Most pet parents are all in when it comes to the health of their furry friends. They know that an important part of pet care is preventing painful, disease-carrying bites with flea, tick and mosquito solutions.

Mosquito season is set to begin in February (once temperatures are steadily above the 50 degrees) in the deep southern U.S. states and work its way north through the spring. Now is the time for pet retailers to prepare for bug season with a well-stocked “Flea, Tick & Mosquito Solution Center.”

Fleas

As wingless insects that feed on blood and can jump up to 2 feet, fleas are the most common external parasite for pets. According to the ASPCA, Ctenocephalides felis is a common North American cat flea that impacts cats and dogs. They can live for a dozen days up to a year and produce millions of offspring.

For cats, constant scratching may be a sign of fleas. To check run a comb through a cat’s fur and look for tiny, moving brown shapes. Other symptoms include flea dirt (small dark granules in fur), flea eggs (white grains), itchy and irritated skin, persistent scratching, chewing and licking, hair loss, tapeworms and pale lip and gums.

For dogs, fleas typically are found on the base of the tail and head. Flea symptoms with dogs include flea dirt, flea eggs, allergic dermatitis (from the saliva of the fleas), excessive scratching, licking or biting skin, hair loss, scabs and hot spots, pale gums and tapeworms.

Fleas can cause anemia or a significant amount of blood loss in a pet, which can be life-threatening for young kittens and puppies. If fleas are suspected, pets should go to a veterinarian for a treatment plan that may include topical or oral treatments, shampoos, sprays and powders. House interiors and exteriors need to be treated if fleas are confirmed.

Ticks

Ticks transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis and often cause symptoms on the skin, including severe itchiness and red/inflamed skin. Pet owners may notice a tick once it has become bloated feeding on a dog. A dog’s reaction to a tick bite may include mild to high fevers, loss of appetite, pain, lethargy and depression. Symptoms may last for days or weeks.

Lyme borreliosis, or Lyme disease, is a bacterium that impacts both humans and animals and is transmitted through tick bites, mainly the deer tick found in grasses, woods and marshy areas. While Lyme is found in people and pet across the U.S., it appears in larger numbers in the southern New England states, eastern Mid-Atlantic states, upper Midwest and West Coast.

Symptoms of Lyme include tiredness, fever, joint pain, swollen lymph glands and loss of appetite. For dogs, symptoms usually appear two to five months after a tick bite. Lameness associated with Lyme disease in dogs may appear suddenly and move mysteriously from one leg to another. This is different than the lameness associated with arthritis, which comes on slowly over a long period of time and consistently impacts the joints or affects the same joint.

Since Lyme is hard to detect, prevention is important. A veterinarian can help pet parents decide if a Lyme disease vaccine is appropriate for a dog. Tick preventive products are available for those pets who venture out of doors. For pets who have Lyme, antibiotics may help.

Mosquitoes
Mosquitoes can transmit heartworm disease and West Nile Virus to dogs and cats. Heartworm is a parasitic worm that travels through the bloodstream and lands in the heart and pulmonary arteries months after initial infection. Heartworm can be fatal, and worms can live inside a dog for up to seven years and can reach up to 12 inches long.

Symptoms include coughing, labored breathing, vomiting, weight loss, fatigue after limited activity. Heartworm is found in every state but Alaska. It is most common on the East Coast, southern states and Mississippi River Valley. A veterinarian can confirm heartworm with imaging and blood work. Treatment includes a series of injections along with activity restriction.

Pets who live mostly inside are less likely to be bitten by mosquitoes and other bugs, but the risk is not eliminated. Many flea and tick products also repel mosquitoes, giving pets additional protection from disease.

Natural Solutions

Natural solutions saw significant growth nationally in 2018. These products contain essential oils and natural extracts, including clove, which kills flea eggs, peppermint oil that repels ticks, and citronella that repels mosquitoes. Natural products can be used as additional protection with traditional products or as the sole protection.

Merchandising Flea, Tick and Mosquito Prevention Products

It’s never too early to prepare your product lines for the upcoming “buggy” outbreaks. Here are tips for retailers on displaying the evolving assortment of flea, tick and mosquito protection products.

• Stock both “veterinarian recommended” products and value alternatives. Veterinarian recommended brands drive customer traffic, grow top-line sales dollars and garner consumer trust. Value alternatives are a lower price point but provide an increased margin for retailers. They attract pet parents to brick-and-mortar stores and introduce them to premium products. Veterinarian recommended and value brands should be displayed together.

• Merchandise in high traffic, visible area. Don’t hide flea and tick products behind a counter or make them hard to find. As a theft deterrent, hang product tags on pegs for customers to bring to your counter for the actual products.

• Spread the word about your product lines. Tell groomers and veterinarians about your flea and tick lines. Social media posts and direct mail can engage consumers. Educate and incentivize your employees.