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Warm weather brings fun in the sun for our dogs—but also an increase in fleas and ticks! Flea and tick season could technically be all year-round, depending on the weather of where you live. That’s because these pests thrive in the warmth—and can stay dormant through some temperatures.
However, for states with varying climates throughout the year, flea and tick season tends to start in late spring and summer and continue into the fall.
“Any of the milder climates that have shorter winters will have more fleas in their environment,” Dr. Nicole Eckholm, DVM, MS, DACVD says. “Places like the South and California are more likely to have pets develop flea allergies than dogs who live in Michigan where the cold, cold winter kills the whole flea population.”
Regardless of where you live, it’s a good idea to keep your dog on year-round preventive flea medication, as recommended by your veterinarian. Once fleas have taken up residence in your home or on your pet, they’re difficult to get rid of. So you don’t want to risk your pets (or your house) getting infested with fleas.
To get ahead of flea season, prevent ticks from harming your pets, and keep your home pest-free, find out when flea and tick season is in your state. Plus, learn how to treat fleas and ticks after you’ve spotted them.
When Is Flea and Tick Season: A State-By-State Guide
Research shows the highest flea infestations are in the summer, while the lowest flea infestations happen in the winter.
|Flea & Tick Season (months)||States Affected|
|Jan-Dec (year-round)||WA, OR, CA, NV, AZ, TX, LA, MS, AL, GA, FL, NC, SC, HI|
|March-Dec||ID, UT, NM, OK, KS, MO, IL, IN, OH, PA, DE, MD, VA, WV, KY, TN|
|April-Dec||MI, NY, NJ, MA, RI, CT|
|April-Nov||MT, CO, NE, SD, IA, MN, WI, VT, NH, ME|
States on the west coast and along the southern border, like California, Texas, and Florida, all experience year-round flea seasons; whereas central and northern states like Colorado, Minnesota, and Ohio, get a bit of reprieve during the winter when it’s cooler and drier.
Where do fleas and ticks live?
Fleas are nimble and finding them in the wild can be difficult. Your best strategy for avoiding fleas is to know where they are so you can minimize your dog’s time in the area during peak flea and tick season.
Typically, fleas tend to hide in heavily wooded or grassy areas, like walking trails or dog parks. Fleas can hitch a ride on your pet and burrow into their fur by jumping from organic debris, such as grass, branches, leaves, or soil. Once fleas get on your pets, they will likely make home in your carpeting. To combat home infestations, wash your bedding in hot water and regularly vacuum the floor to reduce eggs and larvae.
Like fleas, some ticks also love hiding in tall grasses and in wooded areas, waiting for a new host. The ticks that bite dogs and cats most often live in grass, where they can easily attach themselves to your pet. There are also other ticks associated with rodents.
Dangers of Flea and Tick Bites
Fleas and ticks can be hard to spot, and if you don’t tackle these pests right away, it could lead to discomfort for you and your pet. To avoid a long-term infestation, keep a watchful eye for flea and tick symptoms in cats and dogs.
Here is what the bites look like, and what happens if the pests aren’t removed.
Flea symptoms in cats and dogs
If your cat or dog bitten or infested with fleas, Merck Manual says you should notice symptoms such as:
- General itching and chewing but also discomfort around the rump or tail area
- Flea bites, which are tiny, raised red bumps. The skin surrounding the bites will often be irritated.
- Presence of flea dirt or droppings. “Flea dirt is digested blood and it looks like granular black dirt and is often seen on the skin if you part the hair,” says Dr. Gary Richter, a veterinarian and pet health expert. If you soak a black speck from your pet on a wet paper towel and it turns red, that’s flea droppings, not dirt.
- Hair loss and scabs, due to excessive itching.
Treatment: Removing fleas from your pet and your home requires a long-term proactive approach. You’ll want to get your dog on a flea preventative medication, as approved by your vet immediately as it can take up to 36 hours for the medication to work.
Then you’ll want to do a thorough clean of your home, from washing and vacuuming areas where your pets hang to using home flea treatment over the course of two to three months to kill any flea eggs and larvae. Check with your vet for what they recommend using.
Tick symptoms in cats and dogs
Tick bites can present similar symptoms to fleas, but they can lead to a greater number of illnesses for your pet. The symptoms of ticks in cats and dogs may include the following:
- Visible tick on your cat’s or dog’s skin
- Small red bumps
- Loss of appetite
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common places you should check for ticks on your cat or dog include:
- in and around the ears
- around the tail
- between the back legs
- between the toes
- under the front legs
- under the collar
- around the eyelids
Treatment: Talk to your veterinarian before applying tick medication on your cat or dog. You may need medication that is prescribed by weight, and some cats are known to have a bad reaction to tick medication.
To create a tick-free zone in your yard, the CDC says you can apply pesticide in your yard (if you choose to do this, just remember to use caution because pesticides are harmful to people and pets). The CDC says that keeping up with yard maintenance, reducing tall grass, and creating barriers between your yard and wooded areas can go a long way with tick prevention.
Fleas and Ticks Myths & Facts
Even if you live in a mostly cold climate, you may still want to keep on top of flea and tick preventatives. The off-season for pests doesn’t mean you and your pets will get a guaranteed break. Here are the most common flea and tick myths debunked.
1. Myth: Flea & ticks are only a problem in the summer
Adults fleas can remain in their cocoon for up to five months before coming alive to feed on your pets. This dormant period may be in or outside your home, leaving you vulnerable to surprise infestations if your pets aren’t on preventative medication.
Ticks can also appear year-round depending on the type. Research shows ticks can actually survive if there are several days of temperatures above freezing.
2. Myth: If you only found one flea, you’re safe
Even just one flea can cause a widespread infestation once they hitch a ride on your cat or dog. Adult fleas can bite their host up to 400 times per day and female fleas lay up to 50 eggs a day! These eggs can drop off your pet and spread into your carpet.
3. Myth: Only pets have to worry about fleas and ticks
While fleas can’t live on the human body, they can bite humans and leave itchy, red bumps. You’ll most likely find flea bites around your feet and ankles.
Ticks bites which may seem like minor bites at first can be more harmful to humans. Some ticks can transmit illnesses like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a tick needs at least 36 hours to transfer Lyme disease. If your pet has made their way through tall grass, be sure to check their fur and yourself for ticks before entering your home.
4. Fact: Carpeting in homes has made fleas worse
The increase of carpeting in homes has made flea problems worse, and infestations harder to treat thoroughly. Regular washing of bedding in hot water and vacuuming with a powerful vacuum can help reduce the number of eggs and larvae around the house.
5. Myth: Fleas can be treated in one go
Fleas are notoriously difficult to get rid of due to their ability to lay dormant for a long time. Therefore successful flea treatment warrants a multi-pronged approach of:
- prescription flea preventatives, as prescribed by your vet
- regular pet baths
- weekly washing of bedding in hot water
- regular vacuuming to remove flea eggs
If these solutions don’t work after a few months, you might need to bring in a professional pest control service.
6. Myth: You should use matches or heat to remove a tick
Using heat to remove a tick might result in greater chance of infection. Instead, the best way to remove a tick from your dog or cat is to grasp it with a clean pair of tweezers, as close to the skin as possible, and pull it off with a swift motion. (There is also a proprietary “tick remover” tool you can put on your keychain for tick removal on the go.) Be sure to clean the skin with soap and warm water after.
7. Fact: Fleas prefer cats over dogs
Nowadays, fleas prefer our furry friends to humans, and also prefer cats to dogs. Keep this in mind if you live in a multi-pet household, especially with an outdoor cat.
“If there is a flea issue in the household, it’s usually the cat that’s the issue,” explains Dr. Eckholm. “If there are stray or feral cats in the neighborhood, they can be the source of the problem.”
What the Itch? Is My Dog Allergic To Fleas?
Dr. Eckholm points out there is a big difference between a pet with fleas and a flea-allergic pet with fleas.
“It takes a very low number of bites to cause a reaction in flea-allergic pets,” Dr. Eckholm explains. “With flea-allergic pets, you won’t necessarily ever see fleas or flea droppings because they are allergic to the saliva from the flea bite, and when the flea injects that saliva under their skin, it causes a hypersensitivity reaction.”
The biggest problem you’ll see with flea-allergic dogs is itchiness, which makes them prone to secondary infections that require antibiotics to treat. But as previously mentioned, fleas can transmit disease to your pet, especially if he’s not protected.
If you notice your pet itching incessantly but don’t see fleas, schedule a checkup with your vet right away. Your pet might have a different skin allergy and need medication.
Keep Up With Flea and Tick Prevention
No one wants to think about fleas and ticks, but keeping your pets on these medications year-round will save you and your pet in the long run. Do not limit the application of flea and tick medication to flea and tick season.
If you haven’t put your pet on medication before, check in with your vet as flea and tick medication is prescribed based on your pet’s weight. Some pets may require special treatments or applications due to their immune system. Never use flea or tick medication intended for dogs on cats—this can be fatal to your cat.
Natural flea and tick treatment may also be effective but always consult with a vet before relying on home remedies to get rid of fleas and ticks.