With a hint of spring in the air, it’s almost time to wage war on bloodsucking pests, intent on making a meal out of your beloved pet. Fleas and ticks enjoy warmer weather and are most active during spring, summer, and fall. But, they can easily survive the cold temperatures of winter in a protected environment, like under your couch or within your pet’s fur. These two hardy parasites are skilled at surviving winter’s frigid conditions, only to emerge in the spring, thirsty for a good meal.
Understanding the life cycle
Half the battle in flea and tick prevention is understanding how these enemies reproduce.
Tick life cycle
Ticks go through four stages of life: eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults.
- Adult female ticks typically breed on their host animal (the animal they’re feeding from), and then drop to the ground to lay their thousands of eggs.
- The eggs hatch, becoming six-legged larvae, and begin their quest to find the perfect host. Tick larvae seek their first meal by using plants to raise themselves to a height that allows easy attachment to the next warm-blooded critter that strolls by. To transition to the next life stage, tick larvae must feed on a blood meal.
- After attaching to the host and feeding for several days, tick larvae fall to the ground and molt into the next stage—the nymphal stage. These eight-legged ticks also require a blood meal before advancing to adulthood.
- After feeding, tick nymphs fall to the ground again to molt into the final life stage: adulthood. Adult ticks follow the same pattern as the younger life stages, but rather than molting after a blood meal, they lay eggs.
Depending on the species of tick, the entire life cycle can take from two months to several years to complete. Nymphs are inactive during the winter, but will awaken from slumber when temperatures rise to feed again. After the fall breeding season, male ticks die, while females survive the winter to lay eggs in the spring.
Flea life cycle
Fleas also go through four life stages: eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult. Some fleas achieve adult status within two weeks, while others take as long as two years to become adults.
- Female adult fleas are breeding machines, laying up to 50 eggs per day on their chosen host. Flea eggs fall off the host animal onto the carpet, bedding, furniture, or soil.
- Depending on environmental conditions, flea eggs can hatch—becoming larvae—within two days, while some can take a few weeks to hatch.
- The larval stage relies on abundant food and ideal environmental conditions to grow into the pupal stage, which typically takes between 5 and 18 days.
- Once the pupae are snug in their silken cocoons, they do not emerge until environmental conditions are perfect, with warm temperatures and high humidity. Sometimes the vibrations from a passing animal will cause a flea in this stage to wake from its slumber in as early as 3 to 5 days. Or, it may stay in its cocoon for a year or more, waiting for the right conditions to emerge as an adult flea.
How to prevent flea and tick infestations
Fighting fleas and ticks can be a never-ending battle if you don’t use a three-pronged attack. Although you may treat your dog, your indoor cat, who never ventures outside, may be hosting a flea buffet if you skip prevention for her. Attack these bloodsuckers on all fronts to keep your home parasite-free.
- On your pet — Choose a parasite prevention product designed with your pet in mind. With the variety of preventive products available, we can recommend a medication that will be best for your furry friend. Ensure the prevention is working appropriately by checking your pet for fleas and ticks after returning inside from an outdoor adventure.
- In your home — Vacuum your home thoroughly at least once per week to dispose of any flea eggs that may be lingering in the environment. Be sure to focus on low-traffic areas, such as along baseboards, under cushions, behind furniture, and anywhere your pet likes to hang out. Don’t forget to toss the vacuum bag or bleach the canister to prevent those eggs from hatching.
- In your environment — Keep your grass mowed and bushes trimmed back to dissuade pests from taking up residence.
What’s the best choice in flea and tick prevention for your pet? Give our office a call and we’ll help keep your pet safe this spring.