The tick and flea life cycle: how to rid your home and pets of parasites permanently

A Brussels Griffon receivin a tick and flea treat: medication is only part of breaking the tick and flea life cycle
Breaking the tick and flea life cycle is a vital part of pet care

Did you know that being a responsible pet parent means not breaking the entire tick and flea life cycle? Most cat and dog owners use occasional tick and flea treatments, such as chews, collars, spot-on drops, sprays, or even ultrasonic tick repellent devices.

However, if ticks or fleas have gotten into your house, not only your pets are at risk when the treatments wear off. You and your family are also vulnerable to the diseases they carry. The answer to dealing with these nasty parasites is to take care of the problem holistically. You also have to deal with the ticks and fleas that might not actually be on your pet...yet.

Tick and flea lifecycle: How do ticks and fleas get on your pet in the first place?

The most common way for ticks and fleas to get on your dog or cat is through contact with the great outdoors or the tick's natural habitat. Out on a walk, where there might be long grass or bushy shrubs, ticks employ an ambush technique called questing.

They climb to the top of the grass and wait for an animal to brush by, then they simply transfer to the animal. After that, they crawl into the fur, find a nice dark crevice, and literally glue themselves on.

For a pet to get fleas, they need to come into contact with an animal that is already flea-infested. Or, they need to pass an area that those fleas have transferred to, such as that animal's sleeping spot. This could be anything from a bird's nest to a raccoon or a passing stray cat. Therefore, even the cleanest house is still vulnerable to both ticks and fleas.

But it's not only contact with the outdoors that brings your pet into contact with parasites. Even if you only have an indoor cat, you may still be at risk. The brown house tick can creep through cracks and crevices in the house or floor, as can fleas. Rodents can find their way indoors, bringing fleas with them, and wildlife like raccoons, opossums, or even deer can bring them into your yard.

In fact, they can attach to your own footwear without you noticing, and you could be the one to bring them inside.

Ticks can attach to humans are well as pets, so checking yourself when you’ve been in the outdoors is vital to breaking the tick and flea lifecycle
Ticks can attach to humans are well as pets, so checking yourself when you’ve been in the outdoors is vital to breaking the tick and flea lifecycle

What happens when ticks and fleas get into your home?

Most pet parents are aware of the diseases ticks and fleas cause, so they take care to treat their pets with medications to limit the danger. But while this can kill the parasites on your dog or cat, it doesn't kill those already in your home. And that's where the danger is. There are plenty of places ticks and fleas could be hiding.

Eggs, larva, pupa, and adults can all survive within the house. In some cases, such as the adult tick, an air-conditioned house might dry them out within eight hours. However, they will still enjoy sheds, dogs houses, or other areas that might not be air-conditioned. In other cases, infestations can last for months, hiding in invisible crevices.

Fleas love warmth and humidity. They could hide in dog beds, under cushions, in carpets, floor cracks, or bedding in the summer months. They may even be in a piece of second-hand furniture you unwittingly bought into your house from a yard sale.

In the house, ticks are primarily found in areas where dogs rest. But they can also climb through crevices or cracks in the floorboard like fleas.

Problems ticks and fleas can cause in your home

a cat receiving a topical tick and flea treatments is only the first step to breaking the tick and flea life cycle
Topical treatment is only one step to breaking the tick and flea life cycle.

Fleas are not just an annoyance. They can cause genuine suffering and health problems. These include:

  • In some areas of the world, fleas on rats still carry the bubonic plague, a deadly pathogen for humans.
  • They can carry typhus, also dangerous for humans.
  • They can transmit "cat scratch disease" (Bartellonosis) between cats and from cats to humans.
  • They can carry tapeworm and heartworm. The tapeworm is also transmissible to humans.
  • Fleas allergy dermatitis.
  • Anemia.

Unfortunately, if anything, the tick is even more dangerous than the flea. Some common tick-borne diseases include:

  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever,
  • Biliary
  • Lyme Disease
  • Tick Paralysis
  • Irritation from infested ears
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Q Fever
  • Damage caused to the skin by ticks can also lead to secondary infections such as screwworm infestations or bacterial infections.

In short, these parasites are not merely a nuisance; they're a deadly and often overlooked public health issue.

So how do we protect our pets and ourselves against them? The first step is to know something about the tick and flea life cycle.

The tick and flea life cycle: How long does it take?

When it comes to fleas, they have four major life stages: eggs, larvae, pupae, and adults. The flea life cycle looks something like this:

Flea eggs, larvae, and cocoons can survive in your home long after you treated your pets.
A flea larva like this can cocoon and survive in your home for months
  1. An adult female has a full-blood meal from her host. It needs blood to reproduce. It then lays eggs in the host's fur, which will fall off in the host's environment.
  2. Eggs can take between two days and two weeks to hatch. The drier and colder the air is, the longer they will take to hatch.
  3. Flea larvae stay in dark areas and live off the pre-digested blood the adults produce and any other organic material they can find. If the conditions allow, they will spin cocoons between five and twenty days after hatching.
  4. After cocooning, they enter the pupae phase. About 10% of the flea population in a home are pupae. The cocoon will protect them for a few days, up until a few weeks, until the conditions are right for an adult flea to emerge. If conditions aren't right, the flea can stay in the cocoon for months, and sometimes even years.
  5. The cocoon's sticky coating will keep it lodged in the carpet or wherever it is hiding. The adult flea will emerge as soon as it senses a host through vibrations, carbon dioxide, and body heat.
  6. Adult fleas only make up about 5% of the flea population in the house. They will feed on their host and lay eggs for a few weeks, although some can stay alive for months.

The Tick lifecycle:

Technically ticks are not insects; they are arachnids like spiders. Most tick species go through four life stages, the egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. Some species can take between two and three years to complete all four life stages.

While some species prefer to only feed on one type of host, such as the brown dog tick, others will feed on different hosts depending on their stage. Some will feed on small reptiles and amphibians after they hatch, move onto small wildlife as larvae. Finally, they graduate to bigger wildlife and domestic animals when they become nymphs and adults.

Unlike fleas, ticks rarely infest homes as the conditions are not ideal for them. Typically, they are brought into the home from the outside. However, they have been known to climb through floorboards or crevices and are still a risk no matter how they get into your home.

The tick and flea life cycle: hosts versus homes

So while your dog or cat is essential for the tick and fleas lifecycle, most of them are not actually on your pet. Most are likely already in your home. Even the cleanest home can have flea cocoons buried deep in the carpet or be carried in by pests like rats. And some species can stay there, dormant, for months or even years.

Likewise, ticks don't need to be out in the wild. In fact, about 75% of Lyme disease cases come from bites in the backyard. A passing raccoon can easily drop a few nymphs. They could be in your shrubbery or drop from birds and squirrels. While homes are not the ideal environment for ticks to stay long-term, it's easy for them to be brought inside. It doesn't even have to be on animals, as they love to cling to socks and shoes.

So while treating our dogs and cats with medications to keep them safe from ticks and fleas is essential, a vital part of pet care is breaking the life cycle within our homes.

Breaking the tick and flea lifecycle: What is needed to rid your pet from ticks and fleas for good

How you break the tick and flea lifecycle for good can depend on various factors. Firstly, some tick and flea collars are a bit too toxic, so it's best to speak to one of our vets about the best choice for your pet.

There is a wide range of chewable like Nexguard and Bravecto on the market. These are reliable and extremely effective. But there are also plenty of tablets, collars, and topical applications available.

Speaking to a vet can help you decide what would work best for your pet. Factors to consider include:

  • Age
  • Coat type
  • Health history
  • Your pet's lifestyle
  • And where you live.

What else you can do to prevent tick and fleas

In general, you can start the process by combing through your pet's hair to look for fleas, eggs, or flea dirt. A special flea comb can help you with this. However, if you are looking for ticks, it's best to run your fingers over their skin, feeling for bumps.

Pay special attention to the neck, ears, and the area between their toes. If you find a tick, make sure you use a special tick remover to avoid leaving the head behind.

A good wash with a flea and tick shampoo can help eliminate any parasites you may have missed. After that, you can apply whatever treatment a vet has helped you decide would work best for you. This is the most effective means of breaking the entire tick and flea lifecycle.

Consistently using tick repellents on your pets and on yourself is essential to prevent them from climbing onto in the first place and hitching a ride into your house. Remember, ticks climb from the bottom up, so protecting your legs and feet is vital. The standard tick repellents include permethrin, DEET, and picaridin. There is a possibility that in 2022 a new repellent product, Nootkatone, might be a game-changer, so keep an eye out.

It's also important to keep in mind that not every treatment lasts for the same time frame. Topical treatments like Frontline can last for about a month. In contrast, a collar like Seresto can last for eight months, provided it is correctly fitted. Chewables like Nexguard need to be given monthly, while Bravecto can last for three months. Some treatments also work to repel other parasites like mosquitoes and gnats.

Tick and flea lifecycle: repelling and killing work together

Finally, it's important to note the difference between repelling and killing. Chews tend to kill the tick or flea only once they have bitten the dog. They are a very reliable way to prevent disease, but it does mean live ticks can still climb into your dog's fur on a hike and be carried into the house.

Whatever strategy you use to keep ticks and fleas off your dog, you must use a preventative treatment throughout the year, every year. To keep your pet protected from parasites and disease, you need to consistently break the tick and flea lifecycle.

On the other hand, safe repellant sprays on your pets may keep ticks from latching onto the fur. A product like a Seresto collar can be helpful here as it kills on contact and does not need a bite.

Still, the collar needs to be checked often because a lousy fit can make it ineffective. This makes it harder for a live tick to get into the fur and potentially fall off in the house while still alive.

What else you can do in the home to break the tick and flea life cycle

Wildlife like this cute raccoon can be attracted by garbage cans and bring ticks and fleas into your yard
Wildlife like this cute raccoon can be attracted by garbage cans and bring ticks and fleas into your yard

In addition to protecting your pet, you also need to rid your house of an infestation and make sure you keep parasites out. It's not just about protecting your animals, but also you and your family. Luckily there are several steps you can take:

  1. Wash your pet's bedding regularly can add tick and flea shampoo to the water.
  2. Comb your pup's coat after a walk and before you go inside to check for any ticks that may have hitched a ride.
  3. If you live in an area where ticks are common, apply an insect repellant to your legs, socks, shoes, and pants. Also, check these areas before you walk into the house and potentially bring a tick with you.
  4. Keep your lawn and shrubs trimmed in your yard since this is where ticks love to hide.
  5. If you have a wooded area nearby, make a 3 ft barrier with wood chips or gravel to keep ticks from traveling into your yard.
  6. Clear grass, brush, and tree branches from the edge of your house.
  7. Remove anything that could encourage vermin like raccoons or rats from entering your yard, such as accessible garbage cans, and put up fences.
  8. Make sure your house is free of mice and rats.
  9. Use a strong vacuum or steam cleaner to clean carpets and furniture. Throw a tick and flea collar inside the vacuum bag to kill any fleas you hoover up and dispose of the bag after vacuuming. Vacuum and steam clean at least once a week.
  10. Use a powder like diatomaceous earth (DE) to sprinkle over any tricky areas, like cracks in the wooden floor, under furniture, baseboards, in attics and garages, and anywhere else the critters could be hiding, like under cushions. Use food-grade DE, which is safe for children and pets, but don't inhale it when sprinkling.

The role of medication and why treatment is needed to break the tick and flea life cycle

Keeping ticks and fleas off our pets is a year-long struggle.

Frequently, pet parents believe that it is not necessary to maintain treatment over the winter months. However, winters everywhere are no longer as cold as they used to be, and many ticks thrive in winter. Similarly, our pet may not have fleas now, but a chance encounter with a squirrel could mean that they have fleas tomorrow.

The problem is, even treatments that last a whole month can often lead to failure. It's easier to forget to renew your treatment in time every month before it wears off.

In some cases, monthly tick and flea treatments are necessary. For instance, a large breed puppy can outgrow the prescribed weight range for treatment in a single month. But for adult pets, it's best to have a reliable antidote that lasts as long as possible.

Studies show that the longer the treatment lasts, the more likely the owner will make sure their pet is protected year-round.

Keeping fleas and ticks away in the future

Once you have gotten rid of a tick or flea infestation, it is critical to stay vigilant. If you live in a rural area or near any kind of parkland or farmland, you will have to work much harder than in the middle of the city.

Even suburban areas that have been built on previously wild places can be very prone to ticks as smaller woodland creatures may still abound. This means always treating your pets for parasites, keeping your yards trimmed and clear of debris, and keeping out any wild or feral animals.

Always be sure to check your dog's coat after walks and check your cat regularly if they go outdoors.

In areas where ticks are particularly prolific, making sure to use insect repellant on your clothes and legs may have to become a part of daily life. Likewise, making sure to vacuum heavily, regularly clean your pet's bed, and the occasional sprinkle of DE can help you avoid infestations in the future.

Breaking the tick and flea life Cycle | In summary

Tick and flea prevention is an essential part of pet care and health. However, it's about far more than just providing regular treatments; breaking the tick and flea life cycle is also vital. To do this, you need to make sure your pets are not providing a comfortable home for them, which means extended treatment and precautions.

Simply giving a single treatment or topical application is unlikely to change anything. Treating your pets for fleas and ticks will require medications for your pets for an extended period to break the cycle. Suppose your pets are regularly exposed to fleas or ticks. In that case, you should consider year-round protection to prevent fleas from getting into your home.

Remember, they need the pet for transport. And suppose they have made it into your home already. In that case, extended treatment of at least 6 months is essential to break the long-lasting flea & tick cycle. In reality, ticks and fleas are a year-long battle, and we must always be vigilant.

And if they make it into the home, doing what you can to make your home inhospitable is helpful. That can include heavy vacuuming or steam cleaning carpets and furniture and frequently washing pet bedding with tick and flea shampoo to remove eggs and larvae.

Pay special attention to cracks and hidden spaces, and good tick and flea spray can also be used in the home to control the problem. Make sure to keep wildlife and pets off your property and remove anything that could lure them in.