Pet owners recognize that in return for the love, devotion, companionship and significant health benefits they receive from their pets, they have the responsibility to provide their pets with food, shelter, and care, which includes flea and tick prevention. Many pet owners look forward to colder winter months because they believe this is the “off-season” for fleas and ticks, which would mean less hassle with flea and tick protection, but the truth is that with the current climate change there may not actually be an “off-season” for fleas and ticks.
How Climate Change Impacts Flea and Tick Prevention
As the climate has slowly and steadily warmed up over the past few decades, it has provided more of an opportunity for fleas and ticks to grow their populations and expand their territory. Months like November, December, and January, which were traditionally cold in temperate regions, are now experiencing more and more warm or even hot days, which seriously reduce flea and tick deaths and allow them to expand their reach into new territories that are experiencing milder temperatures.
According to both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2016 was the hottest year ever on record, which is further evidence of the continuing climate changes the world has been experiencing. How this affects flea and tick populations and territories is evident in northern Sweden, where ticks that spread Lyme disease have slowly been spreading over the past thirty years, and even in the United States, where black-legged ticks that spread Lyme and other diseases have doubled in the past twenty years, even making their way into Northern Minnesota. It is valuable to note that in addition to rising temperatures, those individuals who fail to use flea and tick prevention on their pets–especially those who then move from one location to another–can also contribute to the rise in population and spread of territory.
An extension of flea and tick season means that your pet has a longer exposure to these pests and is, therefore, more likely to catch one of the diseases they spread. Fleas tend to spend their entire lives on their hosts, and as long as temperatures are above thirty-four degrees, ticks can easily move around and bite their hosts. Between the two of them, one can experience diseases like:
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This disease is spread by ticks and normally affects dogs, though it can occasionally affect cats as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that there is no vaccine for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and while it can usually be treated with oral antibiotics it can also cause life-threatening conditions like kidney failure and liver damage.
- American Canine Hepatozoonosis. This disease is spread by ticks, and dogs that catch it usually suffer from high fever, pain, and a loss of interest in food.
- Tularemia. This disease is spread by ticks and normally affects cats, though it can occasionally affect dogs and humans as well. Cats that catch it usually suffer from high fever, nasal problems, and sometimes abscesses around the bite location.
- Lyme disease. This disease is spread by deer ticks and is potentially fatal to dogs, cats, and humans. It can cause numerous health issues, including kidney disease and nervous system disorders.
- Bartonellosis. This disease is spread by fleas and normally affects cats, though it can occasionally affect dogs and humans as well. Cats that catch it normally suffer from swollen glands, aching muscles, and sometimes a fever.
- Canine anaplasmosis. This disease is spread by deer ticks and western black-legged ticks and normally affects dogs. Dogs that catch it may suffer from vomiting and nervous system disorders, though it can be treated with antibiotics.
As one many suspect, the best way to prevent these and other flea- and tick-borne diseases is through rendering adequate flea and tick protection to their pets. This includes taking your pet in for regular veterinary check-ups and using recommended flea and tick protection year-round, especially in areas that experience mild winters.