As the colder months settle in, you may wonder, do dogs need flea and tick medicine in the winter? After all, these pesky parasites are typically less active in chilly conditions. You can probably guess what your vet will tell you (yes), but the answer is really a bit more nuanced than an across-the-board answer. Especially if you believe in not over-medicating your dog or saving a few bucks.
Let’s get started.
Do Dogs Need Flea and Tick Medicine in the Winter?
Most veterinarians will tell you that flea and tick medicine is needed year-round, even in the winter. We get it — they want all of our dogs to be as protected as possible, and they make some money selling preventative. But is it really necessary?
In our opinion, this doesn’t really make sense for every dog owner. We think it really depends on the region where you live, the environments that your dog is exposed to, and your history with fleas and ticks. Fleas and ticks don’t materialize out of thin air and often go dormant when it gets too cold out. Some dogs honestly may not come in contact with high-risk environments.
So, how do you determine if your dog needs preventative in winter? Let’s start by looking at when flea and tick season is in your region.
When Is Considered Flea and Tick Season?
The flea and tick season can vary depending on your geographical location and local climate. In many regions, it typically begins in the spring and extends through the summer and into the early fall. During these warmer months, fleas and ticks become more active and abundant, posing a higher risk to pets and humans.
However, the severity of tick infestations can peak in the late spring and early summer when nymphs and adult ticks are most active. In some areas, this peak can continue into the early fall when adult ticks are still prevalent. Most of the northern United States experience a break between December and March.
It’s important to note that in milder climates, denoted in purple above, fleas and ticks are active year-round. In some cases, they may even become more problematic during the winter due to the absence of natural predators. There, dogs do need flea and tick medicine in the winter too.
If you live in one of the following states, you should give dog flea and tick preventatives in the winter:
- Arkansas (you’d only get January off if you were lucky)
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
If you don’t live in one of these states, let’s break it down a little bit further to understand how to judge the risk of your winter situation.
Flea Risk in the Winter
Fleas like wet and mild conditions, but can still survive in cold climates by hiding out in warm areas or buildings. So, they’re able to bug dogs year-round. For example, they may migrate into your house or garage during the winter. While you may not notice them, one mild day can cause them to be active and infest your dog if not protected by a flea treatment.
Fleas in particular can also be prevalent if you frequent the dog park often, where they can jump from one host to another. Additionally, recent infestations may have left eggs is your home or garage that can become active at any time.
Fleas may still be a problem for anyone if your dog comes in contact with another animal that has them. However, if your dog has a controlled environment without much contact with other animals or wild areas, you’re honestly probably going to be okay skipping a few months until temperatures get above freezing again.
Tick Risk in the Winter
Some ticks remain active year-round, like black-legged ticks and brown-dog ticks. If you have a tick problem in your area, you should probably know about it for your sake as well as your dog’s. You can learn about regions where ticks live from the CDC.
Most ticks become inactive or dormant at temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit (0 degrees Celsius). So, for places that experience freezing cold winters, you may be able to take a break with less worry. For example, in my experience in northern Michigan, ticks can linger long into the fall. Once the snow stays, however, you’re probably safe from ticks.
Just remember that dormant doesn’t mean dead, so if you have a random mild winter day, they may wake up hungry.
Suggested Reading: Learn how to find affordable vet care and discounted pet medication like flea and tick prevention.
Do Fleas and Ticks Harm Dogs?
Fleas and ticks can harm dogs in various ways. These blood-feeding parasites can cause discomfort and irritation to dogs by their bites and have the potential to lead to more severe health issues.
Fleas can aggravate allergic dermatitis, leading to intense itching, skin infections, and hair loss. In severe infestations, they can even result in anemia, especially in puppies and small dogs.
Ticks, on the other hand, can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and anaplasmosis, posing significant health risks to dogs.
Fleas and ticks can also infest the surrounding environment such as your house and furniture. They’re challenging to eradicate once established, so prevention is key.
In a nutshell, if fleas and ticks are out, you want to be preventing them with flea and tick medicine.
How Does Dog Flea and Tick Medicine Work?
The purpose of flea and tick medicine for dogs is to provide protection against these pesky parasites. These preventive treatments come in various forms, including topical solutions, oral medications, and collars, and they work by either killing fleas and ticks on contact or disrupting their life cycles.
Most are pesticides that only affects insects’ nervous systems (and fish). Some additionally have insect growth inhibitors to prevent eggs and larvae from progressing through their life cycle.
They either work by entering the bloodstream or staying in the layers of skin. Bloodstream delivery requires the flea or tick to bite the dog, at which time the parasite ingests the poison. For the skin kind, only contact is needed to transmit the neurotoxin. Topical applications recommend not touching dog for 12 hours or bathing them for 24-48 hours. So be sure to wear gloves and avoid touching it with your bare hands.
Fun Read: Discover if cats are cleaner than dogs and how to keep your pet healthy and shiny.
What Is the Most Effective Flea and Tick Medication for Dogs?
There are many flea and tick medications for dogs on the market and it’ll depend on what works best for your lifestyle. We’ve tried both oral and topical, and both have worked fine with their own pros and cons. Check out this video for an overview of well-reviewed products:
If you’re unsure or can’t make a decision, please consult with your vet. They’ll be able to recommend the best option for your specific dog.
Pro Tip: Learn first aid basics for dogs.
Keep Fleas and Ticks Away Year-Round
The need for flea and tick medication in winter for dogs will be different for every situation. We recommend researching your area and determining your dog’s risk. Our dogs personally hate getting their monthly preventative, so if we can safely take a few months off low-risk, we’re there! We also don’t mind the savings, we’d rather spend that monthly fee on treats or toys.
However, if you find yourself in a high-risk area with mild winter weather or you frequent the dog park a lot, year-round prevention is going to be important for keeping your pets and your home flea- and tick-free.
Do you need to use flea and tick preventative in the winter? We want to know! Share your story in the comments below.
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