You may be tempted to discontinue your pet’s flea and tick preventive during the colder months to save a little money, but this practice can backfire if your pet becomes ill from a disease caused by these parasites. While flea and tick activity decreases as the temperature drops, the pests are not entirely inactive, and may find a nice cozy spot to weather the cold on your pet and in your home. The team at Wales Animal Clinic wants to educate you on the problems these creepy crawlies can cause your pet.

Why is year-round flea prevention important for my pet?

Fleas can survive in near freezing conditions, and when the temperatures dip below freezing, they may seek refuge in barns, animal dens, or your home. One flea can bite your pet up to 400 times a day, causing your poor pet great discomfort, but the nuisance factor is not the only issue with these parasites.

  • Flea bite allergies – The most common allergy affecting pets is flea bite allergies. When a flea bites your pet, they inject saliva in your pet’s skin. Elements in the flea’s saliva may cause an allergic reaction, and your pet will become excessively itchy. They also may experience hair loss and crusty skin lesions on their lower back, inner thighs, and abdomen. Examine your pet’s coat and their bedding for fleas, flea eggs, and flea droppings. If your pet suffers from a flea allergy, you must eradicate every flea from their coat and their environment to prevent signs from recurring.
  • Tapeworms – Your pet contracts tapeworms by ingesting a flea that harbors tapeworm larvae. Your pet can easily swallow a flea while grooming, and once digested, the tapeworm larva can grow to an adult inside your pet’s intestine. As the tapeworm grows, segments break off, and are passed in the feces. You may see these rice-like segments in your pet’s stool or on their hindquarters. Tapeworms are typically not harmful for your pet, but they may experience weight loss if they become heavily infected. The tapeworm segments also can irritate your pet’s anus, and they will scoot to try to alleviate the itch. We will prescribe a deworming medication to treat your pet affected by tapeworms.
  • Anemia – A severe flea infestation can result in anemia, with puppies, kittens, and elderly cats most at risk. If not addressed promptly, significant anemia can lead to organ failure and brain damage. A blood transfusion may be required in addition to aggressive flea treatment.

Why is year-round tick prevention important for my pet?

Ticks are arachnids, related to spiders and scorpions, and are extremely hardy parasites. They do not die in colder temperatures, but instead seek shelter under fallen leaves in wooded areas. Any temperature increase causes ticks to search for a meal. They can be found in tall grass, under accumulated leaves, and next to woodpiles. In Wisconsin, the most common ticks found on pets are the deer tick, wood tick, and lone star tick. The most common tick-borne illnesses affecting Wisconsin pets are Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis.

  • Lyme disease – Lyme disease is an infection caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi that deer ticks carry and transmit to your pet after being attached for 24 to 48 hours. Signs include fever, decreased appetite, lethargy, shifting lameness, joint swelling, and generalized stiffness. Blood tests are performed to help diagnose Lyme disease. Treatment involves antibiotic therapy for at least 30 days.
  • Anaplasmosis – Anaplasmosis is an infection caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum that is transmitted through a deer tick bite. Signs commonly include fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, and joint pain. Less common signs include vomiting, diarrhea, and labored breathing. Blood tests are performed to help diagnose anaplasmosis. Treatment involves antibiotic therapy for 14 to 30 days.
  • Babesiosis – Babesiosis is an infection caused by the protozoal parasite Babesia that is transmitted through a tick bite. Pets affected by babesiosis may present in a hemolytic crisis, or may suddenly collapse in systemic shock. Signs include fever, weakness, dark urine, pale mucous membranes, and swollen lymph nodes. Blood tests are performed to help diagnose babesiosis. Treatment involves antibiotic therapy for at least 30 days. Dogs infected by babesiosis have a guarded prognosis, and those who survive an initial infection can remain subclinical after treatment, and suffer a relapse.
Grooming your pet frequently, especially after being outdoors, can help you find and remove fleas and ticks, but year-round prevention is imperative. Flea and tick preventives can be delivered in numerous methods, at monthly or at six-month intervals. Many flea and tick products also protect your pet against heartworms and intestinal parasites. The cold weather does not stop these parasites from affecting your pet, and the chilly temperatures should not stop you from providing parasite preventives for your pet.

If you would like to discuss which flea and tick prevention protocol is best for your pet, or if you are concerned that these parasites are causing issues for your pet, contact the team at Wales Animal Clinic to schedule an appointment.