Question: How important is flea and heartworm prevention?
There are many different options today for good parasite control, but heartworm and flea control products are among the most commonly used, and for good reason. Heartworms are carried by mosquitoes and their infective larvae are microscopic. Without routine blood testing, these worms are usually undetectable until a pet goes into heart failure. The other culprit, fleas, can multiply extremely fast, stay dormant in the carpet or furniture folds for months, can carry tapeworms, and cause chronic and severe skin problems.
If your pet is out and about regularly, you should have them on some type of heartworm and flea preventative year round. In general, the medications and dosages used for prevention are typically lower than would be used for treatment. Especially in the case of heartworm disease, the toxicity of medications used for prevention is significantly less than those used for treatment. In the long run, we end up saving on medications to treat preventable conditions, and more importantly, have healthier dogs with less risk of complications secondary to these infections.
Luckily there are many safe options for our pets and their owners. It is best to discuss these options with your veterinarian to decide the best fit for you and your family. The best product is one that you will use regularly, controls the issues, is effective for your lifestyle, and minimizes your family’s exposure to medications.
I personally like Sentinel as a good heartworm and flea prevention product for dogs to use year round. It combines the active ingredients: milbemycin for heartworm prevention, and loratidine for flea control. Neither of these products is a pesticide, and the active ingredient which prevents flea infestation is completely inactive in mammals. Loratidine prevents the development of an exoskeleton in insects – something mammals don’t have. This breaks the reproductive cycle. In addition to providing heartworm prevention, milbemycin also treats for intestinal parasites including whipworms. Whipworms can be difficult to remove from the environment and are one of the most common intestinal parasites we still find in adult dogs. For the occasional flea outbreak that can occur when adult fleas hitchhike home from the park, Comfortis is a very effective and safe oral medication that will kill adult fleas for one full month. I use Sentinel regularly and have had to treat with Comfortis only once in over 4 years when a possum came into our yard with fleas.
Many times we wonder whether the benefits outweigh the risks of giving all of these products to our beloved dogs. In the case of flea and heartworm prevention, they do. Fleas can cause serious dermatologic as well as medical problems, and heartworm disease is a costly and dangerous disease to treat should your dog contract it. Intestinal parasites can also pose a risk to the people in our families as well. Prevention is still the best medicine.