Auburn, Ala. -- People typically associate their pets' tick, flea and mosquito problems with the arrival of warmer weather. However, according to Dr. Lindsay Starkey, an assistant professor in the Department of Pathobiology with a subspecialty in parasitology, this concern should not just come with the change of seasons.

"Fleas and ticks can survive in winter and some even indoors. Ticks can survive a cold, damp winter better than they can a hot, dry summer. Pet and other animal owners need to protect their animals year round,” said Starkey.

Starkey teaches students in all levels at Auburn's veterinary school and assists with the parasitology part of veterinary student’s diagnostics rotation, a part of their four-year clinical year with the veterinary school.

"Even with the good medications that we have, parasites are going to walk into the door of a veterinarian’s practice every day. And when it is fleas and ticks—these parasites can carry a number of potential pathogens, such as the bacteria that cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis and plague," said Starkey.

According to Starkey, these issues are particularly problematic in the southern region of the United States. Starkey provided several tips for pet owners to keep in mind year-round when it comes to these unwanted parasites:

For Pets, year-round prevention includes using a veterinarian-recommended medication designed for treating and controlling fleas, ticks, heartworm and other parasites. Owners should also check their pets routinely for evidence of a flea or tick infestation. Owners need to treat the areas indoors and outside where the pet lives and plays. Owners should try to manage the outdoor environment to make it less conducive for harboring ticks, fleas and mosquitoes and remove standing water which serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Finally, owners need to do “tick-scaping,” which involves such techniques as chemical treatment, by mowing and minimizing leafy areas that can harbor ticks and fleas in the yard.

For the owners themselves, they should always be using a tick repellent. Long sleeves and pants are also helpful in protecting against mosquitos and ticks, especially when the clothing is tucked in. Owners should also remember to self-check as much as possible. 

“Sometimes ticks are so small that it is nearly impossible to find them on your body,” Starkey said. “But when one has attached itself, there are safe ways to remove them. Use forceps or fine tweezers and grab the tick as close to the attached area on the skin as you can. Gently, but steadily pull the tick away from the skin to remove it and don’t twist or bend. Squeezing the tick may actually cause the tick to inject more toxins or pathogens back into the bite area.”

There are several symptoms to be aware of if a pet has come down with a parasite-borne illness. These symptoms include fever, loss of appetite and limping.