Ticks and Fleas, A Perennial Problem
Although the old saying states that death and taxes are the only reliable constants, many homeowners in Texas would challenge the statement and add insects to the list. Homeowners in our area face a number of challenges in establishing a peaceful coexistence with the inhabitants of the insect world. Two of the biggest challenges, especially for pet owners, are fleas and ticks. Fortunately, pet owners have some new tools in their arsenal to make things easier in the home and on the pets.
The best strategy for tick and flea control is an integrated pest management (IPM) program that involves treatment and management of both animals and their surroundings. A good IPM program will use all the tools available to control the problem while being easy on the environment. One of the important steps in a IPM program is understanding the pest biology. Ticks have four developmental stages: egg, six-legged larva, one or more eight-legged nymphs and adult. Hard ticks usually mate on the host animal. The female then drops to the ground and deposits from 3000 to 6000 eggs which hatch into larvae or "seed ticks." Larvae climb nearby vegetation where they collect in large numbers while waiting for small rodents or other vertebrates (your pet) to pass within reach. After a blood meal on the host, the engorged larvae drop to the ground, molt (shed their skins) and emerge as nymphs. Like larvae, the nymphs await the passage of a host, engorge themselves with blood, drop to the ground, molt and become adults. Adults start the process again. The entire life cycle can require from as little as two months to more than two years, depending on the species of tick.
The flea also has four developmental stages: egg, larvae, pupae and adult. The egg is whitish, about 1/32 of an inch long. They are laid on the host (your pet) and the egg falls off the host, usually where your pet prefers to rest. The egg will hatch in two to three days. The eggs hatch into the larval stage. Larvae feed mainly on undigested blood voided by the adults. Remember the eggs have fallen off the pet, so most of the eggs and larvae will be found where the pet prefers to rest, like your couch. Larvae pass from the larval stage to the pupal stage. The pupae is found within a silken cocoon which is usually covered with sand, dust and other organic debris. Because of this covering, this stage is highly resistant to any type of chemical treatment. Adult will emerge from the pupal case in 7 to 14 days under favorable conditions. However, without a food source, the flea may remain in the pupal stage up to six weeks. Depending on temperature and humidity, the entire life cycle can be completed in three to four weeks. The house provides ideal conditions for flea development, however outdoors is a different matter. In dry weather, fleas can only survive in cool, damp areas. This is where treatment should be concentrated.
Because of the ideal conditions around the home, fleas and ticks are a perennial problem. Both fleas and ticks have more than enough protection around the home to survive the winter and our long growing season gives them plenty to opportunity to increase in numbers. Because of the long season, pet owners must realize that flea and tick control in our area is a year round business. If pet owners take care of business early in the season, fleas and ticks can be kept to a minimum.
Flea and tick control must include treatment of both the pet and the home, inside and out. Pet owners are somewhat limited in available products to control ticks outside the home. Products such as carbaryl (Sevin ) and the pyrethroids are all effective when applied properly. Remember that all these products are nerve poisons and can affect both the pet and owner so the label instructions must be followed. Tick control outdoors for people who want to limit chemical use is extremely difficult because no product provides good residual control. In this case, the pyrethrums or citrus oil extracts (d-limonene or linalool) offer the best control and this will be limited.
Flea control can be achieved by with perseverance. Dedicated vacuuming of a pet's environment and pet bedding can remove flea eggs, larvae and pupae. Flea traps and flea combs can reduce populations without the use of pesticides. However, there are times when use of a pesticide is necessary, especially when populations reach high levels. As in tick control, the best results with flea control occur when the pet and the house, inside and out, are treated at the same time.
For treating of the pets, owners have relatively new choices. Veterinarians now have new flea and tick control products for pets that are simple to use and that work really well. Some of the new pet products sold by veterinarians can be taken as a pill. Always consult your veterinarian for latest information on treating your pets for fleas and ticks.
Outdoor treatments should be concentrated where pets spend the most time. Areas such as patios, porches and under bushes will require treatment. However, there is no need to spray the whole yard because fleas and ticks will be concentrated where the pet likes to spend time. Products mentioned for ticks do a good job on fleas.
Pet owners must be very careful if they attempt indoor control. The first step is vacuum and dust thoroughly, including floors, cushions, curtains and under furniture and other areas where the pet spends a lot of time. Thorough vacuuming with a good beater-type vacuum can remove 15-30% of larvae and 30-60% of flea eggs from carpeting. The vacuum bag contents should be disposed after use because the larvae and pupae can continue to develop inside the bag. Before any insect control with chemicals is attempted, pet owners should read and understand all label instructions and restrictions.
Good flea and tick control is now possible with some of the newer products. Follow-up is also important for flea control. The flea pupa is normally well protected from the effects of pesticide sprays and is very difficult to control with insecticides. Fleas in the pupal stage usually survive the insecticide application and survive to emerge 7 to 14 days later. One or more follow-up treatments with a pyrethrum, citrus oil-based product or a standard insecticide is usually needed 5-10 days after the first application. The most important aspect of flea and tick control is to start the process early in the season before the insects have a chance to build up to high levels.
Spring rains and warmer temperatures make conditions right for ticks in Texas. According to the AgriLife Extension Service ticks are an ever-present part of living in Texas. We're now entering the peak host-seeking time when immature ticks are on the move seeking hosts. Regardless of what happens now weather-wise, they predict this will be a banner year for tick bites on humans, pets and livestock. Mild weather encourages more outdoor human activity, both recreational and occupational. This increases the risk of tick exposure and transmission of tick-borne disease.
Tick Recommendations Are To:
1. Avoid areas where you know there are ticks;
2. Wear long pants tucked or taped into boots;
3. Wash clothes that may have been exposed to ticks;
4. Use repellents containing DEET to prevent tick attachment;
5. Conduct regular tick checks of yourself, children and pets; and
6. Remove ticks properly.
It’s important Texans learn the common signs of tick-borne diseases for their own well being and that of their families, pets and livestock. If you've been bitten by a tick or even if you think you could have been bitten, seek medical treatment if you begin to experience flu-like symptoms including a fever, headache or if you ache all over. Tell the doctor that you suspect you may have been exposed to a tick-borne disease. And finally, if at all possible, save the tick by placing it on a damp paper towel in a container in your refrigerator, so it can be submitted for testing to the Univeristy of North Texas Health Science Center in Denton. For more information visit http://www.unthumanid.org/Tick/Testing/Testing.cfm.