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Fleas are small, flightless external parasites that feed on the blood of mammals and birds that have long plagued household pets. A common misconception among pet parents about fleas is that the insects die off during the winter months. Although fleas are more likely to die when temperatures dip below freezing, they can and do survive during winter conditions. When temperatures drop outside of their comfort zone, fleas automatically seek out warmer environments or lay dormant during their developmental stage until a suitable host and conditions are available.
When flea activity diminishes in some regions as seasonal temperatures begin to drop, pet parents often experience a false sense of security. Here's what pet parents need to know about fleas in winter.
Even though fleas aren't as prolific during winter as they are in warmer times, protected outdoor areas such as outbuildings, screened porches, outdoor dog kennels, dog houses, and even wildlife dens can provide enough heat for the insects to survive. Cold temperatures don't kill flea eggs — they just wait until it warms up to hatch.
Fleas are highly adaptable insects, and they've evolved to remain in the pupae stage for 30 weeks to a year while waiting for optimal temperatures. When suitable temperatures are detected, the pupae all hatch within a matter of hours. Keep in mind that the average adult female flea can lay as many as 50 eggs per day, so flea populations quickly explode once the dormant pupae begin hatching. However, indoor pets typically see little reduction in flea activity even as outdoor temperatures plummet. The artificial environment provided by home heating systems creates a prime habitat for fleas to thrive.
Year-round flea prevention is important even for pet parents who notice a significant reduction in fleas during winter, especially if their pets primarily live outdoors. This prevents major flea infestations from occurring once the weather warms up. It's important to use the correct form of preventive flea treatment. For instance, cats require a different type of product than their canine counterparts.
Flea infestations that gain momentum are difficult to stop, which is why prevention is so important.
Fleas can create a variety of health problems for domestic pets. Besides simply being uncomfortable, scratching and biting at flea bites frequently results in infection. Additionally, fleas transmit parasites and diseases, such as tapeworm, plague, and typhus, which can be passed on to humans. Some pets can even become anemic due to blood loss caused by flea infestations.
Regularly vacuuming household carpets and washing pet bedding in hot water is a key part of any pet parent's flea prevention routine.
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