The calendar says it’s spring, even if the thermometer disagrees; so it’s a good time to talk about something no pet owner likes to talk about: Fleas and ticks. I’ve seen plenty of T-shirts suggesting that the black fly should be the “Maine State Bird”, but I’m still waiting to see one suggesting that the deer tick be appointed the “Maine State Most Disgusting, Annoying and Dangerous Critter” (probably because that wouldn’t fit well on a T-shirt).
When I moved to Maine twenty years ago, I hardly ever saw ticks, and treated virtually no dogs for Lyme Disease. Now I need to check for ticks after every hike and even after working in the garden, and about twenty percent of the dogs that I see have been exposed to Lyme Disease. This is probably going to be a bad year for ticks: The weather never got cold enough for long enough to kill many of the adult ticks, which were able to overwinter. This is only the second year since I moved here that I had clients find ticks on their pets every month through the winter. So what can you do?
First, do yourself a favor and buy a flea comb. Check your dogs and cats regularly, year ‘round. If you catch a flea problem before it becomes an infestation, you can save yourself a lot of aggravation and expense.
Next, there are some very good flea and tick products out there for both dogs and cats, but you have to be careful about safety. Now you get my opinion: Others may disagree. Flea baths and dips are not very effective, and do not have any lasting effect. For dogs, the over the counter products (OTC) that that I know combine safety and efficacy are Frontline Plus, Advantage and Advantix. For cats, Frontline Plus and Advantage work well. Most flea and tick collars are virtually useless, although the newer collars (Seresto, Preventic, and Scalibor) seem to work well with very few side effects, and can work for quite a few months (though perhaps not as long as the manufacturer advertises). Some of the best products are prescription only: These include Nexgard (for fleas and ticks, dogs only) and Revolution (for dogs and cats), which also protects against heartworm disease. Heartworm is a mosquito-carried disease which was rarely found in Maine, but is becoming more common with the recent increase in dogs being adopted from the south. Although the rescue groups do a fair job of screening dogs for heartworm, I have seen four dogs already this year from the south with the disease, which can cost a $1,000 or more to treat per dog.
Finally, if you are one of those people that has their yard or property sprayed for ticks, please make sure that whatever you are using is safe for bees. Personally, I like honey, and the bees have had it pretty rough in the last few years.