The past two months I have seen more hookworm infections than in all of 2016! Some have been the least expected culprits, indoor cats and tiny lap dogs, but most have been pets that spend some time outside and their owners stopped parasite prevention products in the winter time. I suspect that I am going to see even more Lyme disease and more heartworm infections in the coming months for the very same reason.

Veterinarians in this area have long recommended year-round parasite prevention for all pets. However, the warm winter resulted in less of a “die off” for fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasite larvae. If all of your pets are not on veterinary-quality flea, tick and heartworm prevention, please start them right away. Once an infestation is detected, the fallout can last months or even years.

I’m often asked about specific product recommendations. I always evaluate each pet’s circumstances individually, so I cannot give any universal advice. That being said, I can share some general information about pets in my practice.

By far the most commonly prescribed parasite prevention product for cats is Revolution. It is a single topical product that prevents heartworms, fleas, ear mites, roundworms, hookworms, and will even reduce tick burdens. Most pet owners dramatically underestimate their indoor cat’s risk for parasitism. Nearly one in four heartworm positive cats lives inside. Unlike in dogs, adult heartworms can’t be killed by medications once a cat is infected so prevention is doubly important. Even during the winter, I have diagnosed indoor cats with flea infestations and hookworm infections. It happens all too commonly.

Our most commonly prescribed flea and tick control for dogs is now Nexgard, a monthly oral medication that is very safe and rapidly effective against fleas and ticks. We see almost zero tick borne illness in dogs that use this product all year. For those who prefer topical treatments for their dogs, we like Frontline Gold. Many people don’t realize that Frontline Plus is a decades old product. Since it was first introduced, the company has modernized the product several times – Certifect, Frontline Tritak, and now Frontline Gold. While Frontline Plus (and some generic knock-offs) can still be found on the market, and they still have their place for certain situations, it has been a long time since Frontline Plus was the most effective topical available.

For heatworm prevention, our most prescribed product is Heartgard Plus. Compared to some other popular brands, this medication gives broader protection against the species of intestinal worms that can affect human health. Plus, the company offers outstanding support in case a pet is infected by any of the parasites on the label (and even some that aren’t on the label). Our clients like that Heartgard’s manufacturer is the same as Nexgard and Frontline Gold, so they are often eligible for combination deals that make prevention more affordable.

Of course, there are many combinations of products that are available each providing unique strengths and weaknesses. In fact, there has never been so many effective ways to prevent parasites and the diseases they spread. It really is as simple as talking to your veterinarian about your pet’s specific situation and then following his advice closely.

One final note: parasites in any given area (like your yard) can develop resistance to compounds that otherwise should kill them.  One of the best ways to accelerate resistance is to expose parasite populations to low doses of the chemicals without killing them.  For example, if a parasite product kills fleas or ticks for thirty days, the compound doesn’t just vanish after a month.  It gradually reduces concentration over the month until it reaches a level that no longer reliably kills the bugs.  Then it gradually dissipates even more – sometimes for as long as sixty or ninety days.  By failing to repeat a dose at the proper intervals all year, you are exposing the parasites in your pet’s environment to “sub-lethal” residual levels of the medication that won’t kill them, but could help them build resistance for next year.

If the technique you have always used seems to not be working as well, please discuss it with your veterinarian. Oftentimes a simple change to a more modern product will be the answer.