Fleas in the Winter?

With all the craziness of the holiday season it’s sometimes hard to remember even the most routine tasks with regard to pet health. Often times the number one treatment we see being neglected this time of year is flea, tick and heartworm prevention. Whether it’s because of a busy schedule or an overloaded, overlooked calendar, skipping out on these preventatives (even in the winter months) can lead to uncomfortable and sometimes costly results in the future. Often times people dismiss this over site under the guise that it’s winter and parasites are a summer concern right? Wrong. Check out this brief Q and A for more information.

Can fleas lay dormant during the winter months?

Yes. An adult flea if left undisturbed can live for up to 100 days without feeding. Flea larva however, don’t need a blood meal to survive and can live on debris found in their hosts environment. These little guys typically like to live away from the light, deep in carpet, furniture, bedding etc. It is for this reason that only about 5-10% of fleas in the environment are visible to us. The other 95-90% are larva or unhatched eggs (check out minute 4:10 on this video for more information).  Additionally, unhatched flea larva can lay dormant living inside their flea cocoons for up to five months, or until conditions are optimal to hatch.

But don’t fleas die in the winter?

While you probably won’t find fleas on a Polar Bear it’s quite possible to find fleas on your dog or cat during the winter months in southern states. Fleas can live in temperatures as low as 46 degrees. However, it can take up to 5 days of consistently below freezing temperatures to kill an adult flea. At temperatures between less than 46 degrees and 33 degrees survival rate varies between 10-20 days. This means if your pup is out and about at the local Athens dog park where we typically see a high of 56 degrees in the winter, he/she is still very much at risk for bringing home some extra friends at the end of the day.

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Additionally, the temperature inside your home is probably well over 46 degrees. This means that any friends brought in from the cold or who had taken up residence in your pets bedding during the summer won’t die when the temperatures outside change.  Furthermore, the temperature ON your beloved pet is the ideal temperature for fleas to live. Which leads us to our next hypothetical question:

What if it IS below freezing for more than 5 consecutive days?

Even if we were to have our very own polar vortex hit here in the south, the unfortunate truth is that there will still be fleas, “around”. Meaning, your friendly neighborhood raccoon family and his possum buddies that like to visit your yard may still be carrying fleas. Again, the reason for this is due to their body temperature being an ideal climate for fleas to live in. Additionally, the warm burrows, nests and dens of these critters will be warm enough for fleas to continue their life cycle.

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What about intestinal parasites?

When it comes to intestinal parasites and their ability to survive the elements there’s really no contest. The eggs of roundworms, whip worms, and tapes are pretty much omni present in the soil when there’s a high population of wildlife or dogs / cats.  Your pet doesn’t have to eat dirt just to contract these sneaky little guys; all they have to do is walk on the ground and then lick their paws.

The added bonus to maintaining your pet’s flea, tick, and heartworm prevention year round means that you’re also ensuring they don’t get an intestinal parasite since most preventatives also cover these guys in addition to fleas and ticks or heartworm.  The same is true for mites. Mites are largely unaffected by the changes in season. Thus, your pup is still at risk for developing mange in the winter so if he’s not on preventative we hope he has a festive sweater to wear! If you’re not sure which preventatives or combination of preventatives will cover your pet completely talk to your veterinarian about your options!