Care for Pets During Cold Months

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PicturePhoto of “Odin” by Sandy Lisella from Action Carpet

Here we are again in the cold months in Connecticut with freezing temperatures and short days. Our pets are lying down cozily by the fire and do not want to go outside except for quick trips to “do their business.” So the temptation is to skip the monthly preventatives for heartworm disease and flea/tick issues. This would seem to make sense because heartworm is spread by mosquitoes and they should be on hiatus. Also, one would think that fleas and ticks should definitely not be a threat until spring. 

The reality is that fleas love to hunker down and reproduce inside our houses for the winter—that fleas that get inside from the little woodland creatures that harbor fleas and deposit them around our dwellings. The new reality is that fleas are thriving in our area like never before. We have seen more fleas on pets in the last few years than ever before. When we identify flea infestations on clients’ pets, they are disappointed and in a state of disbelief. Thankfully, there are oral preventatives that kill adult fleas (comfortis, capstar) when the topical medicines can’t keep up. 

Ticks love to pop out in the dead of winter when it gets above freezing for a few hours and they are hungry for a bloodmeal! It is not uncommon to find ticks on our pets all year long now. I know my dogs enjoy stuffing their heads into the tall grass that pokes out of the snow all winter. Our practice has seen very sick dogs this fall from tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Ehrlichia. The new normal in Granby is more ticks and more of their diseases. Again a monthly topical preventative is still necessary in the winter.

Ticks are hearty and can survive outside. Fleas work their way into our homes. But we know the mosquitoes that transmit heartworm disease certainly aren’t flying around in January. One would think it would be fine to skip a few heartgard treatments in the winter. It so happens that the particular mosquitoes that carry heartworm disease, Culex, live longer at cooler temperatures. In one study in Alberta, Canada, over half of the over-wintering Culex female mosquitoes studied survived more that 138 days at 23 F. These particular mosquitoes continue to seek blood meals every time they are in the process of laying eggs. So if a mosquito is infected with heartworm larvae in October and we have an unseasonably warm December, they are out looking for a host and will transmit the disease.

We all know how unpredictable the weather is these days. We have seen more cases of adult heartworm disease in our hospital than ever before. Many dogs being “rescued” from the southern states are bringing us the disease. Remember adult heartworms lodge in the heart, grow up to 12 inches long, and can live up to five years. Parasitology specialists tell us that there are new preventative-resistant strains identified in the Mississippi Delta because we have been inconsistent with administering the preventatives. They make the point that it is more important than ever to give the preventatives all year and perform annual testing.

Getting in the habit of monthly preventatives all year long for our pets makes the most sense especially if you are like me and have trouble remembering. Giving the meds the first of the month gives peace-of-mind and offers the most protection.