As warmer weather approaches it is time to shore up our pets’ parasite protection. This spring heralds not only the return of fleas and other parasites but also the arrival of several new products that may muddy the waters as pet owners seek to choose the best option for their pets.
The first point of order is to determine which animals should receive prophylactic treatment for parasites. All dogs, cats, and ferrets should receive routine heartworm prophylactic treatment. It is usually a good idea for most dogs and cats to receive flea prevention during the warmer months, roughly March through October. Tick prevention should be used as dictated by your pet’s individual risk of exposure. Parasite prevention, primarily with regard to fleas and mites, should be administered as needed to small mammals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and pet rodents.
The next decision to be made is the route of administration. Many dog owners prefer oral medications that are beef flavored or can be hidden in a treat. Examples include Heartgard Plus and Interceptor. Some dogs, however, will not eat or cannot tolerate the oral chewable medications. For them, and for most cats, a topical treatment may be preferred. A very few animals will experience temporary discomfort at the application site after being treated topically. If this occurs it is quite likely that the pet will tolerate a different topical product. Small mammals are treated almost exclusively with topical medications.
For dogs and cats the final question is whether or not you want to have flea and heartworm prevention combined in one product. If the answer is yes, your choices are immediately narrowed to two products—Sentinel, an oral tablet, or Revolution, a topical liquid. Both are prescription medications and require a veterinarian’s authorization.
As I mentioned earlier, there are several flea treatment products that have recently appeared on the market. Comfortis is an oral tablet administered once a month. It is for dogs only but can cause vomiting, excitation, and may increase a dog’s tendency to seizure, so I personally am not planning on trying this product. The other products are all topical, also referred to as “spot ons,” and include Promeris, Vectra 3D, Advantix, Advantage, and Advantage Multi. Unfortunately, all except Promeris are susceptible to being washed off by shampoo. The downside of Promeris is that it leaves a residue on the coat and has a peculiar eucalyptus odor that persists for quite a while. In the coming weeks we will see many advertisements for these new products in print and in television commercials.
There is a further consideration to be given to topical flea treatments. Some of these products contain pyrethrins or permethrins. These chemicals are very effective at quickly killing adult fleas. Unfortunately, they are almost equally effective at causing severe and potentially life-threatening toxic reactions in many cats and some small dogs. Likewise, some people, myself included, are allergic to these substances. I recommend that you stay away from any product containing pyrethrins or permethrins, especially if you have cats, small dogs, or children in the house.
As you can see, there is a dizzying array of heartworm and flea treatments available for pet owners. If you only desire heartworm prevention and are not concerned about fleas, then I recommend Interceptor. It is a small chewable tablet and provides protection from heartworms as well as several intestinal parasites common in dogs and cats. The small size makes it more acceptable to cats and tiny dogs.
For topical flea prevention, I prefer Frontline Plus. It is effective against fleas and ticks, safe on puppies and kittens, and will withstand shampooing between applications. The most significant downside to Frontline is its high price but, in this case, you really do get what you pay for.
My favorite parasite prevention product, Revolution, fills the role of combination flea and heartworm prevention. In addition, it is safe in rabbits, chinchillas, and all the other small mammals that are commonly kept as pets. It is a topical product that will withstand washing and is safe for puppies and kittens. Most significantly, it also treats ear mites, certain skin mites (including Scabies mites that cause sarcoptic mange in dogs), and certain intestinal parasites. It is also a relative bargain, especially when compared to buying separate flea and heartworm prevention products.
Your final decision on heartworm and flea prevention should be based on your pet’s individual “risk profile.” Don’t be shy about discussing the different options with your veterinarian. Our job is to ensure the health of your pet. That includes preventing parasites and parasite-related diseases. Whatever you do, don’t neglect this important aspect of pet ownership.