The sun is starting to set earlier and earlier and the temperature is getting cooler. Some parts of the U.S. have begun to see blankets of snow that seemingly showed up overnight. Our minds have turned to thoughts of fireplaces and mugs of hot cocoa. We see our sleeping pets curled up and content on their bed when, all a sudden, their head pops up and they start to chew on their hip. “It can’t be a flea!” you think, noting the time of year and the chill in the air.
Alas, it is a flea! We’ve taken the time to explain this concept and why year-round flea and tick prevention are crucial for your pet and your family in the blog post below.
Flea Life Cycle
To understand the importance of flea and tick prevention at all times of the year, we need to cover the life cycles.
The 4 stages of the flea life cycle are as follows:
Depending on the environment, the development from egg to adult can take as little as about two weeks to a few months. The ideal temperature for a flea is between 70 to 85 degrees—the temperature of most of our homes. Eggs can survive at lower temperatures but need to be at about 70 degrees for at least 3 days to hatch.
One adult flea can lay hundreds of eggs in its lifetime. Those eggs can lay dormant for months until the temperature is ideal and then the cycle starts all over again.
The flea larva love your home in the winter because it’s nice and warm and dark! They are a little more sensitive to the elements than the eggs, but they can move. They burrow themselves in the carpet and bedding to protect themselves, and this is also where they find their food.
The larva will then turn into the pupa stage, which is the stage right before the adult flea stage. Like a caterpillar that turns into a butterfly, this pupa will be protected by a cocoon. It will have a glue-like substance that will adhere to carpet and bedding. Vacuuming will not remove these buggers either. In fact, many have made the mistake of shampooing their carpets thinking this will do the trick, not realizing they’ve just created a perfect environment for them to hatch. As soon as they hatch they become hungry adult fleas that need to take any meal they can. Once they get a meal, they can immediately lay approximately 40 eggs per day, which is thousands in its life!
Tick Life Cycle
Ticks have a longer lifespan than fleas. Where a flea can live up to 6 months, a tick can live up to 2-3 years.
A tick also has four life stages, which are as follows:
- Larva (6 legs)
- Nymph (8 legs)
A tick will need to take a blood meal from a host at every stage, and they won’t always use the same host or species for this meal. Unlike the flea that prefers dogs and cats, the tick can find other animals, birds, or humans for its meal. A tick can also survive in colder and less ideal temperatures as long as they are on a host. Once a female is engorged, it can lay between 2,000-4,000 eggs. They can have their final feed and mate in the winter, so the female can be dormant in the cold months before laying and hatching the eggs in the spring—right in time for their first feeding. Because their temperature is lower than the flea, they will have a shorter dormancy period. This is why it is so important to catch the tick before it has the chance to lay eggs.
How Can Your-Round Flea and Tick Prevention Help?
Now that you understand these cycles, we can talk about how annual prevention can keep you from having to deal with this disastrous situation. The easiest way to prevent an infestation is to stop the one flea that comes in and take a blood meal and lays those 40 eggs or that adult tick that takes the last meal and lays those thousands of eggs in your carpet.
Sometimes we miss a dose or are told by a friend or family member that we don’t need flea or tick control during the winter. Now the likelihood that you find that one flea is like finding a needle in a haystack and that you catch it before it lays those eggs, the eggs turn into larva, then pupa, and they become adult fleas. It can take 3-6 months to eradicate a flea infestation because of their lifecycle. You don’t want all those thousands of ticks that hatch into larva to come for your pets. These can be prevented by keeping your pets on year-round prevention.
Before you stop any medication, always talk to your veterinarian first, as they can discuss the risks to your pet by stopping flea and tick prevention. If for some reason you are not happy with your current prevention method, your veterinarian can also tell you what other options of preventatives are available. There are a lot of options that are available and your veterinarian will help you choose the right one for you and your pet(s). Be cautious about the pesticides that you use, as some can be extremely toxic to other pets and people.
Other Myths About Flea and Tick Prevention
The idea that fleas and ticks go away in the winter isn’t the only misguided notion about fleas and ticks.
Other myths about flea and tick prevention are:
- A few flea bites aren’t that big of a deal - these can lead to skin infections and, of course, a full-blown infestation
- Fleas and ticks don’t bite people - yes, they do!
- Pets in urban areas don’t need flea prevention - fleas affect people in every type of environment
- A pet that doesn’t scratch assuredly doesn’t have fleas - while scratching is a tell-tale sign, some pets won't scratch but will have flea dirt, bites, and other symptoms
- Cats don’t get ticks or tick bites because of their fastidious grooming - ticks burrow deeply so even diligent cat grooming doesn't often help
We hope that we’ve imparted just how important year-round flea and tick prevention are for having a happy and healthy pet and home environment. If you’ve got any further questions or need to get your pet on preventatives, please give us a call!