Many dog owners stop protecting their dogs from parasites between November and March or April.
However, external parasites usually associated with summer temperatures can also be active in winter. Especially with very mild winters, as is the case this year... and as it may happen more and more often.
While some parasites, like fleas, usually only cause itching, which can be very upsetting for your pet, others such as ticks, can be vectors of potentially serious or even fatal diseases. Don’t those parasites die during winter ?
What about mosquitoes? Normally, these very annoying insects for humans do not bother our canine friends too much, since they are protected by their haircoat. However, in wetlands with forests, lakes and ponds, they can often be very numerous. Your dog's less hairy body parts such as nose, ears or belly can be fiercely attacked and get infected with intensive scratching. It is therefore necessary to think of an external protection, like a lemongrass shampoo for example. In winter, mosquitoes are fortunately not a nuisance because they don’t survive or reproduce in cold weather. Although a mild winter allows the eggs laid in autumn to survive until spring, which then restarts their life cycle after the first rains and heat. It is important to think about external protection once temperatures reach 15 degrees for a period of 7 to 10 days. With the mild winter we are currently experiencing, it is very likely that they will quickly reappear.
The dog flea on the other hand can easily survive in winter. It is however unlikely that a dog will catch fleas outside, even in summer. The flea is an obligatory parasite, which means it can only survive on a host. Transmissions occur either through close contact with an already infested dog (fleas jump from one dog to another), or in an enclosed environment where an infested animal has spent some time (house, boarding house, veterinary clinic). An adult flea can lay 50 eggs per day (during 30 days!) and these stay in houses (heated in winter), where they develop into larvae, pupae and fleas again. An indoor environment can thus become a reservoir where the concentration of fleas become very high. Since the larvae can live for up to 6 months in dark and warm corners (for example near a heat source), they can infest a dog that will come to warm up there. For these reasons, flea prevention should be done all year long.
Ticks, by contrast, always come from the outside. They are present in urban environments but they are more often found in nature, at the edges of forests, in thickets or in places where tall grasses grow. If you pass close by, they will hold on tightly and bite. They can transmit various pathogens such as borreliosis (Lyme disease) or tick-borne encephalitis. The risk of being bitten decreases during the cold season, but depending on the weather conditions, ticks can also be active late in the fall, very early in the spring and... even in winter.
Increasingly, veterinarians are seeing dog owners presenting their dogs for borreliosis testing (because they have found ticks) in December, January and February. If a tick goes into hibernation with temperatures of 4 degrees or less for 7 days in a row, it can wake up when it's warmer or remain active as long as the temperature doesn't drop below 4-5 degrees. This year, we experience a particularly mild winter and many areas have not even received snow.
We humans are protected by our clothing, but dogs are still exposed when walking outside.
Different weapons are available to prevent or control external parasites like fleas or ticks. There are sprays or spot-on solutions, collars or insecticidal shampoos. Several essential oils are also natural repellents against parasites. Neem, tea tree, oregon, lavender and lemongrass oils strongly help to keep parasites away just by their smell.
Regular use of a shampoo such as Eat Small's SOLID SHAMPOO FOR DOGS AGAINST PARASITES is one more tool for the prevention of biting insects. A blend of essential oils, aloe vera, healing clay and mild surfactants cares for the dog's skin and haircoat while helping to protect him against unwanted parasites. Mosquitoes, fleas and ticks find the smell of these oils repulsive, while we find them refreshing.
Other natural methods can support external protection. Brewer’s yeast for instance is often considered as a natural armor against bitting insects. It’s an abundant source of biotin that keeps the haircoat healthy and thick and reinforces this natural defense of the dog. A diet that includes brewer’s yeast like insect-based dog food WALD for adult dogs or the cold pressed treats for dogs ENERGY, MINDFULNESS or SPIRIT from Eat Small is a good source of biotin for dogs who go often in the wild.
To keep your dog healthy and prevent the discomfort of itching, scratching, skin irritations and even the danger of some severe deseases, protecting your dog against external parasites has now become a 12-month-a-year affair.
Véronique Glorieux is a canadian-board veterinarian who cumulates more than 10 years of medical work and experience with dogs and cats. Animal wellfare and environment are 2 topics that moves her. She lives now in Berlin, where she co-founded Eat Small and uses her experience in a different field of practice. With healthy and sustainable insect-based pet food she aims to support both the health of pets and of the planet.