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As backyard chickens grow in popularity, pests hitch ride to take a bite out of dogs and cats

FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2012 file photo, Reno, owned by Karen Forester of Gardnerville, Nev., reacts to snake-avoidance training at Davis Creek Park in Washoe Valley, Nev. Dog trainers using electronic dog collars teach the dogs to avoid snakes based on sight, sound and smell of the rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are on the list of creatures, parasites, venomous insects and other bothersome pests that take big bites out of dogs and cats every summer, veterinarians said. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cathleen Allison, File)

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FILE - In this Aug. 18, 2012 file photo, Reno, owned by Karen Forester of Gardnerville, Nev., reacts to snake-avoidance training at Davis Creek Park in Washoe Valley, Nev. Dog trainers using electronic dog collars teach the dogs to avoid snakes based on sight, sound and smell of the rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are on the list of creatures, parasites, venomous insects and other bothersome pests that take big bites out of dogs and cats every summer, veterinarians said. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, Cathleen Allison, File)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - The popular push for locally produced food has spawned flocks of backyard chickens in urban neighbourhoods nationwide, but people may not realize that feasting on fresh eggs can mean subjecting their more typical household pets to pain from a new pest that hitches a ride on hens.

The poultry flea has been added to a list of parasites, venomous insects and other bothersome pests that take a bite out of dogs and cats every summer, veterinarians said. These bloodsucking pests are different from the most common fleas in the U.S. because they embed their tiny bodies into an animal's flesh. Poultry fleas aren't known to transmit disease but can cause infection when they sink into skin.

"You see them on pets that are around environments with chickens, which are becoming more common now that so many people have backyard flocks," said Dr. Julie Meadows from the Community Practice Service at University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Meadows helped The Associated Press compile a list of other summertime pet enemies and how to combat the creepy crawlers:

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TRADITIONAL FLEAS

These bloodsuckers will spend their lifetime — a couple of weeks to nearly two years — feeding off your furry friends and making them itch. The insects also lay their young on the animal, unlike poultry fleas. They become a medical problem instead of a nuisance when a pooch is allergic to flea saliva.

Some products will kill the adult fleas, and insect growth regulators or birth control products will kill larvae, interrupting the flea life cycle.

Cats don't have too much trouble with fleas unless they are allergic. If so, cats will develop tiny scabs all over their bodies, lose coat density and sometimes develop sores.

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TICKS

Four or five species of ticks hop on dogs from bushes and long grasses where people go backpacking, camping and hiking.

Ticks spread diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease, some of which can be life-threatening and some that can be passed to humans.

Tick products are often combined with flea products, including topical and oral products, making ticks easier to kill.

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FLIES

Flies are a problem for horses and for dogs with ears that stand straight up, like German shepherds and chows. Flies will swarm the top of the ear, where a hard black crust will form that can break open and bleed. Ointments can treat the wounds.

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MOSQUITOES

The typical itchy bites can be dangerous because mosquitoes can transfer heartworm larvae from an infected dog to a healthy pet. The larvae can grow into worms up to 12 inches long in a dog's blood vessels and lungs. An arsenic treatment can save the dog if the condition is caught early enough.

Many vets recommend monthly heartworm medicine for all dogs and cats, as well as monthly checks for parasites that can latch on to people.

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SPIDERS

Black widow, brown recluse and other poisonous spiders live in dark, cool corners of garages or sheds that dogs and cats might crawl through. You probably won't see the bite, but the pet will start feeling the effects quickly, so it's important to get to a vet as soon as possible.

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SNAKES

Forget the popular myth about sucking the venom out of a rattlesnake bite — just head for a vet.

The venom alters blood clotting, blood pressure and kidney function, and without medical help, organs will fail one by one.

There is anti-venom but it is in short supply and very expensive. A dog's survival depends on the age of the snake, where the dog was bitten and the size and health of the dog.

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Online:

— www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/index.cfm

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