"Just wait," warns Dr. Ernie Ward of Calabash, N.C. "Those ticks are just waiting for a big rain, wherever you live, to emerge. Because of the mild winter, and then hot and dry spring, ticks have been out in waves."
The tick season began as early as April in parts of the Northeast, and it hasn't let up, Ward says. The central part of the country into the South and Southeast has also experienced an abundance of ticks. You might not expect ticks to be so numerous in places like the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, but they are especially plentiful this season, says Dr. Paula Harvatine in West Salem, Wis. "They're out everywhere," she adds.
"Wherever there are ticks, you know there will be tick disease," explains Ward. "And these diseases are nasty. Obviously, it would seem tick protection makes sense." While tick diseases may mean a premature death, more typically they're chronic, impacting a pet's quality of life, day after day, year after year -- whereas heartworm disease kills dogs and cats. In cats, heartworm is the second-most common cause of sudden death after heart disease.
"Heartworm disease (which is transmitted by mosquitoes) is the worst," says Ward. "Too few cat owners understand cats can get heartworm disease and they may die. In cats, we have no treatment. For dogs, the treatment is pretty tough on their bodies, and it's expensive. So we try to explain to pet owners that monthly treatment works to prevent heartworm. People complain about the cost of veterinary care, but here's an example of something that cost hundreds of dollars to treat -- if we even can treat the disease (referring to no known treatment for cats) -- and far less money to prevent."
Fleas can also carry disease. "And who wants fleas on their pets or in their homes?" Ward asks. "Prevention is far less expensive than extermination."
Ward mentions price because, understandably, pet owners want to save money. In an effort to do so, they're purchasing flea and tick products online, at big box stores, or through other over-the-counter options where flea and tick products are increasingly available. "The myth that you can't get these products as cheaply as from your veterinarian is wrong; it's so whacked out I don't know how to respond to that anymore," Ward says.
What's most important is the expertise you'll miss by not speaking to your veterinarian. "The flea and tick products that we recommend are effective," Harvatine says.
For example, she recommends Vectra 3D for flea protection in part because of ease of use. She says she has many clients who have difficulty using some products' applicators. Following her own carpal tunnel surgery, she learned how easy Vectra 3D is to administer when she used it on her pets.
Trifexis is a once-monthly tablet that kills fleas, prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls adult hookworm, roundworm and whipworm infections. And since it's beef-flavored, you can offer it as a treat. "My preference is the oral form rather than spot on," Ward says.
According to government regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency approves spot on products (usually administered between a pet's shoulder blades), while anything the pet swallows must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Ward explains that although the EPA is interested in general safety, the testing isn't as rigorous as products approved by the FDA. The primary concern of the EPA is environmental impact. The FDA does more stringent safety testing, and those products also can't be purchased as easily outside of veterinary channels, which is a good thing.
"By purchasing over-the-counter, people are being misled by marketing, and sometimes just making mistakes -- not buying what they think they are," Ward says.
So what's the right choice to deter fleas, ticks and heartworm in your home? "Well, that's the thing," says Ward. "It depends on where you live, and the combination of pets you have and their lifestyles. Talk with your veterinarian."
Learn more about heartworm disease here.
©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services