Pets and Pests

by Sue Averill with Dawn Burke, DVM

There are many tiny critters that would like to use your dog as a food source, home, mode of transportation, or all of these together. Some are mild irritants, and some can be life threatening. Flying insects are seasonal pests here in the Northeast. Fleas and ticks are also seasonal here, but their activity can be extended to almost the entire year due to mild winters or in the case of fleas, a breeding colony within the home.


Fleas and ticks are very detrimental to your dog’s health. They are also zoonotic pests, which means that they will also feed on humans. Ticks can transmit other diseases to people and pets. Ingested fleas can transmit tapeworms, which can cause anemia and weight loss. Fleas must be controlled via a three pronged attack. All the household pets must be treated, the house itself must be treated and if possible, the yard should also be treated. Fleas feed on animal (or human) hosts but live in the environment. If you use flea control products on the pets only, it might be barely effective, depending on the environmental infestation. If the pets and the house are treated, but the yard is infested, the pets will simply pick up fleas and bring them into the house every time they make a trip into the yard.

Some sure signs of flea infestation are scratching and chewing, on the tummy, along the back and near the base of the tail. This sometimes results in a thin coat on the back and hind quarters. The skin may be flaky, or red raw and inflamed. ‘Flea dirt’ is evidence of fleas actively feeding on the dog. Flea dirt is flea feces, which look like large, dark grains of sand. Dogs that are allergic to fleas may show no obvious signs of fleas except maddening itching. This is because a single bite can cause an allergic reaction. Other dogs can show little signs of discomfort with a high load of fleas.

There are many types of flea products on the market today. It is important to discuss the best type of product for your pet and home, which products can be used in conjunction with each other, and what signs to look for in the case of allergic reaction or toxicity. Read label and follow directions. Severe reactions can occur if products are inappropriately used. Always discuss the used of any chemicals on older or sick dogs.

There are products available as topical applications, such as Advantage, Frontline, Advantix, Revolution and Promeris. Oral treatments include Sentinal, Capstar and Program. Powders, dips, sprays and collars are all still available but have a much more limited effect on long coated breeds such as Goldens. Most wash off or cease being effective after swimming. Treating the house can be done with ‘flea ‘bombs’ or sprays available through your vet or over the counter. Premise sprays are available for the yards. It can not be stated strongly enough to read and follow label direction. We strongly recommend that you discuss all your flea eradication plans with your vet before you implement them. A heavy infestation may require a trained pesticide applicator to spray the home and yard.


Ticks are most active in the spring and fall with a slight lull in the height of summer. They sit on the tips of shrubs and tall grasses and wait for an animal to brush by. They grab on and work their way down to the skin where they latch on and begin feeding. Unlike fleas, ticks don’t usually cause itching discomfort so the only way to know if your dog has ticks is to go searching for them.

Ticks in the Northeast can transmit Lyme, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis. All these diseases can be deadly to your dog. No tick preventative is fool proof. Keeping your dog healthy is part prevention and part proactive care. Once again powders, dips and collars are not very effective on long coated dogs that like to swim. Spot on treatments such as Frontline and Advantix work well to eventually kill ticks but there is an important factor to remember. Once a tick has attached to a dog which has a spot on treatment applied, it takes 24-48 hrs for a tick to be killed. This is about the same amount of time it take for the tick to transmit disease. They do not rule out the dog being infected during a tick bite. Owners still need to look for and remove any attached ticks. There are several tools on the market to aid in the removal of ticks. If you remove a tick with your bare hand, make sure to wash thoroughly.


Yellow Jackets, Bees and Wasps are usually painful but temporary unpleasantries for pets. They can become life threatening however, if the pet is stung in the mouth and swelling closes off the air way. Multiple stings can also be deadly, especially if the pet is elderly, very young or has a current health issue.

Bumble bees and Honey bees are active throughout the flowering season, but generally are relatively docile. Dogs usually encounter them by when they investigate the noise they produce. Honey bees sting once and then die. Bumble bees (furry striped butt) and Carpenter bees (shiny butts) can sting a number of times but the venom is relatively mild, and they are not usually defensive or territorial outside the hive. (Bees are needed for pollination, so if you or your pet is stung, no revenge killings, please!)

Yellow Jackets (a type of ground dwelling wasp) are a social wasp and as such, tend to be very territorial. They are most aggressive in the late fall when their food sources (insects and nectar) begin to diminish. They are attracted to sugar and meat and are commonly seen around trash cans in the summer. This also means that they are attracted to sweet smelling hair products, perfumes and anything sweet that you may be holding! Surprise encounters by a person or pet accidentally stepping on the nest can be dangerous. Hives can average about 2000 workers and they can sting a number of times. As they sting they release an ‘alarm pheromone” that call others to defense. They will pursue an ‘attacker’ from the nest following the pheromones of the Yellow Jackets attached to the victim.

Paper Wasps are also social wasps and are territorial and more aggressive in the fall. They can also sting a number of times, but the colony size is usually small, a few dozen to a hundred. Their nests are above ground, and usually more visible. They nest in areas that get the maximum amount of sun exposure.

Ask your vet for an at home protocol for dealing with stings. This is especially important for owners of dogs (or cats) who like to snap at flies. Over the counter antihistamines are helpful, but if your dog has had a severe reaction to stings in the past, he may prescribe an emergency does of steroids. Multiple stings or facial stings should warrant a call, if not a trip to your vet.


Mosquitoes, black flies and deer flies can be a constant source of irritation, but only mosquitoes are dangerous since they transmit heartworm. Dogs should be on a heartworm protocol as long as mosquitoes are active.

Black flies are normally only a nuisance from mid May to July. They feed during the day and are strongly attracted to carbon dioxide and dark color. It’s not uncommon to see a swarm of black flies on a reddish coated Golden and very few on a blonde Golden standing right next to it. They seek bare skin on which to feed so their bites are usually concentrated around the face and tummy. While the bite marks can be very alarming, multiple dime sized, itchy dark red spots, they usually fade in a few days.

Deer flies and Horse flies actively feed on people and animals throughout the summer. They are attracted to carbon dioxide, motion and dark colors. They are also attracted to shiny surfaces which may be why they’re attracted to water activity. They have serrated mouthparts and deliver a painful bite. Their saliva is also quite irritating and can cause an allergic reaction. Occasionally the deer fly bite can be mistaken for a bee or wasp sting if the pet has a severe reaction. The bites tend to fade in a couple of days.

Always monitor any bite or sting your pet receives. There can be a risk of secondary bacterial infection if the dog is a persistent scratcher.