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Flea and Tick Problems - When Should You Call the Vet?
M Duffy Jones, DVM posted:
Most of the time, you won't need to call your vet about fleas and ticks. But, of course, there are times when visiting the vet's office is a must. Here are a few instances when you should call your vet:

1. You are applying flea and tick protection, and you are still seeing live fleas. Sometimes a certain product just does not work for your pet. You may also be seeing fleas and ticks if the products are not applied correctly, or is applied at incorrect intervals. You may see fleas even when the products are working, but are being overwhelmed by too many fleas and ticks in the environment. A phone call to your vet can help you figure out why you are seeing fleas. A vet can talk to you about how you should apply these products and how often, and may also recognize issues that might be preventing the product from working.

2. Your pet has a flea allergy or a very serious reaction to fleas. This happens often, and a couple of flea bites could send your allergic pet into a dangerous reaction. Pets with flea allergies often have to be treated aggressively with medication, or they will develop serious skin infections. If you see only one flea but your pet is tearing its fur out, then you should call your vet. If your pet has a flea allergy, or you suspect your pet has a flea allergy, treating him early could hopefully cut down on the amount of inflammation and discomfort he will have to endure.

3. Your pet becomes anemic due to long standing and overwhelming flea infestation. We call this "flea anemia". Believe it or not, fleas can bite so much as to reduce the number of red blood cells in your pet's system. This can be so serious that your pet could need a blood transfusion. So if you notice lots of fleas and your pet is very lethargic, then your pet needs to be evaluated to see how anemic she may be. If she is severely anemic, your vet will need to get rid of the fleas, and might also have to give her a blood transfusion.

4. You find a very large tick that has most likely been feeding on your pet for days. Usually these ticks are engorged and there will be a larger red circle on the skin around where the tick is attached. This concerns us because of the length of time the tick has been attached to the pet. Many tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, will be spread only after the tick has been attached for 48 hours. When we see large ticks like this, I will typically look at some blood work to make sure the pet has not contracted one of the many of the tick-borne diseases.

5. Your pet is having a reaction to the flea and tick product you're using. The type of reaction typically depends on the active ingredient in the product. Some of the side effects include lethargy, weakness, staggering, disorientation, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, or hair loss at the site where the product was applied, and even in the worst case, death. We take all reactions to these products seriously, although most are not life threatening and can be treated successfully. However, these pets need to see the vet sooner than later.

6. You try to remove a tick and it does not go well. Your vet should be able to remove the rest of the tick before it causes a problem. Most of the time the body will do its job and breakdown any part of the tick that was left over after removal. However, it is always better to try to remove the rest of the tick before too much time has passed, in order to prevent infection.

If you have lingering concerns about a problem with fleas and ticks -- a problem that I did not list above -- be sure to give your veterinarian a call.


William Draper, DVM, better known as "Dr. Will," is a well-known small animal practitioner in the Atlanta, GA area. He grew up in Inglewood,...More

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