratching, licking, and chewing from flea allergies. Those are the primary considerations with fleas. Ticks are a little bit different. Ticks typically don't cause itching the way a flea might. However, we do see some potentially life-threatening concerns with ticks. There are four major diseases associated with ticks: Lyme disease, which most people have heard of because it does exist in people as well, and Rocky Mounted spotter fever. Unfortunately, North Carolina is one of the primary areas in America for Rocky Mounted spotter fever. We also see a disease called anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis. Unfortunately, Ehrlichiosis is more common than Lyme disease in this area, and we can at least have a vaccine against Lyme disease.

How effective are flea and tick medications?

It depends. There's a wide range of products out there. Some are pretty useless anymore because they've been around for decades, such as Frontline. It's a 30-year-old product that doesn't work anymore. There are generic versions of Frontline, which people can buy easily at their big-box retail stores. There are so many effective products. The products that we really like, and we have great success with there's Bravecto, which is a one-month or three-month protection, depending on the product that you choose. We also have others called Simparica, Activyl, and Provecta. Those are the products that are highly effective, but it takes more than just medications and products to eliminate a flea problem in many cases.

What different types of flea and tick preventative treatments are there?

Good question. It still frustrates me when clients come in with these flea collars. The technology hasn't changed on the majority of those flea collars in probably the last 50 years. I'm not exaggerating. It really has not changed at all. There is a collar out there called a Seresto collar. However, to be honest, I've lost a lot of confidence in that particular product. We used to sell it, but we don't anymore because we started seeing a lot of failures with the Seresto. With the sort of products that we recommend, you have a choice of topical Bravecto once a month or Bravecto every three months. We also have chewable tablets of Bravecto once a month or every three months and also Simparica. Activyl and Provecta are topicals, and I get it some people that don't like the topicals, but you do have the choice of either the topical or the chewable tablets.

What will my veterinarian recommend for flea and tick treatment?

I recommend the products I just mentioned: Bravecto, Simparica, and Provecta. Those are the three flea and tick products I'll recommend. We also have a combination flea and heartworm medication, the Simparica trio, and another one called Trifexis. Although Trifexis is not labeled to eliminate ticks, the Simparica Trio is. Those are the ones I will always highly recommend you seriously consider for your dogs.

How can I identify fleas on my dog?

It's not always easy. That's a really good question because they are very small and dark brown. It might depend on how thick the hair coat of your dog is. Fleas, in general, spend the vast majority of the time on the back half of the dog, primarily like on the back legs, the belly, around the rump, and on the back above the tail. That's the primary area where you would want to start looking. So if a client comes in with her dog and we start looking for fleas, I'm always going to take a flea comb and start brushing back in that area. Sometimes, people happen to see a flea pop up around the face while sitting on the sofa. That will happen as well.

What we're also going to be looking for is not just the fleas. The fleas may not always be readily present, but you can also look for what we call flea dirt. That's just a polite way of saying flea poop. That looks like little black squiggles, and they're tiny, about the size of a piece of a little individual grain of pepper. They're that small. Because the fleas ingest blood, it's digested blood that they poop out. So on a wet cloth, it would turn a kind of a rusty red color if you were to get that flea poop wet. That could be another way, but in general, it really depends on the coat of the dog. That's going to make as much of a difference as anything else.

What should I do if I see fleas or ticks on my dog?

Come to us. Believe me. We have all the products you could possibly need that are incredibly safe. Safety is paramount above anything else because if it's potentially harmful to your pet, what's the point in using it. They're also effective. There's generally about a 20-year sort of a life cycle of the different products out there. Frontline is about 30 years old, so please don't waste your money with Frontline or Fipronil or some of the generic versions. Come see us. We've got the right products. If we've not seen you before, some of the products we have are prescription-only, like Bravecto and Simparica. We have to see your dog physically, and we don't charge for that. So if somebody brings their dog in, we have to see if it's healthy. We have to confirm the weight to make sure we get the right dosage for your dog. We do have Activyl and Provecta, which are nonprescription, but you need to have an idea of how much your dog weighs in order for us to dispense those products. Don't waste your money on stuff that you can buy at the big box store. Those products don't work.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Flea and Tick - FAQs

Dr. Bob Parrish
Carolina Value Pet Care

What diseases are associated with fleas and ticks?

Fleas and ticks lead to different diseases. With fleas, our primary concerns are anemia, which puppies can get. Puppies can get so many fleas on them that they can actually die from blood loss because the fleas suck so much blood from them. We can see what we call tapeworms, which is not a true disease, but can create a debilitating condition. These tapeworms can get to be about two feet long inside the intestinal tract, and they get those primarily from ingesting fleas. As far as ticks go, we're concerned about Lyme disease, Ehrlichia, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. We see Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease in people as well. Your dog can get those two diseases just as people can.

Where would my dog get fleas and ticks?

They're initially going to get them from outside. Of course, with fleas, they're pretty happy living inside somebody's house, especially year-round. But, initially, they're going to be picking them up outdoors. With ticks, one parasitologist in veterinary medicine once said, if you knew how many ticks were out there, you would probably never go outside. They're just that much of an issue in certain parts of the country. We do see ticks year-round in this area. We typically see them start to emerge noticeably in February, and then they generally peak in July and August before starting to settle down a little bit. On the other hand, fleas' peak season in this area is in autumn, but we will typically see them start to emerge in March, April, and all the way through December. But September, October, November, and December are the peak four months for fleas in this area.

Is a short-haired dog more susceptible to getting fleas and ticks?

Not really. It's just easier for us to identify them if they get on a short-haired dog, but they're not necessarily going to be more susceptible, especially when it comes to ticks. Fleas, on the other hand, in my many years of experience doing this, I tend to see the shorter hair dogs being more likely to be infested than a long, thick-coated dog, like a chow or a Husky or something of that nature. A hair coat can make a difference, but I wouldn't buy a dog based on that information.

Can my dogs still get fleas and ticks in the winter?

Absolutely. As we mentioned, ticks are a year-round problem and this part of the country. Here in North Carolina, we do see ticks year-round, and there are seven different species of ticks in North Carolina. I think there's an introduction of a new one that we're more concerned about. With fleas, typically, once we have a killing frost outside, meaning if it gets down 25, 26 degrees for two nights back to back, that will be the end of our flea season outside. But still, fleas can thrive inside the house in the wintertime. Let's face that. You've got the thermostat set at 65 or 68 degrees, and fleas are pretty happy. They've got a meal with the dogs or with a cat inside the household. They're not going to be as active because the humidity is lower. Three different conditions help fleas thrive, which is why we see more problems in the autumn. The three conditions include that they need a certain amount of rain. So if we have an extraordinary dry type of a year, we're not going to see as many fleas. For reproduction purposes, they prefer temperatures of more than 80 degrees. If we have consistently high temperatures in the nineties, scratching around a hundred degrees, we're not usually going to see as many fleas. The other criterion is humidity. Humidity is a given here all summer and into the autumn. That condition is never going to change. Drought conditions and overly wet conditions can change from year to year, but, in general, that's why we see more problems in the autumn because the temperatures are starting to let up a little bit. It's going to be more consistent in the 80-degree range. We might get a hurricane that can drop some rain here, but the more rain, the cooler the temperatures, relatively speaking. That's why we see more fleas in the autumn than at any other time of year.

What factors can increase my dog's risk of getting fleas and ticks?

The more time they spend outside, the greater the risk. It's really important to recognize that a lot of people go through their entire lives with their dogs and say, gosh, I've never seen any fleas. They've used a terrible flea product, and they're convinced that this product is working. But understand that fleas are not everywhere. They migrate. They move from neighborhood to neighborhood. They'll expand their territory one year to the next year because of weather conditions. They'll contract their territory, but they do continually migrate. So keep that in mind. You might go years without seeing any fleas, and all of a sudden, you have an infestation. Don't blame your neighbor. That's just the nature of the fleas' lifestyle and biology.

Of course, the more time pets spend outside the greater risk of getting exposed and the greater risk of getting fleas and ticks. With tick, there are a couple of considerations. They like more wooded areas. If you have hunting dogs or dogs that have some pasture, or you've got woods behind your house, and your dog is able to go back there, that's going to be prime ground for ticks. Obviously, that's going to increase the likelihood. It's not a bad idea to do a tick check on them. Check between the toes and the ears. Check pretty much everywhere. With hair, it's not always going to be easy to see the ticks, but it's certainly worth doing the check. It's easier to see ticks than fleas because they're a little bit bigger, and once they latch on, they don't move because they're sucking. Fleas will move around, but once ticks are attached, they're going to be stuck there for some days while they're continuing to feed.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 288-8620, you can email us, or you can reach out on social media. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.