Our beautiful Indian summer ended with a blast last week. Jack Frost accepted the invitation for nightly visits. He hides during the day, as our yards get bathed in sun.
These weather changes have impacts on our pets, too. The bugs that cause disease in dogs and cats are finely tuned to New England seasons.
Fleas had a smorgasbord this year. Our summer was long, warm, humid and drought-free. This created the perfect storm for fleas to thrive. If your cat and dog were not on schedule with quality flea control, chances are that they caught fleas.
Even indoor pets became infested. Simply visiting a friend whose pet had fleas could put your home at risk. The immature fleas — eggs, larvae or pupae — can stick to your clothes and be transferred back to your house. The rest is history.
Fleas thrive in heat and humidity. Their life cycle is slower now that the nights are cold and the air is drier. However, fleas don't die off in the cold. If they did, they wouldn't surge again next summer. Mother Nature makes sure fleas can survive the winter.
Your home makes it easy for this to happen. It's never winter inside your house. Warm temperatures persist all year, but the air is drier than during summer. This decreased humidity slows the flea life cycle but does not end it. The time period to change from egg to larva to pupa to adult flea may take longer, but it still happens.
Since this summer was the worst flea season in years, be aware that many homes are still infested with various stages of flea life. The homeowner may not know what is brewing in their carpets and beds. When you visit this friend, you can continue to bring fleas home throughout the winter. Your holiday house guests can introduce them as hidden hitchhikers, too.
This flea ecosystem will slowly continue until spring. The infestation will then be firmly established in your home. As the air becomes more humid, the flea population will explode. Only then will you know you have a problem.
The good news is that this scenario is avoidable. If you continue to use quality flea control on your pets all winter, the fleas will be unable to establish themselves in your home, even if they arrive as uninvited guests. And you won't have to worry about a surprise spring infestation.
Ticks are another story. The cooler fall weather is clear indication that those critters are on the crawl again.
Deer ticks are of particular concern. They hatch from nymphs to adults in the fall. The adults are desperately searching for their blood meal. They need this blood to lay eggs. Their alternative is starvation, and they know it. If they cannot find their meal this fall, they will continue to search throughout the winter and into spring.
Any relatively mild day makes us fair game for tick fodder. When the sun warms mulch at the base of trees, ticks spring into action. New England is famous for its unpredictable weather, including warm days in the middle of winter.
Continue to use quality tick control on your dog and cat all winter. This is especially important for pets that go outside.
Also, check your pet regularly for ticks. Ticks are very difficult to kill. Even if a product is 99 percent effective, one tick will survive when 99 are killed. You want to find that surviving tick on Fido or Fluffy before it spreads disease.
Deer ticks can carry germs that cause Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Dogs can be infected with Lyme bacteria and anaplasma; cats only with anaplasma.
Humans are susceptible to all three, sometimes from a single tick bite.
Heartworms are another common parasite influenced by seasonal weather. These blood worms are only spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. They cannot be transmitted during a snowstorm. However, temperatures vary in our area and the exact mosquito season is unpredictable. We all remember seeing a mosquito in the winter.
Be aware that heartworm protection works backward. That means that the prevention you give today will eliminate any infection that has occurred in the past month. It does not protect your pet next week. Although we had our snowstorm two weeks ago, it was still warm one month ago. Fido and Fluffy need their heartworm prevention now to protect them from mosquito-transmitted worms in early October.
It's best to be safe and use heartworm protection all year. The consequences of heartworm infection in cats and dogs can be severe. Most heartworm prevention also protects against common gut parasites that are infectious to people. For this reason, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends monthly heartworm prevention for all dogs and cats.
Wishing all my readers a happy and parasite-free Thanksgiving.
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Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital (www.BasslerVet.com). She hosts a radio show, "Your Pet's Health," every Sunday morning at 8:30 on AM-1450 WNBP. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to email@example.com.