Ticks are skin parasites that feed on the blood of their hosts. Ticks like motion, warm temperatures from body heat, and the carbon dioxide exhaled by mammals. It is the carbon dioxide that attracts ticks to mammals (humans, dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, etc.). A tick bite is usually not painful but while the tick is sucking blood from its host, the tick can transmit any of several significant diseases to its host. It usually takes several hours of attachment to the host before the tick successfully transfers a disease to the host.
Most tick species require three separate hosts during their two year life span. Each stage requires a blood meal from a mammalian host before it can progress to the next stage. The hard ticks have four life stages: egg, larva, nymph, and adult. Larvae and nymphs must feed before they detach and molt.
A simplified, characteristic description of a tick’s life cycle is as follows. During the egg-laying stage, ticks lay eggs in secluded areas with dense vegetation. The eggs hatch within two weeks. Some species of ticks lay 100 eggs at a time while others can lay 3,000 to 6,000 eggs per batch. Once the eggs hatch, the ticks are in the larval stage during which time the larvae move into grass and search for their first blood meal. At this stage they will attach themselves to their first host (usually a bird or rodent), remain attached for several days, and then fall to the g round. The nymph stage then begins. Nymphs remain inactive during the winter months and start moving again in the spring. The nymph is about the size of a freckle and will attach to a rodent, human, or pet. After the nymph feeds, it will fall off the host and progress into the adult stage. Throughout the autumn, male and female ticks find a host (rodent, pet, human). The female feeds for 8-12 days and mates while still attached to the host. Both ticks, male and female, then fall off and the male tick dies. The female remains inactive but survives through the winter and in the spring she lays her eggs in a secluded area with dense vegetation. If the adult female cannot find a suitable host during the autumn months, she will survive in the vegetation until spring.
Now, how do we control these parasites? Remember the saying “That which does not kill me only makes me stronger.” The same applies to ticks. Whenever a drug or chemical is used against a disease or parasite over and over again but does not effectively wipe that disease or parasite out, ultimately the disease or parasite will begin to develop resistance against that drug or chemical. This is true for all diseases and parasites. Because of this fact, and because we have never wiped out the tick population, all treatments that are supposed to protect pets against ticks will and do ultimately begin to lose their effectiveness. The surviving ticks begin to develop resistance to the chemicals.
Eight to twelve years ago, new tick products were introduced by some progressive drug companies. Those products have been used and misused since their introduction. Pet owners have applied them inappropriately, at incorrect doses, too infrequently, etc. Now all of these products seem to be showing the early signs of reduced effectiveness. Note: the “new” over-the-counter flea and tick products are not “new” products. The chemicals used in the “newer” over-the-counter drugs are the same chemicals originally developed years ago by the innovative drug companies and, in fact, the “copied” products are not comparably prepared and are generally less effective than the original product that was copied.
The ultimate end of this conversation is that there is no flea or tick product that can be recommended that will control 100% of the ticks 100% of the time on 100% of the pets. The Elizabethton Veterinary Clinic does not stock every “tick product” that is marketed. Our staff keeps abreast of the products available, we stock and dispense the products that we believe are the most effective, we listen to our clients regarding their experience with the product, and we consult with other veterinarians in the area regarding their experience with any given product. We then decide which flea and tick products to stock. The product(s) most effective in Memphis may not be the product(s) most effective in the TriCities area.
Ticks do carry some nasty diseases and your pets need to and deserve to be protected against tick infestation. Living in the house 98% of the time does not protect your pet from ticks during the 2% of the time that it is out of doors. Please call us if you have questions regarding tick control. Depending upon your unique situation, the solution may or may not be simple.