Fleas and ticks pose a risk to pets and people in Hunterdon County and throughout New Jersey. Besides feeding on blood, fleas and ticks can also transmit serious illnesses. These diseases can cause lasting health issues, which is why we want to make sure our clients are aware of the problems these small parasites can cause—and how to help keep your pets healthy.
Fleas and Flea Diseases
Fleas tend to be more common in warmer months, but they can survive throughout the year in the right conditions. Plus, once they’re inside your home, fleas can multiply quickly and be difficult and frustrating to get rid of.
Although most people tend to think of fleas as irritating insects that bite pets, these wingless blood suckers can also feed on people and cause problems in pets that are much more severe than just itching, including:
- Flea allergy dermatitis—Also known as FAD, this common condition affects pets who are allergic to flea saliva, causing itchy, inflamed skin and hair loss. It can lead to skin infections when pets scratch and bite themselves repeatedly. Even just a few flea bites can cause FAD.
- Tapeworms—Cats and dogs (and people—usually children) can get tapeworms if they swallow an infected flea.
- Anemia—Puppies and kittens with flea infestations can suffer from serious, potentially life-threatening blood loss.
- Bartonella—Pets and people can also be infected with Bartonella bacteria, which causes cat scratch disease in humans and can cause serious symptoms in dogs, including an enlarged liver or spleen or even inflammation of the heart or brain.
At South Branch, we recommend keeping all dogs and cats on flea control year-round to make sure fleas can’t get a foothold on your pet or in your home.
Signs of Flea-borne Diseases
Contact your South Branch veterinarian if you notice any of the following:
- Severe, persistent scratching
- Licking, chewing, or biting at the skin
- Red, irritated skin
- Hair loss
- Flea droppings (“flea dirt”)
- Flea eggs
There are almost 900 tick species in the world, with just a handful that pose a danger to pets and people in our area. The main ticks we have in New Jersey are deer (blacklegged) ticks, American dog ticks, brown dog ticks, and lone star ticks. A new tick species, the Asian longhorned tick, has also been found in Hunterdon County.
If you find a tick on your pet, you can submit a photo and information about the tick to TickSpotters, a crowdsourced survey tool that tracks ticks across the country.
Tick Diseases in Dogs
The ticks we have in our area can transmit several diseases to dogs, including:
- Lyme disease—Last year, more than 1,400 dogs tested positive for Lyme disease in Hunterdon County, with almost 20,000 infected across New Jersey.
- Anaplasmosis—The infection risk for this tick-transmitted disease is also high in our area. Around 1,700 dogs in Hunterdon County and almost 15,000 dogs in the state tested positive for anaplasmosis in 2019.
- Ehrlichiosis—Although the risk for this disease in New Jersey doesn’t appear as high as it is for Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, there were still around 8,000 dogs who tested positive.
Ticks can also transmit other diseases to dogs, including babesiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, as well as tick paralysis, a serious, potentially deadly condition in which the nervous system is attacked by a toxin in the tick’s saliva.
Tick Diseases in Cats
Cats aren’t immune from ticks either. The parasites can cause tick paralysis and several diseases in cats, including Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis. Other tick-borne diseases, such as cytauxzoonosis and tularemia, although rare, can be deadly in cats.
Signs of Tick-borne Diseases
If you find a tick attached to your pet (or even if you don’t), let us know right away if you notice any of these signs of tick-transmitted diseases:
- Lameness (which may shift from one leg to another)
- Loss of appetite or weight
- Swollen, stiff, or painful joints
- Weakness or fatigue
- Vomiting or diarrhea
Ticks can be hard to spot, especially in your pet’s fur. Adult deer ticks are about the size of a sesame seed, and nymphs (immature ticks) are only about the size of a poppy seed or pinhead!
The Bottom Line
Fleas and ticks are a risk in Hunterdon County and around the country. At South Branch, we want to help keep our patients safe from these parasites.
The best way to prevent fleas and ticks is to keep your pet on a flea and tick control medication.
If you’re planning a trip, give us a call so we can make sure you’re stocked up on the parasite preventives you’ll need to help keep your pet protected while you travel. And if you’re staying home, let’s make sure your pet has the right parasite control to prevent tick and flea infestations. Call us today to make sure your pet is protected!