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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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If you have a lot of fleas, since they’re blood-sucking insects, especially if you have puppies, pets can become anemic and even die with heavy infestations. Fleas also commonly transmit tapeworms to our pets, at least one species.

With ticks, there are a dozen to 15 or more tick-transmitted diseases that our pets get from ticks. There’s Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, ehrlichiosis, and more. Many of these diseases can kill pets.

Q: Are fleas and ticks worse in some areas? Where?

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.

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