Fleas, ticks now a threat to pets all year long in Midwest: Veterinarian

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Shelly Birkelo
Sunday, June 1, 2014

JANESVILLE—The pet owner knew flea and tick treatment was available, but with a tight household budget he opted to treat his dog only from April through November.

That has long been considered flea and tick season in Wisconsin. Not any more.

Dr. Jennifer Carroll, a veterinarian at Janesville Veterinary Clinic, agrees April to November are high-volume tick months, but she said the pests now are present year-round in the Midwest.

“There really isn't a tick season anymore," she said.

"People might think because we had a tough, cold winter that fleas and ticks die and won't be as much of a problem when it's exactly the opposite," she said. "Ticks don't die; they're dormant and they come back out typically when it (the temperature) starts to get above freezing. They need to feed, so when something warm—a dog, cat or human—walks by they hop on."

Carroll thinks this year's flea and tick season will be similar those of past years. However, climate change has led to a growing variety of tick species entering the area.

"Ticks that used to live in Southern states are most definitely moving north and can survive here as well," she said.

Carroll has treated dogs that have died from tick-born diseases. But she stressed that “If you see a tick on your dog, odds are it is not going to die. But left untreated and not taken care of, some diseases can be problematic."

Carroll recommends a thorough check of yourself and your pet if you've been walking in a park, hiking, or if your pet has been in tall grass.

If you find a tick, use a pair of tweezers, get as close to the skin as possible then grab it by the head and pull it out, she said.

"As along as you get most of the tick out that's not going to cause any trouble," she said.

Carroll said sometimes, in an extremely bad flea infestation situation, a person can see adult fleas crawling around on his or her pet.

"When the adult flea hops on, it feeds and defecates," she said. "That (the flea's feces) is what animals react to, plus the flea's bite."

Other symptoms might include a pet chewing and licking, visible hair loss and pale lips or gums.

Infestations are hard to control because fleas are excellent jumpers and are good at getting away, Carroll said.

All it takes is one flea to begin a cycle of infestation, she said.

The best way to avoid this is to use a year-round, monthly flea-control program that treats fleas and ticks, Carroll said.

“It's less expensive to prevent than it is to treat,” she said.

Cost of the treatment depends on the products and if it comes in a single or in multiple packs.

Carroll said it's important to treat all four-legged pets in the house.

“If one animal has fleas in the house, you need to treat all of them,” she said.

Carroll warns that it's important to use only dog products on dogs and cat products on cats.

“Do not cross the two," she said. "There are several dog products that, if used on kitties, are extremely toxic."

When it comes to lawn care, Carroll isn't a big fan of treating yards and gardens for fleas and ticks.

“The big thing with tick management is keeping grass mowed and high bushes, shrubs and trees cut back," she said. "Ticks like tall, grassy areas where they hide on the top part of grass, then when something walks by they grab hold. In shorter grass, they're less likely to make that their home."

Last updated: 12:30 pm Sunday, June 1, 2014

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