Fleas and ticks are the two most common external parasites of dogs and cats. Fleas and ticks survive by feeding on the blood of dogs, cats and sometimes people. Flea and tick feeding bites lead to several problems for your pet and for you, including constant itching (pruritis), hair loss (alopecia), hypersensitivity (allergic reaction), and infection and disease transmission.
In order to treat and control flea and tick problems, we must understand the life cycles of these pests.
Flea Life Cycle: The adult flea spends almost all of its life on your dog or cat. The adult lays small eggs which are not sticky and fall off of your dog or cat as soon as they are deposited so they wind up in the places where your dog or cat spends most of it’s time. Eggs generally hatch in about three weeks into larvae. Larvae are geophillic (burrow downward) and photophobic (hate light). This means that they go down, burrow deep into carpet and upholstery or burrow beneath leaves and detritus in the yard. Larvae are the most numerous stage of the flea life cycle but you will probably not see them. Larvae develop into pupae and pupae develop into the adult, which jumps onto your dog, cat or onto you if there is no animal available. And the entire life cycle can occur in three to four weeks. One female flea can lead to 200,000 fleas in as little as 60 days.
Tick Life Cycle: A six-legged tick larvae feeds on the dog or cat for a few days then drops off. At this point, a molt occurs to the eight-legged nymphal stage. The nymph climbs onto the dog or and feeds for about a week at which point it drops off for the second molt into the adult male or female tick. The adult climbs back onto the dog or cat, mates and begins to feed. The adult female feeds for one to three weeks, becomes engorged and drops to the ground (floor) where she lays 2,000 to 4,000 eggs. These eggs hatch into tick larvae, which re-infect your pet. The entire cycle requires two to three months.
In the past, controlling fleas and ticks has been difficult. New products are available which make external parasite control manageable as long as we take into account the life cycles of these pests.
Flea and Tick Control:
Step 1: Treat the pet’s environment. It is very important to kill fleas and ticks where they live when not on your pet. The best way to do this is to hire a professional exterminator. Be sure to explain that you have a flea or tick problem and that you have pets.
Step 2: Kill fleas and ticks that are on your pet. There are several excellent products available for this purpose. Heavy infestations on dogs can be managed with Frontline Spray. Light infestations on dogs and cats may be killed using Frontline Top Spot. Infestations in cats may also be managed with Defend Just-For-Cats Flea & Tick Foam.
Step 3: Prevent re-infection of your pet. This is the area of flea and tick control that has progressed the furthest in recent years. Treatment with Frontline Top Spot kills and repels ticks for one month and kills and repels fleas for up to three months. Frontline Top Spot is simple to apply and can be used on dogs as young as ten weeks of age and cats as young as twelve weeks of age.
Step 4: Interrupt the reproduction cycle of fleas. Program is a once per month treatment for dogs and cats as young as six weeks of age. Program causes fleas to lay sterile eggs.
It is very important to kill fleas and ticks at all of their life stages and to prevent re-infection of your pet. This will maximize the comfort of your pet and minimize cost of treatment and control. When used as directed, flea and tick control products are safe and effective at preventing re-infestation of your pet.
A few myths about fleas and ticks:
Fleas and ticks are only summer time problems. This is not true. While it does get cool enough in Tucson to decrease flea and tick activity, it does not get cold enough to kill them. In addition, fleas and ticks are very happy indoors during the winter months.
Flea collars are all that you need to control fleas and ticks. This is false. Most flea and tick collars do not work well. In addition, allergic reactions to these collars are common.
Feeding your pet garlic will prevent flea and tick infestations. This is not true. Fleas and ticks will bite without regard to diet of the host.
A few fleas or ticks won’t hurt my pet. This is not always true. Severe hypersensitivity (allergic) reactions may develop after a mild infestation. Fleas transmit tapeworms to dogs and cats. Ticks transmit many diseases including canine ehrlichiosis (tick fever).