Updated: May 25
Being a pet owner, you probably know something about the pests ̶ and the many ways in which they can make your pets’ lives unpleasant. And for most of you, the methods to get rid of bugs are quick and easy: flea collars for your dog or cat; anti-tick powders for your horses; and so on. Nothing to really worry about, right?
In fact, according to the experts at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the opposite is true:
"Pests can cause significant damage to our homes and lawns, transmit various diseases and simply be a nuisance in less damaging ways. In our attempts to eradicate pesky invaders, it’s also really important to consider the safety of your pets. Some of the more common pesticides used in and around homes that can poison our pets include rodenticides, molluscicides for snail and slug control, herbicides applied to lawns and insecticides for flea control."
(Learn more about how to safely handle pesticides.)
We Have a Whole Lotta Pets!
Recent research indicates that at least 55% of US households have pets. And in case you’re wondering, the same data shows that 105 million Americans own dogs, while 59 million own cats. Pretty impressive, by any standard!
Calculating the Costs
Of course, none of us want to see our pets suffer as a result of insect bites. While it’s often difficult to prevent insect/animal encounters, you don’t have to resign yourself to the (perhaps) undesirable consequences.
If you suspect that your pet has been bitten or stung it’s important that you:
Identify to insect involved.
Recognize the symptoms of the various maladies/disease that can afflict insect-bitten pets. This is particularly true, since some insects can transmit life-threatening bacteria, parasites, or viruses to your pets.
Another factor you have to consider in all of this is cost of treating afflicted pets. In some cases, recognizing identifying the source of the bites early can save you literally thousands of dollars in veterinary fees. And let’s face it: depending on the nature, and extent, of your pet’s medical condition treatment costs can escalate quickly.
It's wise to arm yourself with the knowledge ̶ and the veterinary resources ̶ needed to ensure the health and well-being of your pet!
Know Your Foes
Turns out, fighting off the pests that do harm to your pets is a little more complicated than you thought. But that doesn’t mean you can’t effectively protect your animals.
On the contrary. There’s a lot you can do. But first you need to know what you’re dealing with, bug-wise.
What kind of bug is bothering your pet?
Statistically speaking, dogs, cats, birds and horses make up the vast majority of pets in the US. Then, of course, we have to factor in hamsters, rabbits, goats, turtles, mice, ducks, monkeys, and reptiles. We also have to include those exotic pets that some people favor ̶ such as llamas, pot-bellied pigs, ferrets, hedgehogs, sugar gliders, wallabies, and monkeys ̶ but their care should be left to qualified vets.
So, let’s take a look at some of the buggy foes you need to face ̶ and eliminate.
Getting Rid of Fleas on Your Pet
Fleas are probably the bugs most of us are familiar with, especially since they’re equal-opportunity pests that afflict both cats and dogs alike, although, in fact, they are different species. What makes them particularity unpleasant is the fact that once they’ve attached themselves to your pet, they can trigger a range of maladies, including:
Of course, fleas can also infest other pets, such as rabbits and birds, but dogs and cats seem to be the favored hosts, unfortunately! (If you think you have a flea problem, check out our in-depth account of how to get rid of fleas.)
Fleas can’t fly, but, in their miniature world they’re Olympic-level jumpers and spread quickly and easily by leaping from host to host, usually unseen. So, just being near a near another animal with fleas, or even coming across them accidentally can often be enough to give your pet fleas. Plus, being the equal-opportunity pests, they are, fleas prefer relatively high humidity levels and can thrive in a fairly wide range of temperatures: approximately 60-85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even though fleas are very small, they are really not hard to see. A quick check of your pet’s hair or fur should tell you whether or not they are harboring unwanted ‘guests.’ Look for black specks on your pet’s skin, a sure sign of flea infestation. How you eradicate these pests is up to you, of course. But we offer a good deal of tips about how to effectively remove fleas from your home.
So, you think that fleas are bad? Well, yes, they are. But right up with them are ticks, which can actually be far more harmful to your pets because they can carry bacteria and diseases. In some ways they’re mobility is far more limited than fleas: they can’t fly or jump from host to host, but they do find ways to move to places none of us like!
For the record, here are some of the maladies that ticks can transmit:
Lyme disease is one of the most widespread diseases transmitted by ticks, and infects
dogs, cats, horses and birds. If your pet is infected, they may develop a high fever;
exhibit stiffness, or paralysis; loss of appetite; and even, in some cases, depression.
Tick paralysis is caused by a toxin in tick saliva and is transmitted when ticks is feed on
Your pet’s blood. In fact, many species of tick can bring about paralysis, which usually
exhibits as numbness in the legs, muscle pain, and breathing difficulties. Fortunately,
the death rate from tick paralysis is relatively low ̶ about 10%. Still you should consult
a vet as soon as possible.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever can produce a variety of unpleasant symptoms in your
pet, including depression, seizures, muscle and joint pain, and loss of appetite. And,
in some cases, can cause kidney failure and hemorrhages. Virtually any animal can
contract this disease, although dogs seem to be more vulnerable.
Canine hepatozoonosis, as its name suggests, is a disease found exclusively in dogs,
and can result in fever, diarrhea, weight loss, lethargy, and kidney failure. Fortunately,
it’s fairly easy to treat. To learn more about ticks and what to do if you have them (or want to avoid them), check out our blog on How to Get Rid of Ticks.
Like ticks, these tiny bugs are arachnids (related to spiders) and pets usually ‘acquire’ them after coming into contact with an already mite-infested animals. In some cases, your pet may ‘inherit’ the mites from their parents, but for the most part the carrier is another animal. In any event, if untreated, mites can cause serious skin infections, or mange, as it is usually known. There are a number of types of mange, but all of them can be immensely annoying to pets and can result in hair loss, itching, scabbing and bald spots.
Fortunately, most mite species are not dangerous to humans, although some function as disease vectors and have been implicated in allergenic diseases. When mites do make the leap to a human host they can cause a wide variety of skin rashes, such as gamasoidosis, rodent mite dermatitis, grain itch, grocer's itch and scabies. Mites have also been linked to scabies and such skin disorders as rosacea.
Taken together this indicates that the presence of mites on your pet requires immediate treatment from a vet.
If you’d like learn more about mites, we have dedicated two blogs on the subject:
Flies and Bees
Flies and bees are, as might be expected, further down our list of pests that can threaten thee health of your pets. Since these pests usually prey on outside animals ̶ horses, for instance ̶ they pose less of a threat to the cats, birds, reptiles and other exotic animals that people keep as pets.
However, if any of your pets spend time outside ̶ dogs and cats, particularly ̶ you should be aware that some kinds of flies can pose a threat. The list might include horse flies, stable flies, house flies, horn flies, as well as gnats and mosquitoes.
Unfortunately, some of the maladies associated with these insects include West Nile virus, influenza, anemia and equine encephalitis.
Taking Preventative Steps
As I said earlier, it’s often difficult to prevent insect/animal encounters, especially if your pet spends any time outside. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to insect-proof you house. In fact, it’s probably your first line of defense against the buggy hordes that dwell beyond your walls.
Most of the insects that enter your house are looking for food! So, first thing to do is store your food stuff (human, pet, bird, etc) in airtight containers. Second, make a habit of cleaning up food crumbs and particles by sweeping and vacuuming; and don’t forget to mop your kitchen floor (especially around the stove) regularly. And to make sure that your home is truly bug-proof, it’s a good idea to seal any access points you might find.
Feel free to consult the Sterifab blog to learn more about how to get rid of insects, bugs, bacteria, rats, rodents and more.