Can It Really Be Bug Season Already?
February 2017 was freakishly mild across the United States with more than 11,743 local daily records for high temperatures being broken or tied, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In fact, the winter of 2016-17 (December 2016 through February 2017) was one of the warmest winters on record. Additionally, most of the country experienced near-normal or above-normal precipitation.
What accompanied those unseasonably warm temperatures? Reports of early tick and mosquito activity.
Mild winter temps mean more pests survive
A milder-than-usual winter followed by a warm, wet spring can lead to ideal habitats (or growing conditions) for the external parasites that plague our furry family members. With unseasonably warm temperatures arriving early in some areas — it was nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit in southwest Oklahoma on February 11 — not only have unwanted guests arrived early, but it’s highly likely that there will be increased numbers of them. The National Pest Management Association has updated its Bug Barometer, and the forecast is calling for a very buggy, creepy-crawly spring and summer. What that means for pet parents is that our canine and feline companions will most likely be bugged (pun intended). So if your pet isn’t already receiving a heartworm medication and/or a flea and tick control product, now’s the time to get started.
While mosquito populations typically drop after a hard frost, ticks and fleas often survive winter’s cold, even in Northern states like Minnesota and Wisconsin. Some ticks become dormant, others hide in leaf litter, some move inside, and still others spend the winter on animals. Adult black-legged ticks (deer ticks), the species that transmits Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, may spend the winter on a host animal or snuggled under leaf litter and other plant material. During midwinter thaws, when temperatures rise above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, these creepy-crawlies can become active and have been found on plants above snow-covered ground searching for their next meal.
Many areas of the country experienced a bumper crop of fleas last year. Although fleas are a year-round problem for dogs and cats in some areas of the country, their numbers usually decrease during cold winter months in areas such as the Midwest. Fleas in any life stage — even the tough-to-kill pupal (cocoon) stage — can’t survive near-freezing temperatures for extended periods of time. These tiny bloodsuckers can survive the winter living on animals, including feral cats, raccoons and opossums; in heated buildings, like your garage or home; and in protected areas around building foundations.
But a mild winter can mean more fleas survive. Clinics across the Midwest are reporting that they’ve seen fleas on patients during December, January and February — something that’s rare for them. Unfortunately, that can also mean larger numbers of fleas are waiting for your pet.
Buggy with a chance of mosquitoes
Some mosquito species die off with cold weather, but others may simply hibernate. This year’s mild winter weather, however, is making it possible for many mosquitoes to thrive, not merely survive. While many of us associate mosquitoes with summer, they can be active as long as temperatures are above 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Mosquito eggs are also able to withstand cold temperatures. Many areas of the U.S. are reporting that mosquitoes have become active earlier, which gives these pesky, whiny bloodsuckers a head start in building larger populations for later in the season.
More mosquitoes should be a concern for pet parents because they transmit immature heartworms to both dogs and cats. Once mature, heartworms live in the large blood vessels of the lungs and in the chambers of the heart where they disrupt normal blood flow. The good news for pet owners is that heartworms and the disease they cause is 100 percent preventable.
To protect your pets, veterinarians recommend using year-round heartworm prevention medication — and depending on your area, flea and tick control products. While fleas, ticks and mosquitoes may seem to be annoying pests, they’re actually capable of causing serious health problems. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian about what’s best for your furry family member.
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