Should You Use Flea and Tick Prevention for Your Pet in the Winter? · The Wildest

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Should You Use Flea and Tick Prevention for Your Pet in the Winter?

You’ve got good ol’ climate change to thank for this answer.

by Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, DVM
February 22, 2024
A young woman walks with her dog in a winter park.
Sergeeva / iStock

It’s (still) winter. Despite what the groundhog said a couple weeks ago, there’s still snow and ice on the ground in many places across the U.S., and while spring might be around the corner, you may be wondering if you really need to pull out the flea-and-tick prevention while the warm weather and pests aren’t out in full force.

Short answer: Yes. It is strongly recommended to use flea-and-tick prevention year-round, including the winter months. This is especially important in regions where winters are mild, such as in the Southern states. However, as winters are getting warmer and milder each year (thanks, c limate change!), we are starting to see flea and tick infestations much more frequently in the dead of winter than what we used to.

The good news: It’s easy to protect your pet. 

Dogs and cats are very susceptible to fleas, but the good news is that they can easily be protected with one of many widely available and safe flea and tick preventatives. Fleas can be carried by many wild animals and can survive year-round if there is an animal to feed on. Fleas are tiny insects that jump onto their host, and can cause itchy skin, rashes, and disease. Although they prefer animal hosts, they will also bite humans. If left untreated, in time, they will lay eggs on the host and in your home (think in your carpets, rugs, and furniture!), which will result in more fleas that will hatch, causing an infestation that can be difficult to eradicate. 

Fleas can be seen close to the skin of dogs and cats without any special equipment. Typically, pets infested with fleas are itchy or can lick or chew their skin excessively. In homes with flea infestations, pet parents can also be itchy or find small red bites on their legs or other areas of their body.

If you believe your pet may have fleas, head to the vet as soon as you can. They will use a combination of approved flea treatment(s) to treat the fleas on your pet, and you will need to treat for them in your home as well. Keep in mind that all pets in the home will need to be treated, whether you see fleas on them or not!

Winter doesn’t mean pests go away. 

Unlike fleas, ticks generally prefer a pet or human host, are usually not itchy and don’t typically live within your home. Ticks tend to become dormant in colder temperatures; however, they will emerge on seasonably warmer days in the middle of winter. Because ticks carry diseases that can be dangerous for you or your pet, we recommend year-round prevention to avoid contracting these serious infections.

Ticks adhere tightly to the skin and can sometimes be difficult to see in dogs or cats with longer fur or hair. If that isn’t bad enough, some ticks can infect their host in as little as 20 minutes after attachment. Some areas are more endemic than others for certain diseases, meaning they occur in that region more often than others. So, I would recommend checking the CDC website as a great resource for tick borne disease maps and disease tracking.

In addition to an approved flea-and-tick preventative, it’s also recommended that you and your pet are checked thoroughly after being outdoors, especially in endemic areas that are wooded or with tall grasses. There are several commercially available tools that can assist with the removal of an embedded tick — my favorite being the Tick Key. You can use regular tweezers, but just make sure to remove the entire tick. 

If you are worried about doing this yourself, your veterinarian will gladly help. If you find an embedded tick on your pet, it is recommended that they are tested for tick-borne diseases, typically four to six weeks after exposure. This is done with a blood test from your veterinarian.

Fleas and ticks can be a real drag. Prevention is key and is thankfully easy with one of many safe and effective preventive options. Chat with your veterinarian to see which is best for your pet. 

Dr. Gabrielle Fadl

Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, DVM

After graduating from Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Fadl returned to the New York area to pursue a one-year rotating internship and has been working in general practice since. Dr. Fadl loves working in the pet space to foster the powerful human-animal bond. She hopes to continually learn and grow to practice the best quality medicine. Her motto is “Keep calm and try to take it as it comes.”

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