Published on December 23rd, 2014 | by Debbie Martin0
Should I still use Flea Treatment in Winter?
Fleas present a grave problem for dogs and cats alike, but should you still use a flea treatment in Winter? Fleas are passed into the fur of animals as they explore the environment – usually from the fur of another animal. Once they have gotten themselves a ride on the fur of a suitably oblivious host, they proceed to breed, bite and generally make nuisances of themselves.
Flea bites can themselves be a source of extreme irritation for pets – but they also bring about a number of other problems. In some animals, a flea bite might provoke an allergic reaction. Fleas are also carriers for a number of serious diseases, such a myxomatosis. To make matters even worse, fleas suck the blood of their host – which can cause younger or otherwise enfeebled animals to become weakened further.
The RSPCA recommend taking a number of measures in order to minimise the chances of a flea infestation, most of which centre around cleanliness. They suggest that bedding and furniture be cleaned regularly, along with floors and skirting boards. By far the best treatment is to properly treat both your pet and your home.
It is true to say that fleas have a tougher time during the winter than they do the summer. But infestations, for a variety of reasons, can still occur. For this reasons it is important to keep up the safeguards against flea infestations all year round.
So why do so few people do it?
A wintry dilemma
There are a number of reasons that pet owners might choose not to medicate their pet against fleas. But perhaps the most often-cited reason is that of cost. Unfortunately, medicines which ward away fleas and ticks are quite expensive. This is why people don’t generally bother with them during the winter; the chances of an infestation are lower and so medication is seen as something not worth bothering with. It is a calculated risk, and one which is gotten away with – most of the time.
Leaving financial considerations to one side, there is also a great deal of misinformation surrounding flea medication and this has led to people becoming fearful of giving flea medication to their pets. Some of these myths have proven particularly persistent and so they deserve addressing.
The fear stems from the fact that flea powder is, technically speaking, a poison. This fact has led many pet owners to feel uncomfortable using it to treat their pet’s fur. This unease is apparently justified by real-world occurrences; cats and dogs have been known to suffer severe allergic reactions – and even death – when given certain medicines designed to ward away fleas and ticks.
The fact is that most such incidents are rarely the fault of the medication itself; more often than not, adverse effects are the result of human error. An incorrect dosage, or a dog treatment given to a cat, for example, could have serious consequences. For example, some dog flea treatments contain an insecticide called permethrin, which, while being safe for dogs, is highly toxic to cats.
The lesson is to always be thorough, read the label and, if in doubt, talk to your vet about it.
Why medicate during winter?
While the temperatures during the winter are often greatly less than those in the summertime, making it difficult for fleas and other parasites to reproduce. There comes a moment when temperatures drop sufficiently, but it is difficult to judge when this occurs with any precision – and even after it has occurred, the fact is that they can on occasion veer high enough that certain parasites are able to reproduce.
Though the chances of a flea infestation may be far lower during the winter time, those that do occur are invariably the result of pet owners skimping on flea medicine. This is why a large proportion of vets recommend that pet owners persist with flea medication all year round – as expensive as it may be to do so. But why bother, if the fleas cannot survive the winter?
Fleas are, on the whole, far sturdier than most people give them credit for – though it is difficult to say with any certainty which temperature is too cold for fleas to survive. Depending on who you ask, it is around 4 degrees centigrade. To put it into context, that is around the same as the inside of a fridge. But fleas are very small creatures and so local variations in temperature could mean that a flea could survive in lower temperatures.
Furthermore, the word ‘flea’ describes a huge variety of animals as the name spider would for example. Worldwide, there are over two thousand known species of flea and over nine-hundred species of tick. There are subtle differences between all of them – some are able to survive a little better than others in cold weather. This makes it almost impossible to declare a household to be wholly ‘flea proof’.
An enclosed space, such as a porch, will have relatively stable levels of heat the year round – providing some parasites with shelter. The egg of a flea, for example, can survive in such a space at any time of year. There is no way of safeguarding your pet against this if you decide not to inoculate your pet. Your pet’s health will, to a large extent, depend on blind luck.
Even if you live in a cold area, you could still be at risk. Centrally heated homes can provide the necessary warmth that little parasites like fleas and ticks are able to thrive.
Most people avoid giving their pet flea medication all year round for financial reasons. It costs a great deal less to do so. However, a flea infestation would incur a financial penalty which would far outstrip any possible saving. Such infestations are extremely costly to root out – and doing so results in a great deal of domestic upheaval. If you want to give yourself peace of mind throughout the year, then it’s best to err on the side of caution and make sure your pet is treated for flea prevention all year round.