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The flea and tick problem in mild winter weather

March 9, 2012

By OSU Extension Service

Many Oklahomans have probably been happy there has not been snow to shovel this winter. But the mild weather can cause a problem for your pets.

Typically people think cold winter weather will decrease their pet’s problems with external parasites in the spring. Cold temperatures will kill adult fleas but their immature offspring become dormant. So people think they are no longer in the environment but as temperatures warm the immature stages reappear, said Dr. Carolynn MacAllister, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension veterinarian.

“Cold winter temperatures may kill adult fleas but immature stages will remain dormant in the environment convincing people that fleas don’t survive winter but fleas can survive all year,” MacAllister said. “Since warm seasons are now lasting longer, fleas are tending not to disappear in the wintertime. Therefore, veterinarians are recommending flea and tick control year around in most regions of the country to help control these pesky external parasites.”

Fleas feed off the blood of dogs and cats, as well as humans. A flea bite is intensely itchy and secondary infections are common. In addition, fleas and ticks can lead to several health problems for pets, such as skin allergies and tapeworms.

Ticks can survive in cold weather. They become dormant and hide in leaf litter and other protected places. When temperatures are above freezing, both adult and nymph ticks climb onto the tips of vegetation and wait for an animal to brush up next to it.

“Pets are very susceptible to tick bites and tick-borne diseases regardless of the time of year. There are products that help control ticks, but these products don’t keep the ticks from getting on the dog or from the dog bringing ticks into the environment they live in,” she said.

To help reduce the chance that a tick will transmit disease to your pets, check the animals daily for ticks, especially after they spend time in grassy, bushy areas such as your backyard or local parks. If you find a tick on your pet, remove it promptly and properly using tweezers, or wear gloves grasping the tick close to the skin and use gentle steady pressure.

Wash the tick bite area with soap and water and disinfect with alcohol. Signs of tick-borne disease may not appear for several days to weeks or longer after a tick bite, so watch the tick bite area for at least two weeks. If the red area starts to enlarge or your pet starts to experience clinical symptoms such as fever, vomiting, lethargy and/or anorexia (reduced appetite), contact your veterinarian

“Since we have had a mild winter, you may see external parasites appearing on your pet and in the environment earlier this year,” MacAllister said. “Help control fleas and ticks on your pets this spring by maintaining them on a monthly control program year round.”

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