As the weather heats up, flea and tick populations are expected to boom, but experts are warning untreated bites can not only cause physical problems but also lead to depression and chronic stress in our pets.
Owners need to be aware of the signs of irritation and long-term stress caused by parasite infestations in their pet to avoid lasting behaviour changes. The signs to watch out for include loss of appetite, lethargy and a reduced interest in social activity.
Certified clinical animal behaviourist and pet trainer Karen Wild discovered both cats and dogs can have their lives seriously affected by flea and tick infestations if not treated soon enough.
Karen says, "Stress is a terrible condition for humans but we can express our feelings and get professional help in resolving chronic problems. Imagine what these symptoms are like in a dog or cat when they can’t tell us how they feel.
"I’ve noticed that pets who have experienced tick bites or flea infestations in the past can show signs of repetitive scratching and distress for months afterwards. Some animals who have suffered parasite problems exhibit stress symptoms such as nibbling or licking areas of their body, even when they no longer have any fleas. This can be prolonged and traumatic for everyone involved."
Vicky Lees MRCVS, Veterinary Surgeon at Alder Veterinary Practice says, "Ticks aren’t just a nuisance; they pose real health complications to both you and your pet including vector-borne diseases such as Lyme Disease. Speak to your vet about a preventative parasite treatment to help stop ticks biting to protect against the spread of these diseases.
"It’s really important to keep on top of parasite prevention to avoid your pet suffering with chronic distress. Being aware of body language and pet behaviour is also paramount so you can help them as quickly as possible."
Vets discovered thirteen-year-old Staffie cross Rune was suffering from the effects of flea bites when she arrived at a rehoming centre. Her owner Nikki Graham explains, "When Rune was admitted to Wood Green Animal Shelter in December 2016 after her previous owner sadly passed away, she was suffering horrifically from a chronic skin condition which left her body covered in scabs and thinning hair. The vets carried out various tests and she was diagnosed with a severe flea bite allergy. Rune had to undergo various treatments to ease her skin condition and all was going well, but unfortunately after the initial treatment had finished, Rune had developed periorbital dermatitis and began chewing her feet continuously, and scratching at her skin which led to her becoming very depressed.
"Although Rune is feeling better now after months of treatment, my vet has advised that due to the severe skin condition caused by flea bites, she will need to be on medication for the rest of her life and may continue to bite her skin occasionally due to the trauma experienced. It is better to prevent flea or tick bites occurring than to let an animal develop and suffer the effects of parasite bites the same way Rune has."
Top five signs your pet has a parasite infestation
- Abnormal scratching
- Small, cream/grey ‘lump’ attached to your dog’s skin (tick)
- Very small brown/black insects crawling in coat (fleas)
- Excessive licking or biting at the skin
- Droppings or ‘flea dirt’ in your dog’s coat
Speak to your vet about prescription treatments that can protect your dog against fleas and ticks. Some of these treatments may be combined with other treatments to offer complete protection against other parasites, such as intestinal worms and the potentially fatal lungworm.
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