Pet pests and their control

Page last updated: Tuesday, 20 February 2018 - 9:56am

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Chickens are affected by so called ‘stickfast’ fleas. These occur in summer and autumn and infest the birds around the comb and eyes.

Magnified stickfast flea photograph
Stickfast flea.

The application of non-burning oils such as petrolium jelly (Vaseline) or neatsfoot oil, smeared on the affected parts, may be used to treat stickfast fleas on chickens. Always consult a qualified veterinarian for specific advice when treating fleas on any avian poultry species.

In chicken pens, a clean concrete floor under roosts will drastically reduce the survival of fleas and other pests.


Ticks are blood-sucking external parasites. Female ticks grow to 25mm long when fully engorged. They are usually reddish-brown and firm, and resemble tough, leathery sacs of fluid. Ticks are not insects but are arachnids, like spiders and mites. In south-western Australia the main ticks affecting pets and people are the kangaroo tick, Amblyomma triguttatum, and the brown dog tick, Rhipicephalus sanguineus. The term pepper tick refers to the smaller, young nymphal ticks.

Detection and life cycle

Ticks are usually visible on the host, where they embed themselves with their barbed mouthparts while feeding. Ticks develop through a series of moults and have four stages of development: egg, larva, nymph and adult. Adults usually mate on the host and will leave the host when fully engorged. The female will then rest for a while prior to laying thousands of eggs before dying. These parasites can survive many months between feeding, at any stage of development.

Upon hatching from the egg, the six-legged larval tick climbs onto foliage at the side of an animal trail or path from where it can transfer to a passing animal or person when they brush against the foliage. They feed on the host for several days before dropping to the ground. The larva digests the blood meal, then moults to an eight-legged nymph and repeats this process to find a host. It will then engorge itself, drop to the ground, then moult into an adult tick.

Ticks are found more commonly on dogs than on cats, especially if dogs exercise in bush areas with prominent wildlife such as kangaroos. The most commonly infested sites are the head, neck and ears; these being less accessible areas for scratching and grooming. On humans they are most often found in areas where clothing is tight on the body such as sock lines and waistbands, as well as around the collar.

Ticks can produce some inflammation of the skin and possible allergic reactions at feeding sites. Heavy infestations on pets and livestock can lead to anaemia, although this is rare. Medically important complications involving ticks include tick-typhus, Q-fever and tick-bite paralysis. However, these conditions do not normally occur in southern WA. If sickness, lethargy or slight paralysis occurs seek immediate medical or veterinary attention.

Tick control and removal

The life cycle of a tick roughly resembles that of fleas. Long term treatments for fleas can also control ticks on your pets and ‘tick collars’ are also available for dogs.

It is not possible to eliminate ticks from natural bush areas. On private property tick infestations can be reduced by keeping grasses short and by pruning shrubs along pathways to avoid direct contact with foliage. Private property can be fenced to prevent access by kangaroos and hence prevent the introduction of ticks onto the property.

If a tick is found attached to you or your pet, suffocate the tick with petroleum jelly (Vaseline). This may make the tick withdraw, mouthparts and all, from the wound before dying. Ideally it is best to use a pair of fine-pointed tweezers and at the skin level (without squeezing the tick’s body), carefully lever out the tick. If some of the tick’s mouthparts break off and remain in the wound they should be removed and the wound disinfected to prevent a secondary infection.

Bush tick

The bush tick, Haemaphysalis longicornis, was first detected in WA in 1983 on cattle at Walpole. Ticks are occasionally now found in Harvey where cattle have been sent from the Walpole area for many years. In most west coast, and inland areas, the bush tick is unlikely to establish as conditions are too hot and dry during summer.

Mites and lice

Mites and lice on dogs and cats are generally not a problem in WA and can be controlled using methods similar to flea elimination.

Mites and lice are common pests of chickens. It is essential to treat the environment, particularly any crevices in the floors and walls of roosts and coops.

Treat with chemical dusts or sprays, following label instructions.

Magnified photograph of tropical fowl mite.
Tropical fowl mite.