Summer is here, and so are ticks and mosquitoes. If your pet is on parasite prevention medication, they are equipped with a strong defense against heartworm and tick-borne diseases. If your pet is not protected, or you have missed a few doses, Homestead Animal Hospital wants to help. We discuss the vital reasons your pet’s preventive should be a part of your monthly routine. 

#1: Missed doses matter

Prevention medications are effective only when they are administered to the pet—and while that may seem obvious, owners can easily get off schedule, unintentionally risking their pet’s health. Understanding that a pet becomes infected when an owner misses a dose, or forgets to refill their pet’s medication, is clear. Things get more complicated when, unbeknownst to an owner, a pet has vomited their medication or rubbed off a topical treatment. 

Unfortunately, a single missed dose is all that these pathogens need to set up infection in your pet. Preventives must be given consistently and thoughtfully to ensure reliable protection. These tips will help.

  • Make reminders — Consider putting a reminder in your phone to give your pet’s heartworm, flea, and tick preventives. Having one designated day, and time of day, will help you remember.
  • Give with meals — Give oral preventives with a full meal, which will help prevent gastrointestinal upset and vomiting.
  • Follow instructions — Check the instructions for any topical product, or call us. Not all products are applied exactly the same way.
  • Realize accidents happen If you have missed a dose, it is OK—we know accidents happen. Call us and let us advise you how to proceed.

#2:  Mosquitoes and ticks don’t have an off-season for pets

Parasites do not consult a calendar for permission to prey on your dog or cat, nor do they holiday in Florida at the first whisper of winter. Heartworm-infected mosquitoes and ticks carrying Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis emerge on mild days without concern for the season, and fleas can live indoors. Prevention medications should be given throughout the year. If mosquitoes and ticks don’t rest, neither should your preventive care.

#3: Treating heartworm disease is not as simple as a flavored chew

Some owners say they will worry about heartworm disease if their pet becomes infected, rather than use preventives. While medicating a pet only when they are ill may seem to make sense, in the case of heartworm disease, this strategy is not good for your pet.

Heartworm infection treatment is painful and dangerous for dogs. Modern treatment protocols are now safer, but they still carry great risks for dogs. Treatment involves further diagnostic testing to “stage” the worm load and assess the heart and lung tissue damage, followed by three deep intramuscular injections in the back lumbar muscles. Dogs must be strictly activity restricted for a minimum of six weeks while the adult worms die off. Dead worms are capable of vascular damage as they are swept out of the body, and can lead to deadly blockages if a dog is too active. 

Sadly, no treatment is available for heartworm disease in cats. Infected cats can be offered only supportive care, making prevention an absolute necessity for cats.

#4: Infected pets may be asymptomatic

Judging your pet’s health only by their outward appearance means you could be rolling out the welcome mat for parasitic diseases. Tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis, can exist subclinically in pets, who will show no signs. When these conditions are eventually expressed, the signs can be vague and nonspecific, and take longer time to accurately diagnose.

Heartworm infected pets may appear outwardly normal in the early stages with few to no signs, while inside the pet’s body the juvenile parasites are migrating toward the large lung vessels, sparking tissue inflammation along the way. The immature heartworms reach the bloodstream and heart in four to five months post-infection and mature into full clinical heartworm disease.

Heartworm disease in cats may go undetected entirely. Heartworm positive cats may carry only two to three adult worms—significantly fewer than dogs, but still enough to be lethal—and they seem to clear immature heartworms on their own. Heartworm disease signs in cats can look similar to respiratory diseases or asthma, making misdiagnosis easy.

#5: All dogs and cats need annual testing

Preventives are the best protection you can give your pet, but no product is 100 percent effective all the time. With the repercussions of missing one dose, and the year-round threat of ticks and mosquitoes, pets clearly still need an annual screening to check for heartworm and tick-borne diseases, despite being on preventives. 

An annual screening is a simple blood test that can provide powerful results. With four drops of blood, we can detect heartworm disease, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis—often before your pet is symptomatic. This greatly reduces the time to treatment, and a greater likelihood of a successful outcome.

Would you like more information about our recommended preventives, or help getting your pet back on a parasite prevention schedule? Call our Homestead Animal Hospital team.