At the sight of a flea or tick, most people recoil in disgust. But, did you know these tiny pests can transmit serious diseases, and cause illness severe enough to land your pet in our emergency hospital during the weekend? Despite their small size, external parasites can pack a hefty punch, so year-round parasite prevention is crucial, to keep your furry pal safe. Quickly spotting indications of a serious flea or tick illness, and enlisting rapid treatment, can make a world of difference in your pet’s comfort level and overall prognosis. Learn how to identify flea and tick diseases that require immediate treatment, and how to best prevent potentially life-threatening illnesses from affecting your beloved companion. 

Flea-related illnesses in pets that may require emergency care

While fleas are most known for making a pet itchy, they can also transmit serious diseases. Fleas can carry the plague, and transmit cat scratch disease and tapeworms, causing your furry pal significant trouble. However, pets most commonly end up in the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center because of extreme itching. 

Some pets are incredibly allergic to flea saliva, and only a handful of flea bites can cause a severe allergic reaction. Many times, an allergic pet will lick, chew, and scratch their skin raw overnight, leaving an oozing, bleeding, painful spot, known as a hot spot, or acute moist dermatitis, that is horribly uncomfortable. If your furry pal develops a hot spot, treat the area promptly for rapid relief, to avoid unnecessary pain and infection. Some pets are so uncomfortable, sedation is required to clip the matted hair away from the hot spot, and cleanse the area of surface bacteria. While not a life-threatening condition, flea allergies can make your pet extremely miserable in a short amount of time. 

Tick-borne diseases in pets that may require emergency care

Tick species in our area include the Rocky Mountain wood tick, the American dog tick, and the brown dog tick, which can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and tick paralysis. Lyme disease is more prevalent in the state’s western portion, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases are relatively uncommon east of the Cascades. However, if you travel with your pet, they can be exposed to a variety of tick-borne diseases, and suffer serious illness, so always ensure your furry pal’s preventive is administered regularly. 

In our area, one of the most frightening tick-borne illnesses that can affect your pet is tick paralysis. While this disease can be transmitted by 64 known tick species, the common culprits locally are the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and the American dog tick. Tick paralysis signs generally don’t appear until after the tick has been attached for about five to nine days, but once they appear, they often progress rapidly over 24 to 72 hours. If your pet has been bitten by a tick carrying the salivary neurotoxin responsible for tick paralysis, you may notice the following signs:

  • Change or loss of voice
  • Hindlimb incoordination
  • Change in breathing rhythm, rate, depth, and effort
  • Gagging, grunting, or coughing
  • Regurgitation or vomiting
  • Dilated pupils

Paralysis of esophageal muscles develops in most dogs, but not cats. Saliva and ingested food pool in the esophagus, and may be regurgitated into the mouth. Unable to clear the saliva and food away because of pharyngeal paralysis, the dog may suffer with aspiration pneumonia. As paralysis progresses, your pet cannot move their back and front legs, stand, sit, or lift their head. 

Removal of all ticks usually results in improvement in 24 hours, and complete recovery in 72 hours. If all ticks are not removed, death may occur from respiratory paralysis in one to five days. Tick paralysis treatment also includes administering tick antitoxin serum, and treating associated illnesses, such as aspiration pneumonia or esophageal reflux. Some pets may require general anesthesia and mechanical ventilation to reduce breathing difficulties, apply suction to the upper respiratory tract, and encourage the body to rest and recover. 

With appropriate, rapid treatment, most pets—up to 95%—recover. The other 5% usually die, which makes proper prevention and regular tick checks critical for your pet. 

Flea and tick prevention options for your pet

Fortunately for your furry pal, many flea and tick prevention methods are on the market. Discuss the best option for your pet with your family veterinarian, and choose from the following categories:

  • Oral — Many pet owners prefer oral flea and tick preventives, since there’s no greasy residue, and most products are highly palatable, ensuring your pet will gulp it down without an issue.
  • Topical — Pets who refuse oral flea and tick preventives, or who display sensitivity issues like vomiting, are best served with a topical preventive. Like oral products, some topical products can last up to three months.
  • Collar — Flea and tick collars have a bad stigma, because most over-the-counter products are ineffective at best, and can cause your pet serious harm at worst. However, veterinary-formulated collars are safer, more effective, and can grant up to eight months of protection.

If your pet is exhibiting signs of a serious illness transmitted by fleas or ticks, don’t wait until your family veterinarian opens on Monday. Call us immediately to handle your furry pal’s severe hot spot, or tick paralysis.