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Furry, four-legged family members depend on their humans for proper care. Making sure they are safe from pests and parasites is important for overall pet health. (Photo by Todd Johnson, OSU Agricultural Communications Services)

Pest control vital for overall pet health

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Media Contact: Trisha Gedon | Communications Specialist | 405-744-3625 | trisha.gedon@okstate.edu

There’s more to caring for a pet than choosing the right food. Protecting pets from fleas, ticks and other parasites is vital to good health.

The first thing pet owners need to do when deciding on a pest control regimen is to contact their veterinarian, said Dr. Rosslyn Biggs, Oklahoma State University Extension veterinarian and director of continuing education for the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Choosing a plan of action depends on several things, including the pet’s age, how they’re housed, the risk of exposure or if the animal has existing medical conditions. These factors will help determine which products are going to be the most effective,” Biggs said. “Pet owners may discover that indoor pets will have different recommendations than outdoor only pets.”

There are a variety of pest-control products available. Collars, sprays, edible products and topical options are readily available. Choose a product that provides the most coverage. Parasites, including fleas and ticks, can develop resistance to some products, so visit with your veterinarian to get the latest update on these products.

Biggs said it’s important for pet owners to read and follow the directions of any product purchased for pest control.

“Some products are made specifically for dogs, which can be toxic for cats. It’s vital to use the right product for its intended use. Also, be sure to keep the packaging,” she said. “If your pet has a reaction, contact your veterinarian immediately and have the packaging handy. Contacting the manufacturer may also be needed. While reactions to pest treatments do happen, it’s a small percentage. Make sure the pet’s reactions are noted in their medical records.”

While people tend to think of pests being outdoors nuisances, homes can become infested with fleas, too. Biggs said the environmental conditions also must be treated.

“Pest control is a whole approach, including both the animal and the home. Again, a consultation with your veterinarian can get you started in the right direction for controlling fleas in the home,” she said. “Having fleas in the home isn’t a matter of living circumstances or cleanliness. Flea infestations can happen in any home.”

Breaking the life cycle of the flea is crucial. If the issue is extreme, pet owners may need to consult an exterminator. If the pet has a shelter outdoors, be sure to treat that area, as well.

Heartworm, which is carried by mosquitoes, is another serious health issue for dogs and cats. It can result in lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage and even death in pets. Oklahoma is right in the middle of heartworm country and regular preventative testing and treatment is a must.

Biggs said pet owners also must be aware of internal parasites such as gastrointestinal worms. Fortunately, most heartworm preventative treatments also address this issue.

“Something else to consider is tapeworm. Ingestion of fleas is the most common cause of tapeworm,” she said. “You’ll often be able to see the actual worms on the area around the base of the tail and in fecal matter. Consider having a fecal exam done to check for internal parasites, and in particular, parasite eggs.”

There are other methods pet owners can take to protect their pets. David Hillock, OSU Extension consumer horticulturist, said try to make your landscape unattractive to pests.

“It’s important to keep your landscape tidy. Keep weeds pulled on your property. Also, mow the grass regularly,” Hillock said. “This removes habitat and breeding ground for pests. Saucers under potted plants, children’s toys and other items that collect water are places where mosquitoes breed. Make sure to dump water out of these types of collection points on a regular basis.”

While homeowners can’t completely eliminate pests from the landscape, general upkeep is important to help reduce the threat.

OSU Extension offers more information on flea control at https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/flea-control.html.

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