As we near Halloween, we begin to pick out the outfits our pets will wear to celebrate the holiday. Little hot dog dachshunds and firemen Dalmatians will soon join the streets with trick or treaters but what about the creatures on our pets? Simply imagining creepy crawlers on our beloved cats and dogs is enough to begin an episode of psychosomatic itching of one’s head. We all know fleas and ticks are a nuisance, but what are the health implications they can cause for both you and your pet when exposed to these blood sucking creatures?

Fleas are small insects that survive as a parasite, sucking blood from its host. Both cats and dogs can be affected by fleas; unfortunately Texas is a perfect year round breeding ground for fleas, due to our almost constant warm temperatures. Flea infestations in cats and dogs can lead to serious medical conditions such as allergic dermatitis, anemia, Bartonella henselae (cat scratch fever), and the plague. Yes, that plague. Cats are more susceptible towards Yersinia pestis infections (the bacteria that causes the plague) with dogs being less likely to develop illness.

Ticks are a type of parasitic mite that survives by attaching itself to the host and gorging itself on a blood meal. Numerous species of ticks can be found in Texas, all of which carry various diseases that can affect our pets. These diseases include: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, and Cytauxzoonosis. If left untreated these diseases can lead to serious medical conditions and can be fatal. If you find a tick on your pet it is important to remove it as soon as possible. Avoid using products such as nail polish remover that are supposed to assist with detaching the head – the most important goal is to get the tick removed as fast as possible. 

In addition to diseases that can affect our pets, it’s important to remember that these parasites can infect us as well. Flea infestations can lead to diseases in humans such as murine (flea-borne) typhus, the plague, and cat scratch disease. Murine typhus in particular, is endemic to Texas and can lead to hospitalization of the affected person if left untreated. While humans are not the main hosts for fleas they are opportunistic parasites and will take advantage of an easy snack if we are in close proximity. Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, and Lyme Disease all affect humans and can be spread from our pets via ticks. Texas is considered a low incidence state for Lyme Disease however cases are still reported to various public health agencies across the state. 

Luckily, the prevention for all of the diseases is quite simple: avoiding contact with the sources. Keeping your pets on monthly veterinarian approved flea and tick control and ensuring their environment (your house and back yard) are parasite free reduces the risk of exposure to these parasites. Because Texas is warm year round, using these products 12 months a years is recommended. 

By: Jacquelyne Brauneis, MPH