Scary headlines are everywhere. A quick scan of your news feed can convince you that the sky is falling. The pet industry is not immune from the hysteria. Where once you saw only cute cat videos, now you see a sea of misinformation regarding pet food, speculation about pet health care, and falsely attributed claims regarding preventive medications. 

While Westerville Veterinary Clinic encourages the education of pet owners through credible sources, finding accurate, scientifically grounded pet-care information can be a challenge. We know that if you could save your pet from deadly disease, you would. That is why we have composed this brief guide to address some of the most common concerns about heartworm, flea, and tick preventives. 

Why does my pet need parasite prevention?

Sure, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, but understanding exactly what you are preventing is important.

  • Heartworm disease 
    • Heartworm disease is a potentially fatal but preventable mosquito-transmitted disease affecting both dogs and cats. 
    • More than a million pets are infected with heartworms. 
    • Heartworm disease is present in all 50 states.
    • Treatment for dogs is painful and long. There is no current treatment for heartworm disease in cats. 
    • Prevention can cost as little as $10 per month, but treatment for the disease can cost up to $1,000.
  • Tick-borne diseases and illness
    • Tick-borne diseases in Ohio increased more than 20% from 2019 to 2020.
    • Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are the top Ohio risks, followed by ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis.
    • Preventives kill ticks in less than 24 hours, which is how long a tick must be attached to transmit disease. So, a tick may attach, but the pet may be protected.
  • Flea infestation, allergic reaction, and disease
    • Fleas on your pet mean fleas in your home. The flea life cycle sets up quickly and infestations are incredibly frustrating to eradicate.
    • Flea allergic dermatitis (FAD) is a hypersensitivity reaction to flea saliva in cats.
    • Fleas carry other parasites, such as tapeworms, that can infect your pet when ingested. Tapeworms can be transmitted to humans.

What if my pet has never been on preventives?

It is never too late to make the right choice. Let us schedule your pet for a comprehensive examination and a heartworm test. We must determine your pet’s heartworm status before we prescribe preventives, since they protect against the early heartworm stages (i.e.,  microfilariae), but will not treat an adult heartworm infection. Dogs are also tested for Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis,

If your pet has a positive test result for heartworm disease, we can perform additional diagnostics to stage infection severity and discuss treatment options. If your dog tests positive for a tick-borne disease, we will prescribe appropriate treatment to eliminate the infection.  

Why do I need to give preventives year-round?

Many owners believe that preventives can be discontinued in the winter. Although tick and mosquito populations are reduced in cold weather, the following realities should be recognized:

  • Adult mosquitoes infected with heartworm larvae can emerge on warmer winter days and infect a pet.
  • Some tick species stay active in cooler weather.
  • Indoor flea infestations are not affected by weather.
  • Comprehensive coverage is the safest option, because owners are less likely to forget a dose or restart a paused treatment when spring arrives.

My pet is on heartworm prevention. Why is a heartworm test recommended?

No product is 100% effective all of the time. We recommend annual heartworm testing to ensure your pet’s prevention is doing its job.

  • Breakthrough infections can still occur in pets on preventives. Some mosquito populations are becoming resistant to the active ingredient in older heartworm prevention products.
  • If you skip or forget some doses, your pet is vulnerable to heartworm infection.
  • If your pet tests positive for heartworm disease, continuing to administer prevention will not provide a cure. Preventives work against the microfilariae, the immature heartworm form. For adult heartworms, noted by a positive test result, treatment is required.

I’m scared of my pet having a bad reaction. Are preventives safe?

All medications come with risk. Our veterinarians stay up to date on current information regarding heartworm, flea, and tick preventives, and we make product recommendations based on each unique pet. The products we trust have been tested in clinical trials and are backed by research. Patient safety is always our number one priority when providing care or making recommendations for your pet. 

Buyer beware when it comes to parasite preventives for pets

Counterfeit flea and tick medications are sold online via third party entities at reduced prices. Although these products appear authentic, they are imposters, and potentially harmful to your pet. Our online pharmacy provides a convenient and safe option for ordering these products.

Please contact us before purchasing over-the-counter flea and tick medications or products. Several products, especially those marketed to cats, contain harmful ingredients and can cause serious skin reactions or burns. Never use a flea and tick product labeled for dogs on cats. Many dog products contain permethrin, which is toxic to cats. 

While the reality of heartworm disease, tick-borne illnesses, and fleas likely make you want to hide under the bed, prevention for all three is safer and more effective than ever. Life with pets is meant to be enjoyed, not filled with anxiety, and Westerville Veterinary Clinic is committed to keeping your pets happy, healthy, and comfortable for life. Contact us to discuss a customized parasite prevention plan for your pet.