What are external parasites in dogs?
External Parasites in dogs such as Fleas, Ticks and Lice are a common problem. However with the proper treatment and prevention, your home and pets can be 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 the host (your dog) and off the host during reproduction. Fleas and Ticks both spend a period of time on the host feeding and mating, then jump off the host to lay eggs. Lice can spend their entire time on the host, however may also leave to find new homes.
Fleas, Ticks and Lice can all cause a multitude of problems for pets. Itchiness and skin irritation (called Dermatitis) are the most common response. Pets with severe infestations may also begin to lose large amounts of blood, called anemia. Pets with anemia may be tired more easily, not feel well, or be overall less healthy. Some pets can also have an allergic reaction to external parasites, typically called “Flea Bite Allergy Dermatitis”. This can cause not only itching and redness, but actual 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 my dog?
Prevention of External Parasites is the best option if possible in 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 also oral medications such as Capstar for use in quickly killing parasites. Sprays, collars and environmental sprays are also available for preventing parasites. Owners with heavily wooded or brushy areas may also 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 seen parasites.
What should I do if I suspect my pet has fleas, ticks or lice?
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 as black specks jumping about. Rubbing at the base of the back/tail over a white towel can also alert you to fleas. Dogs with fleas will leave specks of black or brown debris on the towel after rubbing 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, treating them on both your pet and environment are needed. Your vet can help you determine the best flea treatment appropriate for your pet, and can also help treat any side effects of fleas such as Dermatitis or allergy. Applying a topical will help stop the flea life cycle and kill any fleas on the body, however bedding, carpeting and other areas your pet frequents should also be cleaned thoroughly. 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.
Lice can usually be treated with the same medications used to treat fleas. Again, the environment and pet should both be treated to prevent reinfection. Pets with severe lice infections may also need to be bathed several times with a medicated shampoo and then combed with a flea comb to remove dead parasites. However, treating 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 breath through their bottoms when feeding, and placement of ointments will “suffocate” them enough for them to detach. Pulling them out with tweezers is NOT recommended 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 also recommend blood testing for any Tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme or other diseases in your area.
Natural Remedies For Treating External Parasites
Natural remedies are a great way to help prevent external parasites such as fleas, ticks and lice. A blend of supplements mixed together in a shampoo can help kill any fleas or ticks on the body as well as prevent them from jumping back on. Blends 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 placement on your pet or their environment can help.
Feeding supplements such as garlic may also help by boosting immunity in addition to repelling external parasites. A salve of almond oil mixed with thyme, hyssop and lavender can also be used to soothe bitten areas and prevent allergic reaction and infection. Food grade Diatomaceous earth 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.