Tick Talk
Protect your pets and livestock from problem parasites before the first bite
By Nicole Joseph

ut here, as soon as spring arrives, our four-legged friends want to roll in the tall grass and explore every new smell and wooded trail. Our livestock, barn animals, and horses graze new and old favorite spots and soak up the long-awaited sun. But warmer months also mean the return of pesky fleas and ticks, which, if left untreated, can lead to serious health issues for your animals. Too often, we react to a parasite problem that is already underway: We’ve found a bite, a bump buried deep in the skin of our livestock, or a developing rash. Instead, we want you to know what to look for, how to anticipate what this season will bring, and how to knock out any parasite hideouts. Let’s protect your pet and livestock investments.

Too often, we are reacting to a parasite problem that is already underway.
Ticks in the forest
Here’s the hard truth: Your pets have the chance to come in contact with fleas and ticks every time they go outside.
While it can’t be avoided, the odds can be improved with some knowledge. Parasites, including fleas and ticks, breed in warm, moist areas and multiply quickly; a single flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day on a dog. Besides itching and discomfort, fleas can cause allergic reactions and severe rashes, while tick bites can lead to anemia in pets, or even spread diseases, such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Taking steps to proactively prevent flea and tick infestations will help your pets enjoy a healthy and happy spring and summer.
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Dog in field
Ensure your backyard and acreage around your home are devoid of common flea and tick traps, like piles of lawn clippings, wet or rotted debris, and tall weeds.

Pet bedding, mats, and plush toys should go into a hot wash weekly to ensure they’re parasite-free.

Talk to your vet about over-the-counter treatments designed to safely and effectively protect your pets.

Establish a routine for checking for signs of fleas and ticks on your pets. While fleas may cause obvious symptoms, such as excessive scratching, hair loss, and scabbing, tick bites often go unnoticed. Use a flea comb and check your pets thoroughly each time they come back into the house, paying special attention to common hiding spots, like the areas around their head, ears, and feet.

When checking for signs of fleas, don’t just look for the fleas themselves. Also check for flea droppings (dark specks that look like dirt) and eggs (white or translucent ovals).
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Like with pets, tick bites can cause discomfort in larger animals…
but they can also lead to serious illnesses, so it’s important to be proactive with treatment and prevention for your cattle, horses, and other livestock.
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What to know about ticks and livestock:
Find out which species of parasites are most common in your area and the best methods for mitigating a livestock infestation.

Horses may rub themselves against fences or barn walls to scratch the affected area. If they scratch too much, they could create skin lesions, which lead to infection.

Ticks tend to attach to the thinnest parts of the skin to most easily access blood, so examine your horse’s head and belly (where the skin is the thinnest) for tiny black spots, especially after a ride.

Cattle might show signs of lowered milk production and weight loss.

Just like your pets, you can give your livestock and horses preventative treatments specific to their breed.

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If cattle, horses, or livestock seem agitated and behave erratically, call your vet. Certain tick species’ bites are more serious and possibly fatal if untreated.
Ticks and fleas are terrific hitchhikers, sometimes riding into your home on a pant leg or the fur of your beloved pet.
Home infestations can take weeks (or longer) to clear due to the speed with which fleas and ticks multiply. Some tick species can lay thousands of eggs at a time, so by the time you spot one, there are likely many more hiding in your home!

Whenever you spend time outdoors, especially in wooded areas or deep fields, check your body and clothing for any parasitic stowaways. Comb through your pet’s fur, checking susceptible places like the ears, belly, paws, and groin. Check yourself and children at the nape of the neck, armpits, any exposed skin, and scalp. If possible, keep outdoor clothing, like work boots and barn coats, in separate areas from your home and launder regularly.

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If you do find fleas in your home, don’t panic. There are immediate steps you can take to get rid of them and protect your space against future infestations. Clean all pet areas thoroughly and vacuum and shampoo your carpets. Empty the vacuum cleaner bag immediately, since it can be a perfect breeding ground for unhatched eggs and larvae.

If you find a tick in your home, first dispose of it properly by flushing it down the toilet, suffocating it between layers of tape, or drowning it in rubbing alcohol. If you vacuum up a tick (also acceptable), make sure the vacuum bag is sealed and disposed of outside the house.

If you find a tick on yourself, use a tweezer or tissue to grab the tick as closely to your skin as possible and pull it out. Do not twist or smash it, since the tick head is attached under your skin’s barrier. Also, do not smother a tick with Vaseline to kill it, since the head could cause an infection while attached. Remove the tick as fully as possible, then treat the area.

Dog on couch
Some ticks and fleas survive in colder weather, especially in the warmth of your house. Use year-round treatment to keep your pet and family safe.
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The lifespan of a flea can be as short as a few days, but with the right host to feed on, it can live for months and even a year. And fleas don’t discriminate; they will feed on any animal, bird, or amphibian on your land.

About the Writer

Nicole Joseph is a Southern Illinois writer.

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