Most humans have experienced a bug bite or two throughout their lives, and if you have, you know that they’re painful, itchy, and generally unpleasant. Unlike our pets, we have the ability to inform others when we sustain a bite, then apply first aid to the site.
When a dog or cat is dealing with bug bites, like those from fleas and ticks, they can’t tell us that there’s a problem in plain English. Instead, they can display symptoms that give us clues and help draw attention to the issue at hand.
Read on to learn about the risks that fleas and ticks present to pets, how to identify each pest and the bites they leave, and how to provide aftercare to help bug bites heal.
When is Flea and Tick Season?
Flea and tick infestations can occur at any time during the year, but they’re more active during the warmer months. Early summer to late fall is the segment of the year that presents the greatest risk to cats and dogs. That said, the season varies by state and starts as early as March in many areas of the U.S.
Fleas and ticks cause more bug bites on dogs and cats when the weather is both warm and wet, while cooler, dryer weather usually decreases pest activity.
However, it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for fleas and ticks no matter what time of year it is. Cold weather attacks do occur on occasion so you’ll want to be aware of how to identify flea and tick infestations on your pets.
Identifying Fleas, Ticks, and Their Bites
If you suspect a flea or tick bite on a dog or cat in your household, it’s important to examine your pet so that you can identify whether you’re dealing with fleas, ticks, or something else.
If your cat or dog is dealing with a flea infestation, you might notice that they are scratching excessively, you may notice scabs or hot spots on your pet’s skin, and you may find that your pet is losing hair or has pale gums.
Examine your pet by separating sections of fur to look at the skin surface and hair roots. You’ll also want to check the base of the tail, inside the ears, and on top of your pet’s head.
If you see tiny white specks close to the hair root, they are most likely flea eggs. If you see what looks like flecks of dark-colored dirt, you might be looking at flea droppings. You might also see small, dark, specks that move about in your pet’s fur. Those are fleas.
What do flea bites look like?
Flea bites look like small, inflamed bumps on the skin, which can become a blister or open wound as time passes.
It might be more challenging to notice tick infestations simply by judging your pet’s behavior. Ticks don’t often cause as much itching and irritation as fleas do, but they’re far more visible. While these pests are only the size of a pinhead before biting an animal, they grow when they consume blood.
You might be able to see a tick bite on a cat or dog if your pet has a short coat, but for longer coats, you’ll need to put on gloves and run your fingers through your pet’s fur. Take note of any small lumps. Check between your pet’s toes, around the animal’s head, and inside the ears.
A tick will look like a small, smooth rock with eight tiny legs (usually gray, black, or brown). You likely won’t see the head or pinchers because they’re usually going to be buried in your pet’s skin.
What does a tick bite look like?
Usually, tick bites are identifiable because the tick is still attached. However, an empty tick bite often takes the form of a very small, slightly inflamed bump.
Removing Fleas and Ticks
Ridding your pet of fleas and ticks is essential as soon as you notice the presence of these pests. However, it’s also important to perform pest removal procedures carefully and correctly. Let’s explore how it’s done.
To remove fleas from your pet, bathing the animal is the most effective way to begin. However, it’s not always an option for people who have cats that get combative when exposed to water. Bathing is an effective step but it isn’t a requirement, so if your pet won’t tolerate a bath, skip it so that you can avoid unnecessary stress.
If you do bathe your pet, use warm water and either dish soap (which kills adult fleas) or flea shampoo if your veterinarian recommends it. Flea shampoos might not be the best option to use if your pet has open flea bites or scratch wounds, as the chemical components in the shampoo can burn or irritate open wounds.
Wash and rinse your pet thoroughly, getting all of the soap out of the animal’s fur to prevent further dryness and skin irritation. Comb through the animal’s fur with a fine-toothed comb when the bath is done (or start with this step if you skipped the bath). The finer the teeth, the more effective the comb will be at removing fleas.
If you see fleas on your comb, dip it in hot, soapy water. Be careful not to burn your fingers, but ensure that the water is quite hot so that it kills the fleas.
Once you’re no longer seeing fleas on the comb, you might have removed them all. Perform regular checks to make sure there aren’t any left hiding in your pet’s fur.
There is a couple of methods you can use when approaching how to remove a tick from a dog or cat: using tweezers or using a tick removal tool.
With either method, you should ensure that the following items are available throughout the process.
- Rubbing Alcohol
- Disinfectant Ointment
Before you begin, make sure your tweezers or tick remover is clean and ready to use. Put gloves on so that you can protect your skin from contact with the ticks and prevent infections from occurring at the site of the tick bites.
If you’re using tweezers, clamp down on the tick with the tip of the tool, getting as close to the skin surface as possible (don’t pinch the skin). When you have a firm grip, pull the tick away slowly. Don’t jerk, as jerking can detach the tick’s pinchers and lead to the bite becoming infected.
For tick removal using a tick removal tool, place the end of the remover as close to your pet’s skin as you can, over top of the tick. Move the notch on the tool under the tick to pry it up. When it pulls free, remove the tool.
Aftercare: Healing Bite Wounds
Once you have removed the fleas or ticks from your pet, examine the animal’s skin and locate any bite wounds. Disinfect each bite with ointment, and sterilize the equipment you used. When you’re done providing first aid, remove your gloves and wash your hands thoroughly.
If you were dealing with fleas, monitor your pet regularly over the following days and weeks to check for infections.
If you removed ticks from your pet, contacting your veterinarian to book a checkup is recommended. Ticks can spread a variety of diseases, so you’ll want to take steps to make sure your pet is safe and healthy.
Should your pet struggle with the desire to scratch while the bites are healing, there are a few things you can do to provide itch relief.
- Give your pet a bath using a shampoo product that’s designed to soothe dry, itchy skin
- Use a gentle topical ointment to cover the bite wounds and keep them moisturized
Flea and Tick Prevention
After you’ve removed fleas or ticks from your cat or dog, preventing another infestation from occurring in the future is a must. There are a couple of ways to go about flea and tick prevention for dogs and cats, so use the method that works best for you.
To prevent fleas from getting into your pet’s fur again, you can occasionally apply diluted apple cider vinegar to your pet’s fur. It won’t kill existing fleas, but the smell and taste of vinegar will repel them.
Flea and tick-repellant sprays are also worth considering if you’re worried about bug infestations spreading throughout your home and furniture. Several sprays are designed to use on your pet’s skin to prevent fleas or ticks from hitching a ride in your animal friend’s fur as well.
Finally, there are also flea and tick medicines for dogs and cats that you can have prescribed to you by your veterinarian. Some are topical and others are oral, so depending on what your pet responds to best, you have a couple of medical options.
Bug bites aren’t uncommon, as pets throughout the country are at risk. By maintaining your awareness, routinely examining your pet, and knowing what to do in the event of a bug infestation, you’ll have the best chance of providing your pet with effective treatment and relief.