What happened to winter weather?

Published 4:31 pm Monday, March 5, 2012

By DR. FRED SELF / Guest Columnist

If you poll your coworkers and friends to find out how they like the winter, you would probably get several different answers.

Some would say they do not like the winter because of the cold, dreary weather. You might get a couple of answers along the lines of “winter or summer, it makes no difference.”

Finally, there would be at least one person willing to admit to loving the cold weather. In veterinary medicine, cold weather can be our friend. Especially where insect pests are concerned.

Each winter the cold, wet weather helps limit the insects that survive from one summer to the next. While we never reach the extreme cold of Alaska or the rainfall experienced in the tropical rain forests, we do reach levels that can reduce pest populations.

This fact is important for our pets and for us as well. Many of the pests that spread disease between our pets also pass the same diseases between pets and people or from person to person.

Fleas are an example. The flea not only causes skin irritation and itching but it is also an intermediate host for tapeworms. Certain types of fleas are also known to spread plague. Our winter weather reduces the flea population and limits pet and human exposure.

Ticks are also controlled to some degree by our weather. Ticks are known to spread Lyme disease. Lyme disease affects humans and pets alike. Several other conditions like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Anaplasmosis have animal and human forms spread by ticks.

Likewise, mosquitoes dread the winter weather. A large portion of the mosquito life cycle is spent in water. Cold or frozen water keeps immature mosquitoes from developing or causes them to die.

In this part of the world the best-known animal condition related to mosquitoes is heartworm disease. But horses develop Eastern, Venezuelan, and Western Equine Encephalitis due to spread of the disease by the mosquito. Humans can develop all three forms of the equine encephalitis after exposure to the right mosquito. Dengue and malaria are also passed to humans by the mosquito.

The mild winter we have had this year should raise concerns for pet owners and humans in general. Without the long period of cold this winter, fleas, ticks and mosquitoes will be present in larger numbers this summer.

It is going to be important to visit your veterinarian for the proper products to keep them off pets and humans alike.

Dr. Fred Self is a veterinarian at Shelbiana Animal Clinic in Columbiana, along with Dr. Charles Thornburg. You can reach them at 669-3131.