Spring warmup provides breeding ground for fleas, mites, ticks, and mosquitos.
Spring time is finally here in Northern Virginia! While we’re all excited to get out and enjoy the season, the warmer weather and balmy temperatures are the perfect breeding grounds for pesky little pests like fleas, ticks, mosquitos, and ear mites.
In this article, we will focus on fleas and ear mites specifically, but we encourage you to learn more about ticks, which transmit Lyme Disease and mosquitoes (transmitters of heartworm disease). Both of these parasites are extremely prevalent in the spring and summer months.
The flea life cycle
Adult fleas are very small (no bigger than a sesame seed), reddish-brown, wingless insects with flattened bodies. Fleas thrive in warm and humid weather, feeding on the blood of animals. Once fleas become an adult, they begin laying eggs within 24 hours of selecting an animal as a host. With the ability to produce up to 50 eggs each day, flea infestations happen very quickly! Flea eggs will most likely fall off of the host animal onto your floor or furniture. Flea eggs turn into flea larvae, which can easily burrow into carpets or soil, where they will spin a cocoon. The cocooned flea pupa can remain in this active state for several weeks before emerging as an adult. The illustration below illustrates this life cycle.
Signs and Risks of Fleas*
Unfortunately, you may not know that your pet has fleas until they begin to exhibit symptoms. Fleas cause many pets to become very itchy to the point where they are constantly scratching or biting their legs, rump, and feet. While you may not see the fleas themselves, one of the first things you may notice on a pet with fleas is “flea dirt.” Flea dirt resembles black dirt or flecks of pepper, but it’s actually a mixture of flea excrement and digested blood.
Because fleas bite animals and suck their blood, young animals or smaller pets with severe flea infestations are at risk for developing anemia. Some pets can develop an allergy to flea saliva that may result in more irritation, redness, and scratching. Pets can also become infected with tapeworms if they ingest fleas carrying tapeworm eggs.
When fleas are diagnosed, treatment of both the pet and the home (Including all interior and exterior areas such as bedding, furniture, carpets, grass, etc.) are recommended to clear all stages of the flea and egg life cycle.
Leesburg Veterinary Hospital recommends monthly flea prevention year-round for dogs and cats (Including indoor cats!). There are oral and topical flea treatment options for dogs and cats. Please contact us if you have questions regarding a specific treatment product or to discuss the best preventative option for your pet. Because many over the counter products can be harmful to pets, we highly recommend purchasing products directly from our hospital or from our trusted online pharmacy. The safety and efficacy of third party pharmacies cannot be guaranteed.
Ear mites, otherwise known as Otodectes cynotis (Latin translation: “Ear beggar of the dog”), are microscopically tiny organisms that are part of the Arachnid family. Ear mites can infect dogs, cats, and ferrets. Similar to their cousins the spider and the tick, ear mites travel over their host by crawling. In many cases, if an ear mite is crawling on an animal’s back or belly, they can easily groom it away. However, if the parasite makes it to the ear, it can safely take up residence because the animal cannot paw or lick it away.
Signs of Ear Mites
Once inside the ear, mites can do serious damage. Obvious signs of ear mite infestation include irritation/inflammation of the outer ear and an otic discharge constisting of a foul-smelling, gooey accumulation of wax and mite debris. Pets with ear mites will show obvious discomfort, itching, pawing, and scratching at the ear (which can lead to infection) and frequent head shaking.
Ear mites are highly contagious among animals and are zoonotic (can be transferred to people). Ear mite infestations in humans can cause temporary papular dermatitis (raised bumps).
To protect other animals and humans, it is important to eliminate ear mites as soon as possible! If you suspect your pet has ear mites, seek veterinary care immediately. Besides relieving discomfort for your pet, treatment can help reduce infection and prevent a serious ear disease called otitis externa, an infection of the middle and inner ear drum that can permanently affect the pet’s hearing and sense of balance.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Ear Mites
At Leesburg Veterinary Hospital, we can diagnose ear mite infestation by using an otoscope to examine the ear. We will also use a cotton swab to gently collect a sample of ear debris for conclusive examination under a microscope.
The video below shows an ear mite swimming around in discharge, under the microscope, swabbed from one of our canine patients. Without the aid the microscope, this mite would be unnoticeable, as it’s about the size of a pinhead!
Ear mite treatment consists of a thorough ear cleaning to remove the wax and debris, followed by the application of an otic antiparasitic medication. Any associated bacterial or fungal infections will also be treated.
To prevent the return of these tiny but mighty mites, regular (weekly) ear checks and cleanings are recommended. Monthly preventatives such as Revolution for dogs or cats or Advantage Multi (cat only) can help prevent ear mite infestations.
*For more information, read AVMA’s article on external parasites.