Winter. Snow. Ice. And ticks? Yes, ticks. While most people don’t associate ticks with the winter season, they can still pose a danger to dogs, cats, and humans. Surprisingly, even though it’s winter, it’s still possible to be bitten and infected with a tickborne illness. Some ticks can indeed survive – and thrive – through the cold temps, and other ticks are living longer due to warmer winters.
Winter can be hard enough, and add ticks to that? No need to fret. There are things that we can all do to keep ourselves and our furry friends as healthy as possible at this time of year.
How warm does it need to get for ticks to emerge?
Believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be warm for ticks to emerge during the winter months. Blacklegged ticks such as the Eastern and Western blacklegged tick and deer ticks are especially good at coping with the cold weather, even burrowing deep into the snow where they can find insulation. In addition, these hardy prehistoric creatures have a highly-developed natural anti-freeze system called “cryoprotectant” that protects them from sub-zero weather.
Blacklegged ticks may carry Lyme disease, and as a result, are as much a threat to cats and dogs as they are to humans. Other diseases that can be transmitted by ticks include spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tick paralysis, among other ailments. Tick-Born Relapsing Fever (TBRF) is spread mostly by soft ticks which have a much longer lifespan than blacklegged ticks – up to 10 years in some cases. And even when ticks don’t carry disease, they can be a big bother, so it’s always best to check for ticks.
How to check pets, and ourselves, for ticks
Dogs and people are naturally more susceptible to ticks in the winter since we go outside year-round. House cats, on the other hand, aren’t lovers of harsh winter weather, preferring instead to snuggle up in a warm spot indoors. Still, it’s important to check both cats and dogs for ticks since both can bring them inside. And while we’re at it, it’s important to check ourselves and our children as well.
Checking pets can start with something that you do daily: petting your pets. As you run your fingers through your pet’s fur, feel around for small bumps that a tick may have created. Look for ticks in specific areas, such as in and around the ears, around the eyelids, on the neck, under the legs, between the back legs and the toes, and around the tail. For pets with dark fur, grab a flashlight for assistance.
Human-check: Whether we’re checking ourselves or helping family members and children, it’s smart to create a routine. Ticks are frequently found on the head, neck, groin, ears, and underarms, but can attach anywhere on the body. They can be as small as a poppyseed, so arm yourself with a magnifying glass.
How to avoid ticks, even during the winter
On winter days, there’s no reason to stay indoors. You’re smart and know that any outdoor-time can mean exposure to ticks on a winter day, which is why tick prevention equates to a year-round plan.
To reduce the risk of picking up ticks close to home, the CDC recommends removing leaf litter around the yard, beginning in the fall and until the trees are bare, clearing tall grass and brush, placing a 3-foot barrier of wood chips between the lawn and wooded areas, keeping the grass short, and removing items like old furniture or mattresses that are left outside as they can harbor ticks. And while no tick repellent can prevent disease, they can certainly help repel ticks and prevent them from wanting to stay on you.
Using Wondercide’s flea and tick spray is safe when used as directed for dogs and cats of all ages, as well as a plant-powered flea and tick collar or spot-on, to keep ticks at bay at any time of year. When we’re headed outside, we also spray-up with the repellent for the whole family, and it smells great, too. There are four fresh scents: peppermint, lemongrass, rosemary, and cedarwood.
If you think that you or your pet may have come in contact with a tick or have symptoms of Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses, don’t write it off simply because it’s winter. It’s best to see your doctor or bring your pet to the vet.
But certainly, don’t let any risk of a tick bite during this season deter you from going outside, enjoying nature and the crisp winter air. Now, where’s that leash? We’re ready to explore the great outdoors this winter!