Something Itchy This Way Comes
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Something Itchy This Way Comes

Toronto pets (and pet-owners) beware! Flea season is getting longer and worse thanks to our changing climate.

A flea, up close. Image by {a href=""}kat m research{/a}, from Flickr.

A flea, up close. Image by {a href="[email protected]/3404894430/in/photostream"}kat m research{/a}, from Flickr.

While bedbugs are the most high-profile parasites to plague Toronto residents, last year some people (especially pet owners) found themselves itching for an entirely different reason: fleas. In 2012, these common bloodsuckers caused more commotion than they had in years, which left a lot of residents wondering if the infestation was the start of a trend. Fortunately, it appears the itchy plague is over for the time being, and for that you can thank our current cold, snowy winter.

Dr. Nigel Skinner of Kew Beach Veterinary Clinic was in the thick of the flea epidemic last fall, which he described in this article for Beach Metro News as “the worst flea season I have ever seen.” Residents of the Beach were hit particularly hard, including many pet owners who had never had a problem before. Even exclusively indoor pets were not immune to picking up fleas, because the insects can hitch a ride on an owner’s clothing. Many Torontonians found themselves treating their pets for fleas for the first time.

In an interview, Skinner provided some further insight into why last year’s flea season was such a standout. “When the snow falls and we get our first real deep freeze of the season, most fleas in all stages of life—adults, eggs and larva—all die off,” he said. “Only a very few survive to start breeding again next year. However, last year, because the winter was so mild, the population didn’t experience a big drop.” So, by the time flea season rolled around in the summer and fall, the flea population had surged. Skinner believes the Beach is particularly susceptible to flea infestation because of an unusually high concentration of household pets.

Luckily, Skinner doesn’t believe we’re in for the same kind of flea-for-all next year. “This winter is much colder, so I expect we won’t have the same problems we did last year,” he said. He does warn, however, that over the last decade he has seen a general trend towards longer flea seasons and larger flea populations. “That is just the work of climate change. As the summers get hotter and longer, and the winters shorter and milder, we will see more and more fleas.”

According to Skinner, indoor pets don’t have to be treated for fleas unless a problem arises, and outdoor pets don’t, for the moment, need to start ordinary parasite treatment any earlier this year than usual (owners should start treating their pets in June). What Dr. Skinner does recommend, however, is that owners be sure to treat their pets late enough into the year. “Where most people make a mistake is that, as soon as it gets cool in October or November, they stop treating their pets because they assume that the season is over. However, late fall is the time when fleas are most active and the population is largest. Your best bet is to keep treating your pets until the first big snowfall of the year.”