How does my dog get fleas and ticks?

Hopefully, your dog will never get fleas and ticks, but here are some of the most common ways that dogs do get fleas and ticks. Fleas are carried on other dogs. Fleas can also be in grasses. Fleas can be in your home, or maybe you've gone into your neighbor's home. It can be in boarding facilities or grooming facilities. So if you're not protected against fleas and ticks, there are a lot of possibilities for you to be able to pick up fleas. Ticks, on the other hand, do start outdoors. They are in tall grasses. So people that live near fields, maybe on the edges of woods and so forth are definitely going to be in areas where you will see ticks and the dogs can pick them up when they run through.

Dr. Mary Beth Soverns
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

Can my dog get fleas and ticks if they are primarily an indoor dog?

Yes, because even dogs that are primarily indoors go outside to go for walks or to use the bathroom. And so that's a good way that they can get right back into getting fleas and ticks. Fleas and ticks also hang out on people's porches and decks, and certainly, that's a way they could also get fleas and ticks, but other people can also bring dogs with fleas and/or ticks over to your house. Some people may also have a cat and maybe that cat goes indoors and outdoors. So yes, certainly even "indoor dogs" need to be protected from fleas and ticks.

What health problems can fleas and ticks cause my dog?

Fleas are interesting. They are irritating to dogs when they bite them for blood. Dogs can be allergic to them and have something called flea allergic dermatitis. When a dog bites a flea because it's irritating and eats them, then they can get tapeworms. So they get tapeworms from fleas. Ticks carry a multitude of problems. Lyme disease is probably the one that we've heard of the most from deer ticks, but there's also Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, [coon] Paralysis, and many other tick-borne diseases.

How effective are flea and tick medications?

Flea and tick medications have come a long way in the years that I've been a veterinarian, particularly in the last 10 years. We will remember back in the day we used to give flea baths and flea dips. Generally, people don't do that anymore. Then we started using preventives. We used to have a topical, and we still do have topicals. For instance, Vectra is topical. Not only does it kill fleas and ticks, it prevents them from jumping on a dog to begin with, but it's not always so easy to apply. You have to get it all the way down to the dog’s skin, just not on their hair coat. That could be really challenging in the case of a very fluffy dog. Sometimes our dogs go swimming, we give them baths, and in general, we’ree washing that off or making it less potent as the month goes along.

So in the last few years, we've gotten this chewable little block that we ask our dogs to sit or stay and we offer them as a treat and it is good for 30 days. This is called [Cordelio] and we also have Bravecto, the same thing. It’s a chewable treat. We give it at a month, but it lasts for up to eight to 10 to 12 weeks, depending on which ticks that you are trying to prevent. So that seems to be the easier way. It's easier for a person to do it by themselves. It’s not a two-person project. And then once it's in, it's in and we're not worried about whether it got all the way down to the skin and some of those problems.

What is the difference between over the counter and prescription flea and tick medications?

Over the counter are generally our older products that we've had. If it's prescription or an FDA product, these can’t be found over the counter. We found that these FDA products actually work better. We know a lot more about them and can help you understand when to use it, how to use them, and what to expect with the results.

What will my veterinarian recommend for flea and tick treatment?

Definitely either a real state of the art topical that will also be a preventive or they're going to recommend an oral once a month or every three months that we know will kill fleas within minutes or hours. But they do have to bite through first. What we'll do is talk about your lifestyle and what will be easier for you.

How can I identify fleas and ticks on my dog?

Fleas run through the coat really fast. They're narrow and quite tiny. You can see them with your eyes. Generally, what we do is we look at the underside of the animals where the hair is not so thick and we'll look for one there. Sometimes we look for something called flea dirt. We'll actually use a flea comb, comb it through the coat and if we see things that look kind of like salt and pepper. We know that the pepper part is the dark part, and it is the excrement of fleas and the white part looks like salt, and that is actually flea eggs. So we can identify that. Ticks, on the other hand, don't move very fast. They're going to be still. Sometimes we think it's like a little bump or lump on the animal, but if you look closely, you can see they have a head and legs and they usually want to be up around the face and ears because their ears are very vascular, but they could be anywhere on your dog.

What should I do if I see fleas or ticks on my dog?

I would call your veterinarian and find out what would be the best product for you to use depending on the age of your pet and your circumstances.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.

Dog Flea & Tick - FAQs

Dr. Mary Beth Soverns
Countryside Veterinary Clinic

What diseases are associated with fleas and ticks?

When fleas bite, the dog can get irritated skin, including dogs with allergies who may have flea allergy dermatitis. Their skin gets red and bumpy can even get infected. The other thing about fleas is when a dog eats a flea because it's bothering them, they can feel it in their fur; then they can get tapeworms from the flea.

Ticks carry a multitude of tick-borne diseases. The one we most commonly heard about is Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasma. Those are just some of the many diseases that ticks can cause in people and dogs.

Where would my dog get fleas and ticks?

Fleas are actually in the grass, and you can pick up fleas in the grass, particularly if you're in dog parks. They may be in facilities such as boarding facilities, grooming facilities, and daycares. They may be in a house that you bought. They may be on a dog that came over to your home, including on cats. And when cats go in and out, they can bring fleas in that way. Ticks are outdoors to begin with. They are in long, tall grasses and fields, on the edges of the woods. And so they're out there in the environment, mainly when it's cold and rainy.

Is a short-haired dog more susceptible to getting fleas and ticks?

Any dog - short or long-haired - can get fleas and ticks. It might be a little easier to see them on a short-coated dog, but long-coated dogs, it's even-steven. They can all get it.

Can my dog still get fleas and ticks in the wintertime?

Definitely—mostly the ticks; depending on which tick it is and where you live, you will see Lyme ticks even in January, even in the snow. Certain ticks, deer ticks, brown dog ticks, lone star tick, they do live in different parts of the country, and they like different environments. So we will see them at different times of the year, but certainly in the winter.

And fleas, they like it up until the grass dies and it's wholly browned out, which takes a long time, not just one frost. And then they'll be back as soon as the weather gets warm and the grass starts to grow. So it’s a very long season for fleas and ticks, especially here in Maryland.

What factors can increase my dog's risk of getting fleas and ticks?

Certainly if they go outdoors it increases the risk because your dog is going to get it there. If you go to parks, boarding, grooming, obedience school, and anytime they're around other dogs or they go inside someone else's house. But what can prevent it is just having dog flea and tick preventatives, either a special collar that you can get through your veterinarian, a topical product that we might want to put on once a month, or some of our new oral products that the dogs would eat. Those things will prevent either the flea or tick from biting them, getting on them, or, if they do, they'll be killed immediately, so they can't bring them into the house and spread them around.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (410) 461-2400, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can.