It seems weird to be talking about spring on the eve of a March snowstorm, but spring is coming and usually that is when pet owners start thinking about protecting our pets against parasites, particularly fleas and ticks.
Living in the north, our cold winter and snow cover makes us believe that pets are not in need of parasite prevention throughout the winter months, but this can be misleading.
Fleas prefer a consistent average temperature of 12°C to be active, but eggs can survive months at cold temperatures and can lay dormant in your home as well.
Ticks can be active at as low as -10°C. At my clinic, we have pulled ticks off patients as late as mid-December. Our winters are becoming milder and those milder temperatures mean the risk of ticks will keep increasing and be a year-round concern as they are in other regions.
Ticks and fleas can cause your pet to be uncomfortable, and pose risks to your family (fleas prefer to bite animals, but they will take a meal from humans if they must), as they can also carry and transmit infectious diseases.
Fleas that carry infectious diseases are more common in tropical settings, but they can be tapeworm carriers here. Ticks can carry many diseases, the most well-known being Lyme disease.
Ticks are found in tall grass, leaf litter and small shrubs. They wait, “questing” to jump onto an animal moving by. They will then migrate to find an area to bite, and will stay drinking a blood meal for between a week and 10 days. Adult ticks are larger and easier to see than juveniles, or nymphs. Females will engorge as they drink, while males stay quite small. At the nymph stage, a tick is the size of a poppy seed, but does still take blood meals and therefore can transmit disease as well.
Flea prevention is recommended in our area from June to November. I find most cases of fleas come into the clinic in the fall. It’s almost like the fleas are trying to find a warm, cozy home for the winter.
An adult flea can lay more than 50 eggs per day, but the insect spends most of its time off the pet, so when fleas are found actually on your pet, it can be just a glimpse of the problem.
If you do have fleas in your home, it is important to treat all pets (even those that do not go outside) for at least three months to ensure the flea infestation is eradicated.
Prevention is always easier than treatment for yourself and your pet.
While hiking, wear tall socks and tuck in your pants (The Urkel look is in!) especially in areas where ticks are known to be endemic. Check yourself and your pets after being outside. If you find a tick, you can use a Tick Twister to remove it to ensure removal of the entire tick.
If you find a tick on yourself, you can bring it to the local health unit to be identified. If you remove one from your pet, your veterinary clinic can identify the tick to determine if it is a possible carrier of Lyme disease and if your pet should be tested.
For your pets, there are many different preventatives available, from topical treatments, collars and oral medications. Some flea prevention products kill several life stages of the flea, while others only kill the adult.
For tick protection, most products require the tick to bite your pet in order for the tick to die, which makes them effective against any life stage that takes a blood meal. There are others that require no bite at all and the medications stays in the oil layer of the skin and kills the flea/tick on contact.
There are many different ways to keep your pets safe and protected. Talk with your veterinarian or registered veterinary technician (RVT) on what is right for you, your pet and their lifestyle.
Dr. Courtney Andrews is a veterinarian at Lockerby Animal Hospital, a graduate of the Royal School of Veterinary Studies and dog mom to Argyll and Einstein. Animals & Pets is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.