Knowing when to give flea and tick medicine is really important in protecting your dog. First, it is much easier to protect your dog by preventing tick-borne diseases or flea infestations with flea and tick medicine than to treat the disease or infestation after the fact. Due to this, many vets actually recommend that your dog be on some sort of flea and tick prevention program year round. Despite that, many folks don’t like the fact that their dogs do not get a break from a flea and tick medicine treatment due to costs and health concerns. In fact, vets often get asked, “When is it safe to stop giving my dog a flea and tick treatment and when should we start back up in the spring?” These questions can be quite hard to answer and vary drastically depending on the weather conditions and patterns where you live. The answer is also tricky based on fleas versus ticks. It may be that your dog needs a preventative for both or just one species. So let’s dive into the differences.
Flea Life Cycle & How Flea Medications Work on Dogs
Let’s start with a general understanding about fleas. A female flea can lay up to 50 white eggs per day, beginning the flea life cycle. An adult flea can land on your dog and lay eggs, which then can fall off as they move, making them land throughout your home and anywhere else your dog hangs out. The eggs take 2 days to 2 weeks to hatch, which is when the larvae emerge. The larvae eat organic debris to grow for about five to twenty days when they spin a cocoon and move to the next stage, the pupae stage. The pupae stage can last for a few days to more than a year waiting for the right conditions to emerge into an adult flea. The adult flea will begin feeding on its host and lay eggs within a few days, starting the cycle over again.
Once a flea infestation occurs, it is a pain to treat the total environment and to destroy all the life stages of the flea. It is much easier to prevent fleas in the first place, which is easily accomplished by using a topical flea medication on your dog. Topical flea medications work by being distributed in the oil glands of your dog’s skin when applied. Once applied, the flea medication kills the adult flea when it lands on the dog, which in hand prevents the adult flea from laying eggs. Many flea treatments also contain an insect growth regulator that kills flea eggs and larvae, preventing the entire flea life cycle. This is true of combination flea and tick medicines. Flea medications also prevent diseases that your dog can contract from fleas, such as internal parasites, tularemia, and flea allergy dermatitis.
Fleas love warm climates. Their optimal growing conditions are between 70 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and as such are often associated with summer months. If you live in an area that is mild year round, you should use a flea preventative year round. That may or may not be the case in areas with more distinct seasons. In many parts of the United States, the cat flea, which is the most common flea of dogs and cats, hits peak infestation in late summer and fall. Once the temperature turns really cold, your dog is less likely to contract fleas because the cold causes the fleas to lay dormant. Adult fleas, flea larvae, and flea eggs don’t fare very well in cold weather. Flea pupae, on the other hand, can survive over a year in freezing cold temperatures. Even in areas with cold winter months, it is advisable to continue flea prevention, especially if you have had recent flea issues during the warmer months. You must remember, while it is cold outside during the winter months, it is also the time when we warm up the indoors, creating the warm climate that fleas love. This can create a year round flea problem if fleas are not taken care of. If you didn’t have any issues during spring through fall and life in an area with a good freeze, then you may be fine stopping your dog’s flea medicine during the winter.
Tick Life Cycle & How Tick Medications Work on Dogs
There are more than 850 species of ticks, which are classified into soft and hard ticks based on their outer body. The most common ticks to affect dogs are hard ticks, although soft ticks are present in the Southwest. For this discussion, we will be discussing the tick life cycle of hard ticks. Female ticks usually breed on a host animal and then drop to the ground to lay eggs, of which she can lay thousands at a time. The eggs than hatch into seed ticks, which are known as the larval stage. The seed ticks find a host (usually a small rodent or bird) to get their first blood meal. After several days of “eating”, they fall to the ground again where they molt and become a nymph. The nymph will find a second host (usually a larger animal) to get another blood meal. Once engorged with blood, the nymph will fall to the ground, molt again and become an adult tick. The adult tick once again finds a host, which is usually an even larger animal, such as a deer or dog. Once on the host, the adult tick will feed and breed and start the cycle over again.
Tick medications and tick repellent products work through a group of insecticides. A common ingredient found in many tick repellent shampoos and sprays are pyrethrins, natural chemicals extracted from chrysanthemum flowers, that kill insects. They are great in repelling not only ticks, but also lice, fleas, mites and mosquitoes. Pyrethroids are the synthetic counterpart to pyrethrins and are often found in topical flea and tick medications, as they have a longer lasting effect. Some flea and tick topical treatments contain fipronil and/or selamectin, which are synthetic chemicals used to kill insects while being slowly released over time on your dog. Dog tick collars often use amitraz, a synthetic chemical that kills ticks by absorbing into the animal’s skin, but is not effective on fleas or other insects. Tick medications protect your dog from tick transmitted diseases, such as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
In locations with a consistent mild climate, adult tick populations are most active from October to March. In areas with four distinct seasons, ticks have two active seasons: early spring – early summer and fall. Did you catch that? Fall can be one of the worst times for ticks. Some ticks are not as active during the winter, but some, such as the deer tick, can stay active during the winter months as long as the temperature remains above freezing and the ground is not frozen. A truth that you need to know- ticks do not die off after the first frost and the deer tick actually begins its feeding and hence becomes more abundant around the first frost in the Northeast part of the U.S.
Should you give your dog a tick medicine year round? This is a definite yes if you live anywhere where there is a mild climate or during a mild winter in the north. In mid climates it is best to use a flea and tick medicine to protect against both species. If there is a deep freeze and the ground is frozen, there is no reason to give your dog a tick medicine for those months. Often the weather during winter varies drastically from mild to cold and back to mild. It is always better to be on the safe side and keep your dog protected from a disease.
In Conclusion, Should I Give My Dog Flea and Tick Medicine Year Round?
Knowing if you should give your dog flea and tick medicine year round is really a matter of knowing the typical climate in the area you live, as well as the most active times of fleas and ticks in your area. The best way to determine if fleas and ticks are active in your area during winter months is to check with your local veterinarian or county extension office. Many areas have variable climates from year to year, so make sure you check each year. If you are not sure, air on the side of keeping your dog safe by continually using a dog flea and tick treatment. Monthly flea and tick medications are safe and effective for your dog. It is worth the additional cost of using a flea and tick medicine as a preventative over winter- it is much better than paying for vet bills if your dog would contract a tick borne disease or to try to rid your house of a flea infestation.
Need more information about topical flea and tick preventatives? Read our Topical Flea & Tick for Dogs Comparison blog post to learn more. The post covers the main differences between the major topical flea and tick medicines, such as Advantage II, Frontline Plus, and K-9 Advantix II.