Springtime is right around the corner. We are all glad to see the weather warm-up, and so are the bugs. The warmer weather means an increase in parasite/bug activity. What can we do to protect our pets?

It really starts by assessing your pet’s risk of exposure to parasites/bugs. Let’s start by talking about cats first. If their risk is low, such as house cats that spend 100% of their time indoors, you may choose not to do any sort of preventative.  Cats simply do not tolerate chemicals or drugs well. It is best not to expose them to chemicals to repel fleas and ticks unless we have good reason to. Cat’s that are indoors certainly can get fleas, if we bring them into the house, or a dog in the household brings them in. However, they are a lot less likely to get fleas than an outside cat would be. We suggest only treating indoor cats for fleas IF you do have a flea infestation. Be sure to use only veterinary prescribed products, as the ones in the chain stores are quite toxic generally.  Cats can also get internal parasites and this is more serious to both their health and to their human caregiver’s health. Cats are a natural host for intestinal worms and should be routinely dewormed, even if they don’t go outside at all.

Dogs are another story. Since they do spend time outdoors, we do need to be more diligent in their parasite control, both internal parasites and external ones.  Let’s talk about internal parasites first. The most common ones are the intestinal worms. Routinely deworming your dog will protect their health and yours!  But the most serious internal parasite in dogs is heartworm. There are a number of different heartworm preventative products available out there these days. The safest and most effective is still the Heartgard brand. It is such a tiny little dose of the drug, which means rare side effects, and yet it is effective. Even though we practice alternative medicine, we do recommend heartworm prevention. The drug to kill adult heartworms is so dangerous that it can also kill the dog. It is also really painful (injections into spinal muscles) and really expensive.  We do live in Wisconsin, and we do have mosquitoes spreading heartworm from dog to dog. So, please use the Heartgard to kill the baby heartworms each month, and prevent the horrifying experience of going through treating your dog for adult heartworm infection.

As for external parasites in dogs, we think of fleas and ticks. The same rules apply for dogs, as we had for cats, in regards to flea control. IF you don’t have a high risk of exposure, please do not use flea products on your dog.  IF you do have risks (i.e. going to the dog park, or you live in the country, or you go on hiking trails, etc), please use a safe product that matches your pet’s health status, age, and risk of exposure. We are happy to help you explore natural options like Animal Essentials Flea Spray or for higher risk dogs, a product like Nexgard, which is taken orally during the flea season.  As for tick control…these are tough little buggers to control. For dogs that do get ticks on them, we do recommend Nexgard, which is labeled to prevent Lymes disease.  For dogs that have a low risk of ticks, we recommend the Animal Essentials Flea and Tick Spray be used on days when the dog is at risk.

We are frequently asked about using essential oils for fleas and ticks. Do not use them for cats. They can be used for dogs if you have a low risk. If you are needing to use them repeatedly to protect your dog, we do feel there are safer solutions for the long term. The truth is….just because something comes from nature, it doesn’t mean that it is safe…snakes are natural but some are pretty toxic…one peanut can kill a child with a peanut allergy and peanuts come from nature….so we do actually need to use some common sense here.  The truth is, in nature…our cats and dogs would never actually come into contact with essential oil. Why? They don’t occur in nature. They are a plant product that has been processed to harvest their oil content. They are quite potent. We do use essential oils to treat medical conditions from time to time in dogs. However, we do not recommend constant daily exposure to the oils to prevent fleas and ticks.  In time, this will impact the liver and kidneys, as it is potent and not in the same form that it was while it was in nature.

We do feel that parasite control needs are quite different from pet to pet. There are several factors that come into play, as we determine what an individual pet’s parasite risks are.  Their lifestyle (indoor or outdoor), their age, their activity level, their health status, and their exposure all come into play. We are happy to help you sort out the right parasite protocol to keep both you and your pet’s parasite risk low.

Check out our monthly “Ask a Vet” column on the first Thursday of each month in the Burlington Standard Press!