An ounce of prevention: Summer brings sun, fun…and parasites

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Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH

As we transition out of spring and into summer, sort of, I’m going to introduce some summer concepts. You may not be feeling like jumping into a pool yet, but having a couple of days pass 70 degrees is my definition of summer. I also saw the first mosquito in my house, so I am going to dive into prevention first.

Heartworm prevention should have already started. If you are reading this and haven’t given a dose, make sure you give one NOW. There are different varieties of heartworm prevention, but they all work similarly. They work to kill any juvenile heartworms in the bloodstream before they can mature and develop in the heart. These are spread by mosquitos, but since it is impossible to put your dog in a bubble to avoid those, we have to do the next best thing. Most of these are one pill once a month, though there are a few versions that you can put on the skin on the back of their neck. These need to be given every 30 days through at least mosquito season to prevent heartworms.

Flea and tick prevention should have started even earlier, so if you haven’t started that, start it yesterday and don’t tell me. As medicine advances, we have a lot of different preventions, so I will talk about the options.

Collars

Collars should be a veterinary brand, as they have extensive testing. Often, what money you save getting “cheap” collars is outweighed by their poor performance. Most of the veterinary collars last between six and eight months. This can even fluctuate slightly between dogs, based on their lifestyle. Collars work well, and often also help repel ticks. Some collars are safe for dogs and cats, while others are dog only, so make sure you check with your veterinarian. Collars need to be very snugly fitting in order to work, so if you are unsure of how they are fitting, check in at your vet.

Chewables

There are several types of four-week chewables and one 12-week chewable. These are given with a meal. These kill the tick when it bites the pet, but do not repel ticks. Ideally, the tick will die before they transmit disease, but in some cases, they can transmit faster. The good news is that Lyme disease takes at least 24 hours to transmit, and these will kill the tick before that amount of time.

While you do lose some repellency with these products, you don’t need to worry about them falling off, getting washed off, or other pets coming into contact with them. Some people like the monthly because they can remember it more easily, while others love the 12 weeks because you get longer stretches without having to treat. Both types work very well. I have heard some myths about the 12 weeks being “three times as toxic,” since it lasts three times longer, but that logic is flawed. The molecules simply work differently so that they release over a longer period.

Additionally, you would give one of that type versus three of the others, so it all evens out in the end. I encourage people to make this decision based on their ease of scheduling, since all other factors are about equal.

Topicals

Topical treatments are the liquid medications that go on the back of the neck under the hair. There are a lot of different types, but all work against fleas and ticks. Certain brands have better effectiveness against mosquito and fly repellency. These are the tried-and-true products and work well. My only caution is that pets must have the product dry before swimming/washing and should not lick it off (themselves or others!) It is also ideal for humans not to pet the spot where this was applied until it has dried, which can be a more difficult concept for children sometimes. Most of these last for four weeks, though there is a topical product for cats and dogs that also lasts for 12 weeks.

The main thing to know is that ticks are getting extremely prevalent, and heartworms are more common in our area. Vermont is a Lyme endemic area, which means that the prevalence of Lyme disease is very high. There are other dangerous diseases that ticks spread, and prevention is key. Certain dogs are tick magnets, while others are less. This depends on their lifestyle, environment and some individual factor that we don’t know yet. One of my dogs is very prone to getting ticks, while the other is less so. They will hike in the same area and he will have five ticks to her zero. For this reason, she gets one type of tick prevention and he gets two. Yes, TWO. During certain months of the year when the ticks are very active, I give him two different types of prevention that are safe to use together. As you can tell, I seriously hate ticks.

These decisions are best gone over with your veterinarian, as they can help you assess your pet’s risk factors. Tick prevention is not as “one size fits all” as heartworm prevention, so it may require some investigation into pet lifestyle. No matter what you choose, make sure they get something, and have it on board now.

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher

Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher is a veterinarian at All Points Animal Care in Rutland. Have a question on this or any animal health topic? E-MAIL: petdocanna@gmail.com

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