Topical Confusion: Are You Really Protecting Your Pet?
Last week I had to deliver some bad news to a pet parent: her dog had heartworm disease. “Impossible!” she shrieked. “I give him his medication each month.” I reviewed the fact that we hadn’t dispensed nor written a prescription for her dog’s heartworm preventive in over two years. “I don’t buy it from you. I buy it at the store.” She had made a fatal mistake for her dog in an attempt to save a few bucks. She was buying the wrong preventive.
First of all, I didn’t fault her for trying to save money. We all need to save wherever and whenever we can these days. Where she, and millions like her, went wrong is not involving their veterinarian. This lady was administering a topical flea preventive incorrectly believing it protected against deadly heartworm disease. A big mistake that may cost her dog its life.
This spring you’ll be inundated with a plethora of products promising protection for your pets from fleas and ticks. What they’re not protecting your dogs and cats against is heartworm disease. Heartworm disease is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. Dogs, cats, and ferrets are most susceptible but other species, including humans, can be accidentally infected with heartworm larvae. In our area every dog and cat, even if they live indoors, needs to be protected year-round (Remember those wonderful 70-degree days back in December and January? The mosquitoes do.).
If you bought a preventive without a prescription you’re not protecting against heartworm. The drugs that prevent heartworm are prescription medications governed by the FDA as opposed to topical flea and tick preparations regulated by the EPA. This is an important distinction because heartworm meds are subject to more stringent testing and safety oversight than flea treatments. This is why the EPA has begun issuing “black box” warnings on topical flea and tick solutions; there were so many reported side effects and reactions in 2010 and 2011.
Back to the saving money part. Most vets, including me, have made great efforts to keep heartworm preventives affordable. How much do mine cost, you ask? Whatever you can buy it for from the big online pet sites. It’s been that way since 1999 (when the economy was much better). I’ve always been committed to providing affordable preventive pet healthcare. That may not always be the best business sense, but it always seems to me like the right thing to do. Whenever clients call and say they can buy preventives cheaper elsewhere, we find they haven’t asked how much ours cost. If you’re thinking of buying pet supplies online, I ask you to consider spending your money locally. Your vet employs neighbors, church members and valuable constituents of Brunswick County. If your vet’s price is less than five dollars difference, help our local economy instead of New York, Florida, or California. Unemployment in our area tops 13 percent; we’re all part of the solution.
Make sure you’re protecting your dogs and cats properly this year. And help our local economy recover. Lord knows, we need everyone’s help.