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Can Dogs Really Get Fleas in the Winter?

Every week, we get a vet to answer your pressing pet questions.

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Have a question you’d like to ask a vet? Send your query to pets@washingtonian.com with the subject line “Vet Q.”

Q: My vet recommends using a flea preventative year-round. It’s not cheap, and it seems cold enough now that fleas shouldn’t be a threat. Our dogs only go outside for walks and playtime—they never sleep outdoors or anything like that. Is this necessary?

Dr. Brittany Cartlidge, AtlasVet DC: The saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is very appropriate to consider when thinking about fleas. In other words, preventing fleas is a lot easier and less expensive than dealing with them once they have infested your house. All dogs (and cats) that go outside, even briefly, should be on monthly flea prevention year round in the DC area. We all know that DC winters can be unpredictable, and I have seen pets who have become infested with fleas in February.

Within five minutes of getting on your dog, fleas can start feeding. The life cycle of a flea from egg to adult can take three to four weeks. So once fleas hitch a ride on your dog back into the house, they will feed, lay eggs, and then you can have an infestation on your hands before you know it. Due to the length of the flea life cycle, it can take months to get rid of fleas once they have established themselves in your home.

Besides being gross, fleas can also cause other illnesses in dogs. Dogs get infected with tapeworms in their intestinal tracts from eating fleas. Dogs can also be allergic to fleas. People often assume their dog has a food allergy, but in actuality, fleas are estimated to cause more than 50 percent of allergies in dogs. The key to preventing all of these issues is to have your dog on monthly flea prevention all year.

There are many different flea prevention options out there so don’t be afraid to discuss these options with your veterinarian to find the right one for your budget and your dogs. Modern flea preventatives are faster-acting and more effective than ever before. Both topical and oral products are available, and one may work better for you than another.