With spring nearly done and the summer fast approaching, we need to be sure we are protecting our dogs and cats against warm weather health threats. Heartworms, fleas, ticks, and intestinal worms are the biggest parasite threats to our canine and feline family members. Luckily, there are better methods to prevent these pests than ever before, with many products to protect against multiple threats at the same time.

Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitos and are life-threatening if your dog or cat contracts them. Luckily, mosquitoes are far more common than heartworms in our state. Unfortunately, the most recent statistics from the Companion Animal Parasite Council indicates that there were at least 21 dogs that tested positive in Dane county this year so far. This means we are on the same pace to have a similar number of cases this year compared to last year, when at least 622 cases were recorded. Heartworm positive cases are frustrating because we have very good preventatives for this disease, all of which are reasonably priced (typically $5 – $6 per month). As a bonus, the heartworm preventatives that we recommend all prevent many intestinal parasites as well, so there is coverage against these threats for the same cost.

By far the most common threats that we face in Wisconsin are fleas and ticks. Although these pests are not life-threatening, they can carry diseases that can cause significant illness including Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Tapeworms, and Ehrlichiosis, some of which can transmit to people. Prevention of fleas and ticks will keep your pet and your home more comfortable and disease-free. There have been significant advances in flea and tick prevention in the past several years. Choices for flea and tick prevention include topical medications (including liquids and new generation collars) and newer oral medications.

The most frequently used flea and tick preventatives are the topical medications. Frequently mentioned topical liquid medications include Frontline, Revolution, Activyl, and Vectra. All of these medications share the same basic formula – the product is applied to the skin on the top of the pet and is translocated from this site to the rest of the body. Once this is done, these products last about 4 weeks. Each of the topical medications that are available have different characteristics in terms of which parasite they target best, durability of protection, safety to other animals, and cost.

Another form of topical medications are new generation flea and tick collars. These newer collars are vastly different from collars that have been previously available. Older collars were a piece of plastic with some active ingredient on the surface of the collar; they were good at keeping fleas and ticks off the collar but not the pet. The newest collars include more advanced medication that has been impregnated into the polymer of the collar. The collars will then release a small amount of the active ingredient with ongoing friction between the collar and the pet’s coat and skin. These products will provide 6 to 8 months of very thorough protection against fleas and ticks, even with swimming and bathing (because the product will constantly renew the amount of medication on the dog or cat). These collars can repel fleas and ticks as well as kill them once on the pet. These collars are incredibly convenient, with no maintenance after the collar is placed.

The newest form of flea and tick prevention are the oral products. While we have had access to oral flea medications for several years, only in the past 18 months have we had medications that would kill both fleas and ticks. These medications are made into a soft treat that most dogs take willingly. Because the medication is circulated in the bloodstream, there is no chance for exposure of people in the home to the medications, making these ideal for homes with small children, though the lack of repellant action is a concern for some owners. These products are also very convenient, with brands that are given either once per month or once about every 3 months.

Intestinal parasites are a year-round threat to dogs and cats, though the prevalence is far greater in the warmer months. Luckily, most of the intestinal parasites that are of concern to use can controlled by one of the other parasite control products listed above. The heartworm prevention that we recommend is able to control many of the intestinal parasites that we encounter, while some of the flea and tick products can do the same.

If you have any questions about parasite threats to your dog or cat, please call us for a discussion on how to protect your pet best.

Dr. V