Baby it’s Cold Outside: Do I REALLY Need to Treat My Pet for Fleas in the Winter?
by Ethan Yoder, Elk Creek Animal Hospital
So, after all the planning, preparation, baking and last-minute shopping, the holidays are finally over. You’ve started taking down your Christmas lights and you’ve picked all the pieces of New Year’s confetti out of the couch cushions. You throw the last pieces of spiral ham into a sandwich. Your dog, Sparky, looks up at you with those big puppy eyes, hoping to get a bite of people food. This jogs your memory and makes you think, “Is he due for a flea treatment?” You consider getting him a dose from the vet, but you wonder, “How could those nasty little critters survive in such an inhospitable climate? With the weather this chilly, surely Sparky will be safe from fleas, right?” Well, there’s one thing that you’re forgetting:
Fleas are TOUGH!
While you are less likely to see fleas in the cold months, they are still around. For the cold to actually kill fleas, the weather needs to be a consistent 35 Degrees Fahrenheit or colder for 10 consecutive days. That means if the temperature tips above that for just a short period of time, the fleas come back with a vengeance. Even then, fleas still find ways to cling to life. They live on various mammals like stray cats, raccoons or mice. They can take shelter in warm places like a garage and can find their way into your house on your clothing.
Once inside your home, each adult flea can lay 50 eggs in one day. When your dog or cat has live fleas on them, they go around your house like a salt and pepper shaker, spreading flea eggs on your furniture, carpet and bedding. Everywhere your pet can go, they will spread flea eggs. What starts as a small problem can quickly become an epidemic.
What should you look for?
Catching a flea infestation early is key to getting control of the problem. Aside from seeing the fleas themselves hopping around, there are several ways to tell if you may have a flea problem. One of the most common sign is flea dirt. Flea dirt is a mix of digested blood and flea excretions. To put it bluntly, it’s flea poop, and it’s just as gross as it sounds. If you comb your pet all over with a fine-toothed comb, the flea dirt look quite a bit like flakes of black pepper, and will turn a reddish-brown when rubbed against a wet paper towel.
Another common sign is itchiness. If your pet is scratching more than normal, it may be a sign that they have fleas. Also, many pets are allergic to flea saliva and will have reactions to it that can cause hives, scabs and hair loss.
What should you do?
Experts recommend treating for fleas with a prescription-strength topical or oral preventative from your veterinarian for three consecutive months to kill the fleas at all stages of their life cycle. There are currently no flea treatments that kill fleas at the pupal stage. This makes it very important to treat your pet until those pupae can grow into adult fleas, otherwise you may kill the eggs and adult fleas but the pupae will still be there and will grow into adult fleas and start the problems all over again. If you have multiple pets in the house, treat all of them. If only one pet is treated, the fleas will get on your other pets, drink their blood and lay more eggs and the problem will never get fully taken care of.
What SHOULDN’T you do?
While flea baths and flea collars are some of the most popular treatments for flea prevention, we strongly recommend against using either of them. Flea baths only kill the live fleas that are currently on your pet. They will not kill any eggs and they will not kill the live fleas that hop on your pet after the bath is done.
Flea collars are also not recommended. While they will often kill fleas around the immediate area of the collar, they are usually not strong enough to treat your pet’s entire body, so instead of hopping on your pet’s neck and upper body, the fleas will just feast on their lower body instead.
And it’s all preventable.
Here at our clinic, we constantly see the painful and frustrating effects that fleas can cause pets and pet owners. Pets often get so itchy that they chew their skin raw and pull their fur out. The fleas can drink so much of the pet’s blood that they literally become anemic. It’s a miserable thing for an animal to have to go through and it can be almost as frustrating for the owners. Seeing a pet you love hurting is never easy. Neither is the feeling that you’re living in a home that is infested and unclean.
Every day we see someone that comes in for vaccines or a wellness exam only to find that their pet has fleas. They are sneaky, and like I said earlier, it only takes one flea to start an infestation. Keep that in mind the next time Sparky looks up at you with those big puppy dog eyes.