It's Springtime across North America and, if you are a pet lover, your social media feeds are likely full of stories about how bad the flea and tick season is going to be or how new diseases are showing up with new species of ticks. What's the best way to keep you and your furry friends "pest free" this year?
Let's start with looking quickly at the differences between the life cycles of fleas and ticks. The cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is really about the only species of fleas that will affect our dogs
and cats here in the US and Canada. These fleas jump onto our pets as adults, start taking a blood meal almost immediately, mate within about 8 hours and start laying eggs within 24 hours. Once on your pet, these adults will not willingly jump off their host. The eggs roll off of the pet and land in the environment (the yard, your carpet, the pet's bedding, YOUR BEDDING). Given the right humidity and temperature, the eggs will hatch out in 1-10 days as larva, but let's call them what they are...they are maggots!! These immature forms will hang out in the carpet, etc for another 5-10 days feeding on shed skin cells, flea feces from the adult fleas and other organic debris before spinning a cocoon.
The cocoons can stay dormant (as pupae) for as few as 5 days, but up to 5 months if environmental conditions aren't right. The new adult hatches out very quickly in response to specific stimuli (like movement and vibration) and starts looking for the next host!
This life cycle enables veterinarians and pet owners to use very safe and very effective products that break the life cycle either by killing adult fleas before they can lay eggs or preventing the eggs from hatching. It is important to manage the fleas on the pet as well as in the environment because for every 1 adult flea on precious pooch, there will be close to 100 immature forms (eggs, larvae, pupae) in the environment.
Ticks, however, often use multiple hosts during their life cycle. After hatching from the eggs, the larval ticks (which look just like tiny, tiny versions of the adults, but only have 6 legs instead of 8) start looking for mice, small birds or, in some cases, reptiles to feed from. At this stage, they will often pick up serious pathogens, like the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. After feeding, these baby ticks will now mold and become nymphs and start looking for larger hosts...dogs, cats, squirrels, raccoons, etc. Finally, the nymphs drop off, molt and emerge as fully functioning adult ticks ready to take on your pets, larger wildlife and even us!
As you can probably see, we can't really control the environment where the ticks reside as well as we can with fleas. This can lead to a potential concern from pet owners about the efficacy of tick products. And, with the prevalence of serious diseases growing as ticks spread into new areas of the continent, your pet's health is at risk! For example, according to the Companion Animal Parasite Council, (CAPC) about 1 in every 18 dogs tested so far this year has been exposed to Lyme Disease. You can see the prevalence of tick borne diseases, as well as that of other parasites, by clicking on your state and even your county at CAPC's Interactive Parasite Prevalence Map.
The good news in all of this is that your veterinarian will have a variety of products available to help you kill or control both fleas and ticks. From topical applications that keep the parasites moving and unable to feed to oral products that can last for 1-3 months, your pet's doctor can help you find one that fits your needs and your budget. Talk with your veterinarian about your pet's outdoor activities, but keep in mind that even indoor only pets can still be affected by these nasty bugs!
Finally, be wary of Internet rumors and social media stories that try to shed a negative light on veterinary preventives for fleas and ticks. Every time a new product arrives to help pets, people seem hell-bent on finding issues with it. Stories about Merck's flea and tick preventive, Bravecto, are currently filling Facebook feeds. Unfortunately, these stories assume that the medication is the issue based solely on the closeness in time from giving the medication to the pet's illness. It must be pointed out that "correlation does not equal causation", or, in plain terms, "just because this happened does not mean that occurred". An analogy would be if you gave your pet a new dog a new food and, after eating, he ran in the street and was hit by a car, saying that the pet food caused the accident is not valid.
I say this a LOT, but it's true...talk to your veterinary professional about these types of topics. Don't rely on Internet gossip and social media mis-information. To put it more bluntly, don't buy into the FAKE PET NEWS that permeates our social media feeds!!
What's your choice of parasite prevention and what else are you doing to keep your pets safe?