Tonawanda News

October 22, 2012

Creepy crawlies

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The top of my head is tingling, so I rub it. 

Then my lower left jaw feels numb. I scratch it just once. I then feel the back of my knees get tight and the hairs rise. I have goosebumps on my legs. I rub and I scrape a little more. The inside of my nose is now supersensitive. I flick it and soon after I feel microscopic ants crawling on my shoulder. 

Writing and thinking about fleas and ticks has some strange side effects.

Ectoparasites include ticks, fleas, lice, and mites. All of them live on the surface of a host and attach or burrow into the skin. Although summer is behind us and the nights are quite cold, these parasites do not have a clear cut-off point like they used to. Once the frost hits many of these pests die unless they managed to attach to one of your warm and cozy pets. 

In the summer the flea populations increase and as the weather cools down they seek warmer areas. Once the parasites infiltrate the home, all pets should be treated for about three months to be pest free.

Fleas are likely the most common external parasite to cats and dogs. They are widespread and are ravenous for blood, even more than vampires. Fleas feed frequently and because of this make multiple bites.

Being bitten by one mosquito is terrible. The area swells and our body releases feel good chemicals so we scratch it even more. Just imagine if we were bitten ten or 20 times. Besides discomfort, when our pets get bitten by fleas, other side effects can take place. Hair loss, the formation of scabs and flea bite anemia can occur. Secondary allergic reactions can also take place.

Tick control is very important as these bloodsuckers can transfer disease from pets to humans. Ticks crawl onto tall grasses or shrubs and wait for their hosts to walk by, usually in wooded areas.

There are roughly a dozen species of ticks that can affect dogs and cats. Most of them carry diseases like spotted fever and Lyme disease. 

It was once believed that ticks could not survive the cold temperatures. The truth is that ticks can and do transmit disease 12 months a year and the adult ticks that transmit Lyme disease are most active from October to March.

While we cannot catch Lyme disease from our pets, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who live in areas with a higher-than-average number of dogs with Lyme disease are at greater risk of contracting the disease. Untreated pets can bring ticks into your home or backyard which aids in the transmission.

One way to see if your pet has fleas is to look on the stomach. Flea combs may help. You may be able to see the fleas themselves, which are small dark spots that move or their droppings which look like specs of dirt. 

You can usually feel ticks when you are rubbing your pet. They typically attach to the head, neck ears or paws on dogs and around the eyes and ears on cats. 

To remove a tick from your pet, use gloves or a tissue to protect your hand. Using tweezers, grasp the parasite from the side, near the head and pull straight up, do not twist. Don’t squeeze, pop or explode the enlarged stomach of the parasite. 

Mouth parts that remain in the skin rarely cause serious problems. I would save the specimen in a small plastic bottle and take it to your veterinarian. For specific parasites that affect your specific species of pets, consult with your vet.

Since our climate conditions are shifting, flea and tick seasonality is also shifting. Because of this, seasonal applications of tick and flea medications might not be as effective as they have been in the past. The Companion Animal Parasite Council recommends year-round, lifelong prevention of common external parasites, including fleas and ticks. The CAPC 2012 Fall Lyme Disease Forecast says there is an increased risk in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region, and all along the West Coast.

The coldness of fall and winter is not a replacement for parasite prevention.

Year-round medical prevention is simply the best option for bloodsucking parasites, including vampires.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to, or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.