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Preparing for Flea and Tick Season

        
          

The change in seasons brings sunnier days, baseball games, and spring showers – all of which are welcome after a long, cold winter.  However, a downside to spring is that parasites, such as fleas and ticks, also reappear.  Protecting your dog from preventable disease is an important step in being a responsible dog owner.  Here, preparing for flea and tick season will be discussed.

Flea and Tick Life Cycles

Before we discuss how to prevent and treat flea and tick infestations, it is important to understand the individual life cycles of both these insects.

Flea Life Cycle

Flea life cycle infographic

Fleas have four life stages during their life cycle, which is important because all four stages must be exterminated to rid an animal or home of an infestation.  The cycle begins with flea eggs, which are approximately 0.5 mm long and resemble a grain of white rice.  Fleas lay their eggs in the fur of pets, in carpet/upholstery, and in densely wooded areas.  After the eggs are laid, they hatch within 2 – 5 days.

Once the eggs hatch, the fleas are called larvae, which are 2 – 5 mm long.  Although larvae do not bite your dog, they do feed off the feces of adult fleas.  Therefore, wherever there are flea larvae, there are most certainly adult fleas.

The third life stage is pupae.  This is the final life stage before fleas turn into adult fleas that are capable of laying eggs.  Pupae are larvae that have encased themselves in cocoons.  Once in a cocoon, pupae can live undisturbed for up to 12 months before re-emerging into the environment as adult fleas.

When adult fleas emerge from their cocoons they feed off the blood of mammals in order to produce more eggs.  An adult flea can produce up to 50 eggs per day, thus continuing the cycle indefinitely

Tick Life Cycle

Like fleas, ticks also have four primary life stages and depend on a dog’s blood (or that of another mammal) for survival.

Like fleas, ticks also start as eggs which are generally laid in the spring.  In the summer, these eggs hatch into 6-legged larvae.  During this stage, the larvae begin to seek hosts, such as dogs, deer, or other mammals.

Once the 6-legged larvae have acquired enough nutrients, they transform into 8-legged nymphs.  This transition generally does not happen until the following Spring.  Following this transition, the nymphs will generally find a different host from the one they had as 6-legged larvae.  After Spring and Summer seasons of feeding on the new host, the 8-legged nymphs grow into adults in the Fall.  As adults, ticks must find a third host in order to feed and procreate.

After a full Fall season of feeding on its host, the adult tick is ready to lay new eggs in the Spring.  Many ticks can live for up to 3 years and will lay several thousand eggs a time.  Only in the adult and nymph stages can ticks infect humans with disease, however larvae, pupae, and adult ticks are able to infect canines.

Effects of Fleas and Ticks on Dogs

Most dog owners are well-aware that fleas and ticks can harm their pet’s health.  Discussed here are the effects that flea and ticks have on a dog’s health and well-being.


Effects of Fleas on Dogs

Fleas are a nuisance to dogs because most canines are allergic to compounds found in flea saliva.  This allergic reaction causes excessive itching, scratching, burning, and discomfort.  Dogs that excessively bite and scratch at a flea bite can easily develop an infection called a hot spot, which occurs when bacteria introduces an open sore.

When a dog is covered in fleas, especially as a puppy, anemia is also a concern.  Fleas draw nutrients from a dog’s (or other mammal’s) blood, and excessive flea bites will result in significant blood loss.

Additionally, when dogs use their mouths to bite at fleas, they risk ingesting one.  Fleas carry the tapeworm parasite, and when a flea is introduced to your dog’s digestive tract, the tapeworm is given an opportunity to use your dog as a host.  A tapeworm infection can cause lethargy, anemia, weight loss, and death in dogs.

Effects of Ticks on Dogs

While fleas are highly inconvenient, ticks represent a far greater threat to your pet because the diseases they carry are generally more dangerous to your dog’s health.  When a tick bites a dog (or human) it can spread pathogens into the host’s blood.  These pathogens then infect the mammal with disease.

The most common tick-borne illness is Lyme Disease, which causes fever, joint pain, fatigue, kidney failure, and death.  Other diseases include Canine Anaplasmosis, Rocky Spotted Mountain Fever, Erhlichiosis, Babesiosis, and Canine Heptazoonosis.  In each instance, the central nervous system is affected, and dogs may not show symptoms for weeks, months, or even years after infection.  For this reason, it is important to have your dog tested yearly for tick-borne diseases.

Flea and Tick Seasons

When are fleas and ticks most prevalent?  The answer to this question depends largely on your geographic location.

In general, flea season starts in May and runs through October, or when outdoor temperatures are consistently below freezing.  However, in geographic regions where frost is unlikely, fleas can flourish year-round.  Fleas are most prevalent in the Fall months, after they have spent the entire Spring and Summer laying eggs.

Tick season generally ranges April to September, with the most active periods spanning March to Mid-May and mid-August to November.  However, ticks can be active whenever temperatures are above freezing.  Recent unseasonably warm winters have increased tick activity in much of the United States.

How to Prevent Fleas and Ticks on your Dog

Fortunately, diseases that are spread by fleas and ticks are easy to prevent, and there are a variety of options to fit all budgets and lifestyles.

Flea / Tick Oral Tablet

One type of flea and tick preventative is an oral tablet that can be administered to your dog monthly.  This method circulates a pesticide through the dog’s bloodstream, causing fleas and ticks to die within hours of biting your dog.  In addition, certain brands also contain heartworm preventative and protection against whipworms, roundworms, and hookworms.

This method is effective, low-cost, convenient, and does not require pet owners to handle pesticides.  However, a number of side effects have been reported from the use of oral flea and tick preventative, which include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, skin rash, hives, itching, depression, and lack of appetite.

Flea / Tick Collar

A second option is a flea and tick collar (<– our review of Seresto flea and tick collar).  This method administers slow-release, continuous pesticide that circulates through your dog’s skin for flea and tick prevention.

Flea collars convenient and cost-effective, with top brands offering 8 months of continuous protection for as little as $8 – $10 per month.  Unlike older flea collar styles, modern versions are not sticky and do not emit a chemical-like odor.  This option is great for pet owners that wish to have more control over their dog’s flea and tick prevention (i.e., if the dog is having a reaction to the pesticide the collar can simply be removed).  However, flea collars require a larger up-front cost than monthly preventatives.

Flea / Tick Topical

Advantix vs Front Line Plus

A third preventative option is a topical gel that is applied to your dog’s skin (typically between the shoulder blades) monthly.  With this option, pesticide circulates through your dog’s skin.  Depending on the chemical that is used, fleas, ticks, and sometimes mosquitoes will either die on contact or after having bitten your pet.

There are many advantages to this method.  First, flea and tick spot treatments are inexpensive and can be purchased without a prescription at any pet store.  Second, they are easy to apply to your pet.  Like any method, there are also disadvantages.  For instance, dogs should not be bathed (or go swimming) within 2 – 3 days of application.  Additionally, some dogs are more sensitive to topical treatments than others and may develop reactions such as itching, burning, and discomfort.

There are multiple types of topical flea and tick medications which work differently. Know which type that will work best for you. Here is a comparison between Frontline Plus and K9 Advantix.

Flea / Tick Sprays

A fourth option that is readily found at any pet store is a flea and tick spray.  Here, a solution that contains both natural and chemical flea repellents is sprayed onto your dog for flea protection.

This option is cost-effective but requires multiple treatments.  For instance, the flea spray must be reapplied whenever your dog takes a bath, gets wet, or rolls on the ground excessively.

Flea / Tick Powders

Like flea and tick sprays, flea and tick powders are applied topically to your dog’s fur and skin and provide a barrier that is toxic to insects.

While this option is cost-effective, simple, and convenient, side effects do include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, depression, and loss of appetite.

Natural Flea / Tick Prevention

If you are uncomfortable with the use of pesticides on your dog, or your pet is unable to tolerate them, there are numerous natural flea and tick prevention methods, as well.

Diatomaceous Earth

Diatomaceous earth is a type of organic matter that, while safe for humans and animals, is harmful for insects.  When a flea or other insect makes contact with diatomaceous earth, the microscopically sharp and jagged piece of powder cuts through the flea’s body and has a drying effect on the bug.  Ultimately, DE causes bugs in all life stages to shrivel up an die.  Diatomaceous earth can be sprinkled onto your dog’s fur, on their bedding, and even around the house.  Food grade diatomaceous earth is safe for humans and animals to eat, so there is no worry about this product’s toxicity.

Essential Oils

The use of essential oils for every day problems is becoming more and more popular.  There are numerous mixtures that can be used to ward off fleas in your dog.  For instance, a few drops of lavender, thyme, citronella, cedar, and lemongrass can be combined with a cup of water and added to a spray bottle.  By spraying your dog every other day with this solution, you can keep insects at bay because they dislike the scent of these ingredients.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Similarly, apple cider vinegar has found numerous household uses for pet owners.  Fleas and ticks do not like the acidic environment that apple cider vinegar creates.  Pet owners can combine equal amounts of apple cider vinegar and water in a spray bottle to use as a flea repellent.  For best results, use raw, organic apple cider vinegar that still contains the “mother” in the bottle, such as Bragg’s Organic Apple Cider Vinegar.

How to Prevent Fleas and Ticks in your Yard

One of the best ways to prevent fleas and ticks on your dog is to prevent them from living in your yard.  You can eliminate much of the problem by creating an environment that is inhospitable to these parasites.

First, look for any areas that fleas would thrive, such as dense brush or hedges.  Mow your grass regularly to prevent fleas from congregating in thick grass.  Prune your hedges often, as fleas and ticks both love areas that are shielded from sunlight.

Next, clear wood piles and debris.  Wood piles are the perfect breeding ground for both fleas and ticks as they tend to be cool and damp.  Yard debris and waste are also ideal breeding ground for insects.

Home owners can use pesticides in their yard to treat existing flea or tick problems; however, care should be taken that any treatment used is safe for pets.  A natural way to rid insects from your yard is to use nematodes, which are microscopic worms that feed exclusively on small insects.

What to Do if You Find Fleas / Ticks on your Dog

What should you do if you find that your dog has been infested with fleas or ticks?

Ridding your Dog of Fleas

To rid your dog of fleas, begin with by brushing your dog with a flea comb.  This fine-toothed comb will remove as many fleas as possible from your pet.

Next, give your dog a flea bath.  You can make your own natural bath by washing your dog with Dawn dish soap or purchase a flea shampoo from a pet store.  You should follow the directions precisely as stated on the label and be sure to give your dog as many baths as indicated.  Many flea shampoos (including Dawn dish soap) will only kill adult fleas, not eggs or larvae.  An alternative is to give your dog a flea dip, which contains a more concentrated flea-killing solution and may be idea for particularly bad flea infestations.

Finally, wash everything that has come into contact with your dog (bedding, toys, blankets, etc.) in hot water.

Removing Ticks from your Dog

Dogs should be checked regularly for ticks, especially after spending time in wooded areas.  Use your fingers or a fine toothed comb to search for these insects.  If you find one, use tweezers to apply pressure to the head of the tick and gently – but firmly – pull the tick away from your dog’s body.  While it can take up to 10 minutes for the tick to release itself from your dog, the tick will eventually give up.  Never use open flame or chemical treatments (such as nail polish remover) to remove a tick from your dog, as doing so can easily harm your pet (and is generally ineffective).

How to Treat your House for Fleas

If you find that your dog has been infested with fleas, you must also thoroughly treat your home, as fleas can burrow into carpet and upholstery.  Begin by thoroughly vacuuming all areas of your home and emptying the vacuum bag into the garbage immediately.

Second, treat your entire home with a flea product, especially areas where fleas are known to hide such as upholstery and carpeting.  The most common type of flea product for the home is an upholstery spray, which can be purchased at any pet store.  Multiple treatments may be required to ensure fleas of all life stages are killed.  Use caution when removing fleas from your home, especially if children are present in the household.  Many flea products contain strong pesticides that should be avoided for 24 – 72 hours after application.

If your home is badly infested with fleas, or if you do not have the time and energy to thoroughly clean and disinfect your home, your best option may be to call a terminator.

2018 Flea and Tick Forecast

What is the forecast for 2018?  The presence of fleas and ticks is highly dependent on weather and environment.  In general, southern states experience a greater flea and tick population year-round, while northern states see the highest forecast for fleas and ticks in the early Spring and late Fall.  To find out your specific state’s flea and tick forecast, visit this site and enter your zip code.

Sources

 

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Anna Weber

Anna Weber

As a life-long dog owner and animal lover I have dedicated my adult life to rescuing and fostering dogs, particularly seniors and behaviorally at-risk animals.I believe that nearly every animal can be rehabilitated with love, kindness, training, and proper exercise.
Anna Weber

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  1. Dog Lover says:

    Our yard gets infested so bad every year. The trees in back seem to attracted ticks. My husband has to treat our yard yearly for pests which includes fleas. It helps. Maybe this year we will go after the ticks!

  2. Jill S says:

    Thanks for the reminder, need to ours ordered.

  3. Becky says:

    Thank you for the tips. I’m going to try some of the home remedy flea prevention ideas. The stuff you buy are expensive! Hope they work, if not guess I’ll break down and buy again this year.

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