A: In this area, it is not safe to stop during any month of the year. Most people underestimate the threat from deer ticks. The American dog tick is the most visible tick on dogs. In this area, these ticks are present in highest numbers from the end of March until the beginning of November. These ticks are usually easy to spot, but are not the only tick in Virginia.
As of 2017, we now have five species of ticks in Virginia – each having a different lifecycle and each carrying different diseases. This year the Gulf Coast Tick’s range extended into our state. This nasty critter enters an area that already has the American dog tick, the brown dog tick, the Lone Star tick, and the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick.
The deer tick has become infamous for its spread of Borellia bacteria, the causative agent of Lyme disease. This disease is crippling and killing dogs in record numbers. These ticks have a very different life cycle from the American dog tick. In fact, the adult phase of the deer tick peaks from November through March. You read that right, November through March!
Part of the reason we see so much Lyme disease in dogs is that people are stopping their tick control at precisely the time of year when the most diseased phase of the tick is peaking. Since dog and cat owners often miss these tiny ticks (or stop checking their pets in the winter), they assume they have disappeared with the dog ticks. It’s not just in pets either. Forty percent of people who are diagnosed with Lyme disease do not realize they ever had a tick on their own body. If people are not finding them on their own body, they are unlikely to detect them on their pets with any regularity or accuracy.
The adult deer tick lays eggs throughout the winter (after taking blood meals from unsuspecting animals or people). The eggs hatch into larvae in the spring. The larvae take a blood meal and form a cocoon-like pupa during the summer. This is the only phase of the deer tick that does not feed on our pets, and it occurs in the summer… when everyone is using tick control. The pupae hatch into a nymph phase that again takes a blood meal before developing into an adult. During each feeding, the tick has the opportunity of picking up the Borellia bacteria from a different animal. By the time they reach the adult phase, they have fed three or more times! Since the adults do not emerge until the late fall and through the winter, if you stop using tick control during these months, you are putting your pets and family at risk.