Fleas, Ticks and other External Parasites

Ticks and fleas are probably the most common external parasites seen on pets.However, that is not to say that they are the only ones you need to think about controlling. Various mites, lice and flies may also deserve attention.

The threat of external parasites to your pet will vary according to your geographical location and the type of pet you own. Some of them (eg some species of ticks) can act as carriers (vectors) of disease agents and pass that disease onto your pet, while others may not act as a vector but may themselves cause a problem (e.g.fleas, certain mites).

In cats and dogs, fleas are perhaps the most common external parasite problem encountered by pet owners. Fleas have been around for a very long time and know a thing or two about species survival so getting rid of a flea problem is never easy.


Click here for an in depth look at the flea problem.


While fleas can give rise to a bunch of skin problems in cats and dogs and can act as the intermediate host for a tapeworm, ticks are vectors for some nasty diseases like canine ehrlichiosos and canine and feline babesiosis. These diseases don't occur everywhere and so it is a good idea to find out from your vet what tick-borne diseases are present in the area where you live and what symptoms they can give rise to if your pet becomes infected.

Apart from these diseases,a tick bite can cause skin irritations in some sensitive animals and can exacerbate an existing skin sensitivity problem.

In areas where ticks occur, they are usually more of a dog problem than a cat problem simply because of the cats grooming habits. It is a good idea to check your dog for ticks after they have been out on walks, especially if they have been into the bush and walked through long grass. You might find 2 apparently different types of ticks. One will be small(the size of a match head) and flat and the other will be greyish in colour and often quite large (pea-sized).The first is the male tick and the second is the female after having had a blood meal.

Treatment of a tick infestation is usually less complicated than treating for fleas. If the ticks are unattached, you can simply remove them from your pet with a pair of tweezers.If the head is buried in the skin of your pet, use an ear bud and dab some tick spray or dip on the tick and remove it with tweezers when it disengages.If you live in an area where ticks are prevalent, then regular dipping and spraying for ticks might be required. Again, be aware that cats can be very sensitive to the various anti - tick products and therefore it is essential that you consult a veterinarian to ensure the product is safe for your pet before using it.


A) Demodex
These mites are considered to be normal inhabitants of dog skin. Pups acquire the mites from the dam while suckling. Most pups will not show any clinical symptoms of infestation. However, if they do, most cases resolve before one year of age. Demodectic mange beyond that age indicates an immune deficiency.

Two forms of demodectic mange can be seen. The first is a localised form. Here one gets a small patch (or patches) of hair loss and the skin can become slightly crusty. This form can heal without treatment. The second form is a generalised form where large areas of the dog's skin is affected.This is obviously a more severe form but again, in dogs under one year, recovery can be complete.

Diagnosis is made by skin scraping and treatment can be prolonged, especially in the case of generalised demodectic mange.

Demodectic mange is rare in cats but the same general principles and descriptions apply to cats.

B) Sarcops
Again, these are far more common in dogs than in cats. They cause intense itching and are highly contagious. They are transmitted by direct contact with an infected animal or infected e.g. grooming tools. They can also be transmitted to humans and cause an intense itch and rash that is self limiting unless there is constant re-infection by contact with an infected pet.

Intensive scratching, hair loss and inflammed skin, especially on the ears, leg joints and throat, are characteristic clinical signs. Diagnosis is by deep skin scraping.


Not very common in either dogs or cats and usually associated with animals in poor condition. They can cause sever irritation leading to scratching and hair loss. They lay eggs that look like little white grains of sand attached to the shaft of a hair. Lice are easily killed by most insecticides.


Various flies can transmit some diseases. In most pets and households though they usually represent a nuisance rather than a disease threat. Biting flies in particular can make any animals existence miserable and for this reason alone they are worth controlling.Control measures should start with keeping the environment as clean as possible and can include a host of natural and synthetic products that you apply to the animal and/or environment.

Other Pets

Fleas, Ticks, Lice and various mites can be found on most types of pets. Their occurence will be influenced by the type of pet (e.g. fish are unlikely to have a flea infestation!), housing, state of health and environmental considerations (temperature, humidity etc).Consult your veterinarian with regards to which specific external parasites may pose a problem for your particular pet.

Final warning

Please remember, that whichever External Parasites you are treating, it is vital that you understand that most of the preparations you use are poisonous (otherwise they wouldn't kill the parasite!) and can harm your pet if not used correctly.