As the weather gets warmer and the days are longer, people and pets tend to spend more time outdoors. Add summertime pests – including ticks, fleas, mosquitoes and other lawn and garden intruders – and the season can become downright unpleasant.
“Fleas are not as bad so far this year,” said Dr. Amber Horn, owner of Lakeside Veterinary Services. “Ticks are excessively bad. And mosquitoes and heartworms are bad.”
Fleas thrive when the weather is warm and humid. If the temperatures are extremely high, the pupae will hibernate until it cools down. Even if removed from animals, they may have repopulated in yards or carpets.
“Once there’s a flea infestation, it’s continuous, repetitive work to get rid of them,” said Horn.
Horn recommends treating all animals that reside in the home, vacuuming every day, and using preventive treatments to keep them from returning.
Fleas are parasites that can carry a variety of diseases posing health threats to animals. Ticks, on the other hand, can transmit diseases to animals and humans. These blood-sucking parasites lay thousands of eggs at a time.
Ticks must be attached for 24 hours for a disease to be transmitted, but care must be taken during the removal of ticks.
“Use tweezers or a tissue and grab as close to the skin as possible to gently remove the entire tick,” said Laurence Burnsed, epidemiologist for the Acute Disease Service of the Oklahoma State Department of Health. “The tick is feeding and drawing blood. If it is not kept intact during removal, the bacteria that causes illness can get on fingers.”
The disease symptoms normally occur 14 days after a tick bite.
“Most ticks don’t carry diseases and most don’t cause serious health problems, but it is important to remove a tick as soon as you find it,” said Dr. Naveed Siddique of Tahlequah Pediatrics. “In rare cases, a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) may occur. Many of the diseases ticks carry cause flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, and muscle aches.”
Animals may suffer the same symptoms. Horn said one disease prevalent in animals is ehrlichiosis, a bacterial illness transmitted by ticks causing flu-like symptoms. Animals will have no energy and experience joint pain.
Pets who go outside should be checked for ticks every day. People who have been in wooded, grassy, or known tick-prevalent areas, should check for ticks along hairlines, back of neck, and skin folds.
Preventive measures are the best way to deal with ticks and mosquitoes. These include using insect repellent on skin or clothing and wearing long sleeve shirts and pants.
“We constantly have people coming in needing products for fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes,” said Rex Jarvis, manager of Farmer’s Co-op. “They want to head off the problem once they get a bite or two. Repellents to put on skin and clothing have been selling out.”
Keeping the exterior areas of the home free of standing water is the key to preventing mosquito swarms. Empty pet dishes, buckets, and wheel barrows that may collect rainfall. Birdbaths, ornamental displays, and rain gutters should be cleaned regularly.
Burnsed said large ponds and stagnant water areas that are conducive to mosquitoes breeding should be treated with larvacides.
“If you prevent breeding, it protects you and your community,” said Burnsed.
Not a single case of West Nile Virus has been reported in Oklahoma yet this year, but there are concerns since it has been found earlier than normal in neighboring states. The main season for mosquitoes is June through October.
Mosquitoes are a major threat to animals due to the risk of heartworm disease. According to www.heartwormsociety.org, the malady develops when a pet becomes infected with parasites called Dirofilaria immitis that are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. It is predominately in dogs, but the number of infected cats is on the rise.
“The rate of heartworm cases nationally is about 5 percent,” said Horn. “But locally this year, the rate is at 8 or 10 percent of animals seen. Clinics can administer a blood test for heartworms and tick-related diseases that takes 10 minutes.”
Treatment is available for dogs with a series of injections, but it is hard on the dog. There is no heartworm treatment for cats. They can be treated symptomatically until heartworms die in a year or two, but they can suffer some residual damage to the heart and circulatory systems. Horn encourages annual exams and preventive medication for heartworms, fleas and ticks.
Other summertime pests that may be a concern include spiders, chiggers, wasps, bees, flies and snakes.
Carl Wallace, director of the Cherokee County Cooperative Extension Service, said major issues with bees, ants, grasshoppers, spiders or red wasps have not been reported this year. He said heat and humidity affect the levels of grasshoppers and wasp swarms, and that bee loads have been down the last several years.
Chiggers are pests, but are not a source of diseases. They are most active in the afternoons, unlike mosquitoes which are most active at dawn or dusk. Mosquito repellents will also work on chiggers. Yards should be well-groomed, with brush and weeds cleared out to help control chiggers.
There are garden-specific bugs, but those may vary depending on the plant variety. Aphids are bad this year, according to Wallace. Gardeners should check the underside of leaves and use a really strong water spray to knock them off as an organic approach.
Jarvis said they have seen an increase in demand at the co-op for products that use natural insect control, but they have variant methods to help with all pests. One is a fly control spot spray that’s used on outdoor seals of the home to help prevent flies from entering.
To help control snakes and spiders in yards, piled-up leaves and trash should be removed and shaded areas should be cut back.
“Copperheads and water moccasins are in the area,” said Wallace. “Just get away and don’t mess in their areas. Some snakes do a lot of good eating the insects and things we consider pests.”
Learn more about tick bite and mosquito-bourne disease prevention at tahlequah TDP.com.