Warmer Autumns and Winters Increasing Parasite Dangers for Pets and Owners

With 2020 on the way to being the hottest year on record leading scientists are warning that our pets are at increased risk from parasites including ticks and fleas.

  • 19 leading European experts warn that higher seasonal temperatures pose a threat to pet health1
  • Two thirds of UK vets report seeing an increase in diseases caused by pet parasites that can thrive in warmer weather2

LONDON, U.K., 00:01 hours, October 27h, 2020 – With 2020 on the way to being the hottest year on record3 leading scientists are warning that our pets are at increased risk from parasites including ticks and fleas – as they are becoming more prevalent and thriving in our warmer autumns and winters4.

These parasites are a known nuisance to pets and their owners but can also carry additional bacterial diseases that have the potential to cause serious illnesses to both animals and humans4.

Studies conducted in vet practices taking part in the Big Flea Project showed that 1 in 4 cats (28%) and 1 in 7 dogs (14%) attending clinics for routine matters such as health checks and vaccinations were found to have fleas and that 11% of the fleas found on cats and dogs were carrying Bartonella bacteria5 – a bacteria that causes a disease known as ‘Cat Scratch Disease’ in people. In the worst cases ‘Cat Scratch Disease’ can cause life-threatening blood, heart and neurological problems6. In addition, 2% of the ticks discovered were carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease7 a disease with serious consequences that is known to be on the increase8.

When asked, most owners believe that they are protecting their pets from parasites all year round9. Yet researchers also found that of pets that were currently treated with a commonly available active ingredient for sale in supermarkets, online or via non veterinary outlets, 45% of dogs and 62% of cats, still had fleas10. This is potentially leaving pets and their owners exposed to parasite and disease risks without the owners knowledge.

The study also highlights that the persistent flea infestations in pets may be due to owners not applying treatment correctly as they are missing out on getting veterinary advice when buying treatments through other outlets10.

Failure to treat fleas can be life-threatening to an animal. One such case is Casper (video and stills available), who as a kitten almost died as a result of such a severe infestation it caused a condition known as flea anaemia that killed all his litter mates.

With the pandemic leading to 26% of pet owners reportedly buying more pet products online11 vets and experts in parasitology are concerned that owners are missing out on vital vet-provided advice. An initiative called Protect Our Future Too has been launched to raise awareness of the risks to our household pets caused by changes such as warmer months in autumn and winter, and will encourage owners to speak to their vet practice about protecting their pets from parasites all year round.

The Protect Our Future Too campaign is being backed by Richard Wall, Professor of Zoology at the University of Bristol, and TV vet James Greenwood.

About Protect Our Future Too

‘Protect Our Future Too’ (#protectourfuturetoo) was launched to raise awareness of the impact seasonal changes, such as warmer months in autumn and winter as well as higher temperatures in general, are having on our pets and the relationship between pets and the family. As a vital part of society, MSD Animal Health believes it’s important to take action to protect their futures too. The campaign – which will take place in more than 30 countries including those in the European Union, Russia, North Africa and the Middle East – will educate and inform vets and pet owners throughout the year to build awareness of how they can help protect pets’ health.

About MSD Animal Health

For more than a century, MSD, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, has been inventing for life, bringing forward medicines and vaccines for many of the world’s most challenging diseases. MSD Animal Health, a division of Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, N.J., USA, is the global animal health business unit of MSD. Through its commitment to The Science of Healthier Animals®, MSD Animal Health offers veterinarians, farmers, pet owners and governments one of the widest ranges of veterinary pharmaceuticals, vaccines and health management solutions and services as well as an extensive suite of digitally connected identification, traceability and monitoring products. MSD Animal Health is dedicated to preserving and improving the health, well-being and performance of animals and the people who care for them. It invests extensively in dynamic and comprehensive R&D resources and a modern, global supply chain. MSD Animal Health is present in more than 50 countries, while its products are available in some 150 markets. For more information, visit www.msd-animal-health.com/ or connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.


1.    Protect Our Future Too – Expert roundtable meeting

2.    Protect Our Future Too – Vet Polls results

3.    State of the climate: 2020 set to be first or second warmest year on record. Available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/state-of-the-climate-2020-set-to-be-first-or-second-warmest-year-on-record. Accessed October 2020

4.    Rosatti A. Global Warming and Its Health Impact. Int J Occup Environ Med. 2017 Jan;8(1):7-20.  doi: 10.15171/ijoem.2017.963

5.    Abdullah et al. Pathogens in fleas collected from cats and dogs: distribution and prevalence in the UK. (2019). Parasites & Vectors 12:71

6.    Breitschwerdt EB et al. Bartonellosis: an emerging infectious disease of zoonotic importance to animals and human beings. Vet Emerg Crit Care (San Antonio). 2010 Feb;20(1):8-30 DOI: 10.1111/j.1476-4431.2009.00496.x

7.    Abdullah et al. Prevalence and distribution of Borrelia and Babesia species in ticks feeding on dogs in the UK Medical and Veterinary Entomology (2017), doi: 10.1111/mve.12257

8.    Ross Russell AL et al. Lyme disease: diagnosis and management. Pract Neurol. 2018 Dec;18(6):455-464.  doi: 10.1136/practneurol-2018-001998. Epub 2018 Oct 3

9.    Protect Our Future Too – Pet Owner Polls results

10.   Cooper et al. (2020). Fleas infesting cats and dogs in Great Britain; spatial distribution of infestation risk and its relation to treatment. Medical and Veterinary Entomology, doi: 10.1111/mve.12462

11.   M/A/R/C® Research. June (2020) COVID-19’s Impact on Animal Health, research includes 1000 pet owners in the UK.