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Do my pets really need flea/tick/heartworm prevention in the winter months?

Updated: Dec 5, 2019

Old Man Winter is here for the long haul and one benefit of the frigid temps that winter brings, you’d think, would be an end to the fleas, ticks and heartworms that plague your pets during warmer months. A question we get asked a lot is do I really need to keep giving those parasite preventives for my pets all year long?

The short answer: Yes. Believe it or not, many of these parasites are still active during the winter months, no matter how frigid it may get. Year-round parasite preventives not only help safeguard your pet from disease, but they help protect your family’s health as well.

Frustrating Fleas

Outdoors, fleas can survive in temperatures of -30 degrees Fahrenheit. They can also ride out the winter on dogs and cats huddled next to the skin where it’s warm. It is also important to keep in mind that the flea eggs that fell into your carpeting and furniture last summer may develop into adult fleas in the temperate environment of your home this winter. On dogs and cats, fleas can cause uncomfortable itching, especially in pets with flea allergy dermatitis, which results from a severe allergic reaction to flea saliva; and once fleas are in your home, it can take months to get rid of them, and you run the risk of the people in the house getting fleas as well. Because fleas can contain tapeworm larvae, your pets can become infected when they accidentally ingest a flea during grooming, and children can also contract these tapeworms. Why risk it when monthly preventives can help protect your pet and children and keep your house from a flea infestation?

Tenacious Ticks

Contrary to popular belief, ticks don’t die with the first frost. Some are just less active, while others search for a new host when it’s above freezing. Still others can live year-round in homes and kennels. As the deer and wild turkey populations have expanded across the U.S., they’ve carried ticks with them to more geographic areas. Ticks aren’t just limited to woody areas. Landscaping in our suburbs and cities has attracted coyotes, foxes, raccoons and other wildlife, all of which carry ticks into the urban areas. Ticks can transmit disease-causing agents to your pets. And ticks are equal-opportunity parasites: they’re happy to share organisms with you, too.

Hardy Heartworms

Heartworm disease has been reported in all 50 states. This potentially fatal disease affects both dogs and cats and is very preventable. Mosquitoes, which transmit heartworms, can live year-round in many parts of the country. All it takes are a few days of temperatures above 57 degrees Fahrenheit and the heartworm larvae can develop to the infective stage within the mosquito, ready to be transferred to pets with a single mosquito bite. These insects can also live indoors and transmit heartworms, even in the winter. In fact, approximately 30% of cats that get heartworm disease are described as “strictly indoors” by their owners.

Worrisome Worms

Most heartworm preventives also contain medication to help eliminate intestinal parasites such as roundworms and hookworms. Pets can become infected in the winter if they catch an infected bird or mouse. Some parasite eggs, such as those from roundworms and whip-worms, can survive freezing temperatures. If they’ve developed to the infective stage and the ground thaws, they can turn into larvae which pets can pick up from the environment or even at doggie daycare. If that’s not worry enough, many of these intestinal parasites are zoonotic, meaning they can be spread from pets to people.

The easiest way to prevent parasites year round is to keep them on preventatives. The average cost of yearly prevention for a dog and cat are listed below. It’s inexpensive & to give your pets the best quality of life possible is priceless!

Dogs: $147 for 6 months of prevention for fleas, ticks, heartworm & intestinal parasites

Cats: $114 for 6 months of prevention for fleas, ticks, heartworm, & intestinal parasites

Now on the other hand is the price of treatment for both Heartworm Disease & Lyme Disease.

Lyme Disease: Treatment for Lyme Disease is variable depending on the severity of the disease. Early stages are diagnosed by lameness and Fever along with a positive Lyme antigen test ran at the hospital. Sometimes in Early stages there are no physical signs of the disease. In Mid-late diagnosis's the joints are affected and lameness is easy to recognize. At this stage there can be irreversible joint damage and the start of early kidney disease. In Late diagnosis there is definite joint damage and the canine is in kidney failure.

Early treatment: antibiotics, probiotics, and preventatives $250

Mid-Late Treatment: Pain medication, joint supplements, antibiotics, probiotics, and preventatives $500

Late Treatment: bloodwork, IV fluid therapy, Prescription Diet for Kidney disease, Hospitalization, antibiotics, pain medication, joint supplements, probiotics, and preventatives $1,500.

Heartworm Disease: The treatment for heartworm disease starts with a thirty day course of antibiotics and heartworm preventatives. During that thirty days your dog will be on a strict exercise restriction, because physical exertion increases the rate at which the heartworms cause damage in the heart and lungs. Dogs with no signs or mild signs of heartworm disease, such as cough or exercise intolerance, have a high success rate with treatment. More severe disease can also be successfully treated, but the possibility of complications is greater. The severity of heartworm disease does not always correlate with the severity of symptoms, and dogs with many worms may have few or no symptoms early in the course of the disease. Because of this your pet will be hospitalized for 3 days and kept under sedation to help keep them quiet. The treatment for heartworm disease is deep injections into the canine's spinal muscles. As a result of treatment, there is a risk that dead heartworms will cause severe respiratory problems, especially if dogs are not properly confined to restrict activity following treatment. These problems can occur from several days to 6 weeks after treatment of a heartworm-infected dog. The signs of post-treatment complications include coughing, spitting up blood, labored or rapid breathing, lethargy, lack of appetite, and fever. In dogs with complications of heartworm treatment, cage confinement, with several days of oxygen treatment and drugs to control inflammation and reduce blood clotting, may help alleviate the problem. If properly cared for, most dogs begin to recover from treatment complications within 24 hours.

Total Treatment Cost: $2,500

The best thing we can do for our pets is to prevent these diseases! We can't explain to them why they hurt and what must be done to fix the damage. Help us help them by giving them the necessary medications to stay healthy.

**Please keep in mind these prices are rough estimates and the price of treatment will vary with every pet**

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