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8 Things to Know About the Tick Life Cycle.

8 Things to Know About the Tick Life Cycle

Ticks carry many serious diseases with long-term and debilitating effects. The best way to fight back is to prevent ticks year-round, keeping you and your pets safe.

Understanding how ticks reproduce and when they are most active is crucial. Ticks can harm both dogs and cats, so stopping the tick life cycle before they can transmit potentially deadly diseases is vital.

Flea and tick prevention products aim to repel ticks or kill them before disease transmission, which is why they are so important.

The Life Cycle of a Tick

The tick life cycle consists of four stages:

  1. Egg

  2. Larva

  3. Nymph

  4. Adult

Larvae and nymphs have six legs, and adult ticks have eight legs. Ticks are bloodsuckers and require a host (and its blood) to survive, molt, and reproduce. For most tick species, they require several hosts to complete their life cycle; for others, such as the brown dog tick, they can spend their entire life cycle on one host (your dog).

The female tick lays eggs by the thousands, usually under leaves or other types of detritus. The larva hatches and attaches to a host, usually a small bird or rodent like a mouse, where it can pick up deadly diseases and become a carrier.

Shortly after feeding, the larva drops off the host, lies dormant up to a year, molts, and becomes a nymph. It then feeds on another host, where it can transmit its disease or diseases, drops off, and lies dormant again for a few months before molting into an adult.

The adult tick then finds its host—usually a larger animal or human—mates, feeds, and transmits the disease. The male tick remains on its host until done feeding, when it falls off and dies. The female tick usually falls off shortly after mating to lay its eggs. On average, this time frame takes about two years to complete.

When feeding, the tick regurgitates digestive enzymes to prevent its host’s blood from clotting so it can continue feeding. During the regurgitation process, ticks transmit diseases to the host. This process often takes more than 48 hours for some ticks, but timing varies, and for some tick species, it only takes a few hours.

If the tick is found and removed early, the chances of disease transmission are rare. This is why tick prevention is critical to keeping pets safe year-round, as medications are designed to kill the tick or cause it to drop off its host before disease is transmitted.

6 Most Common Ticks in the United States

American Dog Tick

  • Scientific Name: Dermacentor variabilis

  • Diseases Transmitted: Tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), tick paralysis

  • Region: Found throughout the United States, but no longer in the Rocky Mountains, and in Southwestern states

Lone Star Tick

  • Scientific Name: Amblyomma americanum

  • Diseases Transmitted: Ehrlichiosis, tularemia, cytauxzoonosis, Heartland virus disease, rickettsiosis, STARI (southern tick-associated rash illness)

  • Region: Common in southern states but can be found in some northern states, most active from early spring to late fall

Blacklegged (Deer) Tick

  • Scientific Name: Ixodes scapularis

  • Diseases Transmitted: Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan virus disease

  • Region: Most often seen in the eastern United States, reaching as far south and west as Texas and South Dakota

Brown Dog Tick

  • Scientific Name: Rhipicephalus sanguineus

  • Diseases Transmitted: Babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), Ehrlichiosis, canine hepatozoonosis, anaplasmosis

  • Region: Typically seen in southern states, can be found in homes and kennels, no geographic limit

Winter Tick

  • Scientific Name: Dermacentor albipictus

  • Diseases Transmitted: Not known to carry diseases transmissible to people or pets

  • Region: Seen on moose, deer, and elk across the United States, most active in fall and winter

Gulf Coast Tick

  • Scientific Name: Amblyomma maculatum

  • Diseases Transmitted: Rickettsiosis, canine hepatozoonosis

  • Region: Most often seen along the Gulf Coast, but as far north as Ohio, most active from late summer to early fall

How to Keep Ticks Off Pets

Ticks pose a significant threat to you and your pets. It is vital to protect them as best as possible through prevention. Partnering with your veterinarian to find the right flea and tick medication is essential for your pet’s health.

Most tick prevention products, such as chewable tablets like Bravecto and Nexgard, wearable collars like Seresto, or topicals like Frontline Plus, take several hours to start repelling and killing ticks. When planning outdoor activities with your pet, ensure they are protected well in advance.

Ticks are found from coast to coast, so veterinarians recommend providing year-round flea and tick protection for both dogs and cats and performing frequent, thorough checks on all pets.

For more information and resources, visit

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