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Dog Ticks and Fleas Q&A

WebMD veterinary experts answer commonly asked questions about fleas and ticks on your dog.
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A: Ticks and fleas can be worse from one area to another and can vary seasonally and from year to year. There’s one particular flea species that we find on dogs and cats in North America that predominates ... called Ctenocephalides felis, or the cat flea. That flea is very susceptible to drying. So that's why there are more fleas in Tampa than in Kansas City, and more fleas in Kansas City than Denver. Once you get into the Rocky Mountain states, for example, or even the Western areas of the plains states, fleas on dogs and cats are not that much of a problem because it’s just too dry. The Gulf Coast region of North America and the Southeast region are the flea capital. As you move inland, however, depending on the rainfall in a given year, it can be OK or get very horrid at times.

Ticks have different biologies and behaviors, of course. And certain areas have more tick problems than others. The upper Midwest and the extreme Northeast, from Pennsylvania up, have a very serious problem with the Lyme disease tick. But if you get down to the south central part of the United States, ticks also can be absolutely horrible. There are very few places in North America you can’t encounter ticks today, because there are so many different ticks.

Q: Can I stop using preventives in winter months, when all the fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes are dead?

A: It depends on where you’re located. In most of the United States, my answer today is “No” for various reasons. There are so many different tick species, and fleas can be a problem even late into the fall. If you get into some of the more northern states or into Canada, where they have very long, protracted winters, then it could be reasonable for several months. But even here in Eastern Kansas I don’t recommend stopping. We’ve only got about 40-45 days a year when we don’t see ticks.

Q: I know about Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but now I’m hearing about new diseases my dog can get from ticks. Are these diseases rare? How worried should I be about my dog contracting a tick-borne disease?

A: It depends on where you live. Some of these diseases are local. What you have to do is, depending on where you live, talk to your veterinarian and find out what diseases are important in your area. The diseases that are important to dogs and cats in Kansas are not the same diseases that are important to dogs and cats in Connecticut.

Q:  An environmental group has sued several pet stores and manufacturers claiming that flea collars have high concentrations of chemicals in them that are dangerous to pets and people. Are these over-the-counter flea collars safe?

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