External Parasites in Dogs: Fleas, Ticks and Lice

What Are External Parasites in Dogs

External parasites in dogs, such as fleas, ticks, and lice, are a common problem. However, with proper treatment and prevention, your home and pets can become parasite free! External parasites live by feeding on the blood and skin debris of pets. Their life cycles usually run around a period of being on and off the host (your dog) during reproduction. Fleas and ticks spend a period of time on the host feeding and mating, then jump off the host to lay eggs. Lice can spend their entire life on the host; however, they may also leave to find a new host.

Fleas, ticks, and lice can cause a multitude of problems for pets. The pet’s body may respond to parasitic infestation in the form of itchiness and skin irritation (called Dermatitis). Pets with severe infestations may begin to suffer blood loss, resulting in anemia. Pets with anemia may easily get tired, feel lethargic, or unwell. Some pets can also have an allergic reaction to external parasites, typically known as “Flea Bite Allergy Dermatitis.” This can cause itching and redness, hair loss, open sores, and wounds on the skin. Parasites can also spread other diseases, such as Lyme disease with ticks and tapeworms with fleas.

How Can I Prevent External Parasites in Dogs

 

Prevention of external parasites is the best option for treating and alleviating symptoms of fleas, ticks, and lice. There are several treatments available that can treat one or all parasites at once. Topical ointments, such as Frontline or Advantage, are the most commonly used. However, there are oral medications, such as Capstar, for use in killing parasites. Sprays, collars, and environmental sprays are available for preventing parasites. Owners with heavily wooded or brushy areas may need to remove excess brush (a hiding spot for many parasites) or may need to inspect and wipe down pets after trips outdoors to remove any parasites.

 

What Should I Do If I Suspect External Parasites in Dogs

 

There are several methods for determining if your dog has an external parasite. Fleas may be easily seen on naturally hairless areas of the body. If you rub at the base of the back/tail over a white towel, it can help you spot fleas. Dogs with fleas will leave specks of black or brown debris on the towel if you rub these areas. Lice may be seen as small sticky clear objects attached to the base of hair follicles. Or small mites may be seen crawling on the skin and hair. Ticks are usually seen as dark brown or black “growths” embedded in the skin that grow in size as the tick feeds.

If fleas are found, it is important to find a treatment for the same. Your vet can help you determine the best flea treatment appropriate for your pet. They can also help treat any side effects of fleas, such as Dermatitis or allergy. You should apply a topical cream to help stop the flea life cycle and kill any fleas on the body; however, it is equally important to thoroughly clean the bedding, carpeting, and other areas that your pet frequents. Fleas can actually live in a dormant state in the environment for up to 6 months! Fleas are also most active in warm seasons, so treating during these times is especially important.

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Lice can usually be treated with the same medications used to treat fleas. Again, the environment and pet should both be treated to prevent the chances of reinfection. Pets with severe lice infections may need to be bathed several times with a medicated shampoo and then combed with a flea comb to remove dead parasites. However, treatment for lice is usually very easy and responsive.

If a tick is seen embedded under the skin, owners can try to place a little Vaseline over the tick. Ticks breathe through their bottoms when feeding, and placement of ointments will “suffocate” them enough for them to detach. It is not recommended to pull them with tweezers as the head can detach from the body and remain stuck under the skin, leading to infection. If a large amount of ticks are found, bringing your dog to the vet for safe removal is needed. Your vet may recommend blood testing for any tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme or other diseases, in your area.

 

Natural Remedies For Treating External Parasites in Dogs

Natural remedies are a great way to help prevent external parasites in dogs. A blend of supplements mixed together in a shampoo can help kill any fleas or ticks infested on the dog’s body. A blend of almond oil, citronella, peppermint, sage, bay, and rosewood can be mixed together and dripped on the back of your dog’s neck as a natural way to repel fleas and ticks.  Many insects and parasites are naturally repelled by mint and citrus-smelling oils, and an application of the same on your pet or in their environment can help.

By feeding supplements, such as garlic, you can help boost immunity in your pet in addition to repelling external parasites. A salve of almond oil mixed with thyme, hyssop, and lavender can be used to soothe bitten areas and prevent an allergic reaction and infection. Food grade Diatomaceous brushed into your dog’s coat and sprinkled in their environment can also kill many parasites. The powdered supplement works by dehydrating parasites through their external skeleton, causing death.

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