Ticks, Fleas, Lice, and Ear Mites

The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends that all dogs and cats be treated year round with flea and tick control products. However, many of our patients don't receive regular parasite prevention. The most common external parasites in our area are ticks, lice, ear mites, fleas, biting flies, and mosquitoes.

Ticks are found in a variety of settings, from the long grass in your back yard to high elevation wooded areas. If your pet goes outside, then they're at risk for getting ticks. Some ticks produce a neurotoxin that can be transferred to pets causing paralysis which can be life threatening. Once the tick is removed, the paralysis resolves. I see several cases of tick paralysis every year. More well-known tick-borne diseases include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Lyme disease. Tick paralysis and other tick-borne diseases can be prevented by using monthly tick preventatives on all dogs.

Lice are another common problem in and around Missoula. I've seen more dogs with lice in my 6 months of living in Missoula than in my entire 9 year career. Lice are far more common in dogs than cats and are transmitted by direct contact between animals as well as through grooming equipment. Lice are species specific, meaning that dogs cannot transmit lice to either cats or people and vice versa. Dogs with lice are very itchy and tend to scratch their shoulders and neck. Lice are tiny and can be difficult to find, especially on thick coated dogs. So, if lice are suspected, we'll often treat for them—even if none are found. If your dog goes to the groomer, daycare, or boarding facility, they should be on a monthly preventative for lice.

Fleas are a pesky parasite that, once established in your house, are difficult to eradicate. Since fleas live indoors on pets, they're a year-round problem. Outdoor cats can often harbor fleas and bring them home to their canine housemates. Fleas cause itching (especially at the rear end) and can result in a severe allergic response called Flea Allergy Dermatitis. Once fleas are present in the environment, it can take 3–6 months to eradicate them so this is a parasite that is worth preventing. Monthly flea prevention is far easier and safer than controlling a flea outbreak.

Ear mites are primarily a cat problem but can infect dogs. They're transmitted by close contact between cats, especially mothers and kittens. Ear mites cause head shaking, severe itching of the ears, and often a dark discharge. Typically, they're diagnosed by seeing them moving in the ear canal or under a microscope. Once ear mites are found, all pets in the household should be treated.

External parasites can cause serious disease in pets and in humans. There are many parasite products on the market, however, not all products are created equal. At Four Paws Veterinary Clinic, we carry Canine Advantix 2 which repels and kills ticks, fleas, mosquitoes, biting flies, and lice. If your pet is not on regular flea and tick preventatives, give us a call and we'll help you find the best product for your situation.