Nothing wrecks a good night’s sleep more thoroughly than a flea or tick infestation. The mere thought of all those creepy, crawly insects lying in bed with you and your furry pal is enough to make you squirm—or rather, itch. Flea-allergic pets are more sensitive to these athletic insects, and a handful of fleas can turn your poor pet into an itchy, hot mess who chews, licks, and scratches all night long. So, although New York can be downright frigid in the winter, don’t take chances, and ensure you keep your four-legged friend on a flea and tick prevention protocol all year. Let’s take a closer look at these pesky parasites to understand why year-round prevention is critical for your pet’s good health.
Your pet and the fearsome flea
The flea life cycle
Depending on environmental conditions, the flea life cycle can take from a couple of weeks to many months. Weather with temperatures between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit and 70% humidity is ideal for fleas.
- Flea eggs — An adult female flea can lay up to 50 eggs per day on your pet. The eggs, which comprise 50% of your home’s total flea population, then fall onto your floor, furniture, and bedding, where they can take two days to two weeks to hatch into their next stage.
- Flea larvae — Flea eggs hatch into larvae, developing over several weeks by eating pre-digested blood passed by adult fleas, along with other organic debris in the environment. Larvae make up about 35% of your home’s flea population, and spin a cocoon 5 to 15 days after hatching from their eggs.
- Flea pupae — The cocoon protects the pupae for weeks or months until the conditions are right to emerge as an adult, so an entire flea population segment can overwinter in your home. The tough, sticky cocoon makes the pupae stage, which comprises 10% of the flea population, difficult to vacuum out of carpeting or eradicate with pesticides.
- Flea adults — Adult fleas need to feed only a few hours after emerging from their cocoons, and the females cannot lay eggs without a blood meal. Adult fleas make up 5% of the total flea population, and spend the majority of their time living on the host while they feed, breed, and lay eggs. They can live anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months on their chosen host.
Diseases transmitted by fleas
Fleas carry a wide range of pathogens and are known for causing many conditions—does the bubonic plague ring a bell? Here are a few of the more common illnesses caused by fleas.
- Anemia — A flea infestation likely won’t cause anemia in a large, adult pet, but can drain a tiny kitten or puppy. A large enough flea population can cause weakness and lethargy in small or young pets.
- Flea allergic dermatitis — Many pets develop flea allergies, with the classic sign of a hairless hind end. Fleas like to set up shop on the tail base, causing pets to chew their tail, lower back, and hind legs raw.
- Tapeworms — This nasty intestinal parasite can be transmitted to your pet when they ingest a tapeworm-carrying flea off their body, become infected with a tapeworm, and scoot, scratch, or chew at their hind end.
Your pet and the terrible tick
The tick life cycle
Most ticks go through the four life stages of egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. Most tick species prefer a different host animal for each life stage, which may include amphibians, birds, reptiles, and mammals, but some, like the brown dog tick, prefer to stick with the same host throughout their life cycle. Ticks must find a new host to advance to the next stage of their life cycle, and generally take two to three years to complete the four stages.
Diseases transmitted by ticks
Ticks transmit at least 15 serious diseases to pets, and can be found in all 50 states year-round. Here are a few of the most common tick-borne illnesses in our area.
- Lyme disease — An infected tick can transmit Lyme disease to your pet in 24 to 48 hours, leading to a potentially fatal illness that often recurs in times of stress and sickness. Lyme disease signs include fever, shifting leg lameness, lethargy, reduced appetite, and generalized discomfort.
- Ehrlichiosis — Ehrlichiosis is another tick-borne illness that can cause similar signs to Lyme disease in pets. However, various Ehrlichia strains cause different illnesses, which can range from abnormal bleeding to neurologic issues. Ehrlichiosis can also have multiple disease stages.
- Anaplasmosis — Similar to Lyme disease, anaplasmosis causes fever, lameness, lethargy, anorexia, and joint pain. Most infected pets will show signs for a week, but some pets will show no signs.
Are you struggling to choose the best flea and tick preventive that will keep your furry pal safe from bloodsucking parasites? Because fleas and ticks have such long life cycles and transmit serious illnesses, year-round prevention is the best way to keep your pet and your family safe. Contact your HEAL team to discuss the perfect option for protecting your pet from fleas and ticks.