It's sunny outdoor season! And as you head outside this summer, know that out there, enjoying the weather alongside your pup, are nature's creepy crawlies: ticks, fleas and lice, all of which are very common in Alberta.
Lice, fleas and ticks. They make our skin crawl just thinking about them.
For most of us, these creepy crawlies are the furthest from our minds. And that's good! That's the way they should be. Far from our minds and our pets.
But with summer and outdoor time comes the emergence of all manner of creatures bursting forth to enjoy the beautiful sunny weather. And that's fine! They are nature and have homes. It only becomes not fine when your dog crosses paths with one out in the woods, or the park, or a field, and becomes a mobile home for the creepy crawly, giving them access to their furry friends, your home, and any place they go to play.
If you find lice or fleas on your dog, it's important to keep them at home during the treatment period and away from social play and other dogs.
The Good News
There's good news? Yes. There is.
The presence of lice, fleas or ticks on your dog have absolutely nothing to do with the cleanliness of your dog, your home, where they've been, or their friends.
It simply is a reflection of the fact that somewhere, out in nature, your dog encountered one in their adventures and the creepy crawly decided your dog was more appealing than it's current location and tagged along.
Now what should we know about each of the three critters?
Gross. They just are. But thankfully they're not interested in you or your family and there is no need to panic if your dog gets lice.
Dog lice do not like humans. Most lice are quite species-specific (dog lice like dogs and people lice like people). It is definitely possible for a dog louse to get on you, but it certainly won't try to set up shop. If you see a louse from your dog on yourself, just pick it off or squish it (once you’re over the ick factor).
Lice are small, tan to medium brown coloured crawlies that live down near the skin. You can tell lice from fleas by the color (fleas are quite dark) and the speed (lice have very low mobility. They're sluggish and don't move much. Fleas are quick and will zip away).
Lice live out their entire life cycle on your dog. The adult female lays eggs (nits) and glues them tightly to the hair shafts. From these eggs hatch nymphs, which look the same as adult lice, just smaller. The entire process from egg to adult takes 2-4 weeks.
Treatment of lice is relatively straightforward. Here's a fairly detailed step-by-step on treating your dog and home for lice.
The initial treatment will kill the adult lice. The eggs, however, are not killed by insecticides and will remain on the dog. Treating every 1 to 2 weeks for at least 4 weeks should be kill all hatched eggs.
There are a wide variety of shampoos, as well as insecticidal sprays and powders that are effective in killing lice.
If you own cats, it's important to know that permethrins, which are sometimes ingredients in lice treatments, are very toxic to cats, and can get onto the cat from contact with the dog.
You can ask your vet for their recommended treatment, or visit your favorite pet store for a topical treatment or shampoo.
Yuck. And irritating for both owner and dog.
Fleas are quick little things. They scurry along the skin, hate the light and love to hang out in the armpits and groins of dogs. And they can bite and bother humans.
Unlike lice, a flea's life cycle isn't lived out fully on the dog. An adult female can lay twenty to thirty eggs a day, which fall off the dog into their bedding, the carpet, the car....anywhere the dog has been.
The eggs then develop where they land. They become larvae, form a cocoon and wait for the right time to hatch. They can hang out waiting for quite a while, waiting for a host to be nearby. Once the conditions are right, the adult flea emerges and can hop immediately onto a host.
Under ideal conditions, the flea can complete its entire life cycle in just fourteen days.
Treating fleas is more intensive than treating lice, given their penchant for growing where they land. Here is a fairly detailed step-by-step on treating fleas.
If you own cats, it's important to know that permethrins, which are sometimes ingredients in flea treatments, are very toxic to cats, and can get onto the cat from contact with the dog.
It's always best to consult your veterinarian about which methods and products will be best for you and your dog.
Thankfully, ticks aren't extremely common in Alberta, but every summer some pop up, and vets in the region do a great job of spreading the word and reminding folks to bring in any ticks that people do find to be tested for Lyme disease.
Ticks can be picked up in any long grass, brush or woody areas, and they can be hard to spot. Usually they're found after they've attached themselves and been filling themselves up and gotten large. Ticks can swell ten times their normal size.
Once they've become engorged, they will fall off the dog to lay their eggs.
To check your pup, look in areas where they can't groom themselves. It's important not to squish or crush the tick if you're attempting to remove it yourself. Vets often will offer free tick removers, or you can visit the vet to have them remove it.
Flea preventatives generally cover for ticks as well, and can be topical or oral. It's best to consult your veterinarian about which methods and products will be best for you and your dog.
Unlike with fleas or lice, there is no need to keep your dog away from others after finding and removing a tick.
If you do find a tick, Alberta Health asks you to submit it for testing as part of a tick surveillance program.