Heartworm and Flea Preventions: Does My Pet Really Need This?

dog in yard

Avoiding infection of heartworms, intestinal parasites, fleas and ticks in your beloved dog and cat is essential for the pets’ health.  This can easily be prevented in both dogs and cats with monthly medications purchased from your veterinarian. Unfortunately some people have a negative stigma or connotation with these safe products. There are various preventatives on the market these days and each medication is slightly different in which parasites they protect against and the mode of how they work. That is why discussing the individual needs of your pet with your trusted veterinarian is important. They can tailor the appropriate preventative to your pet’s specific needs so that your pet is being protected enough but not given products it doesn’t necessarily need.

Heartworms are parasitic worms transmitted by mosquitoes to both dogs and cats. As these parasites mature in the pet’s body, they migrate and live out their adult life cycle in the major vessels of the lungs, and sometimes the heart. These parasites eventually lead to damage of the heart, lungs, liver or kidneys ultimately leading to death if not caught early and treated promptly. Heartworm treatment can be very expensive as well as very demanding on the dog’s body and could lead to the dog’s death during or after treatment. Unfortunately, at this time there is no approved treatment for heartworms in cats. Ask any veterinarian out there and almost every one of them know of a patient who died from heartworm disease or died from the treatment of these parasites.

While many people think of fleas as purely a huge annoyance these tiny bloodsucking parasites can actually pose serious health risks. In mild cases, your dog or cat may only be bothered with constant itching, scratching and biting at themselves. Certain pets have allergies to these fleas, so not only do the parasites irritate the patient by constantly biting them, but the saliva those bloodsuckers leave behind can cause significant allergic reactions to the pet. Fleas can transmit tapeworms to both dogs and cats and in severe flea infestations of puppies and kittens, the feeding fleas may remove enough blood to cause life-threatening anemia.

Unfortunately some people have a negative stigma or connotation with these safe products. They have a friend of a friend whose neighbor thinks their dog died from one of these preventatives. With the use of social media these people have created fear and false accusations about these products that prevent disease and illness in pets.  With the false claims circling the internet and social media pages, we occasionally have clients question whether or not these products should be given to their dear pets. We get it, we understand. You want what’s best for your pet. Guess what, so do we. As a veterinary community we are frequently reading articles and reports and asking drug companies about new medications as well as products that have been on the market for a while. These monthly preventative medications that people are fear-mongering are all FDA approved. For a medication to be FDA approved requires it to go through rigorous testing before being sold to millions of pets.  For a product to stay approved and out on the market for consumption, the drug companies and the FDA conduct continuous, on-going monitoring on these products, to determine if there are any signals or trends in the reported data of adverse effects.

Ultimately, monthly heartworm, intestinal parasite, flea and tick preventatives are an important and vital component to your pets health and well-being. Protecting them against these irritating, painful, and life-threatening diseases are relatively easy. A discussion with your trusted veterinarian should be made prior to starting any of these products to determine which product is best suited for your pet. If you have any questions, concerns or hesitations about any of these products, the best place to have a discussion about what’s best for your pet is with your veterinarian, not social media.

2 Comments
  1. Thank you, Dr. VanDeLeest. I was the one who initiated this, after a person commented on the FB page of a good friend, about how vets were “poisoning” our dogs and cats with these preventative meds. My friend, who is the founder and chief operator of a wonderful Westie rescue non-profit (PrestonCaresNetwork.com, in Ownesboro, KY), will be very grateful to see your response to this issue. We both thank you so much, and this excellent article of yours will probably be sent far and wide within and because of her organization.
    Again, thank you for taking the time to do this article.
    Susan Beranek

    • We are so glad you did, Susan! We hope that this blog by Dr. V answers a lot of questions for those who are skeptical.

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