The Wise Use of Preventive MedicationsAbout Fleas, Ticks and Other Pests

 by Anne Jones RN, BSNE

A few hours of TV viewing or a look at products on display at a veterinary clinic or in magazine ads that you see will quickly reveal just how many pet products are on the market today. Some of these products are used to prevent parasitic infections in pets, specifically heartworm, fleas and ticks. How is the pet owner to know which products are most effective and, more importantly, which are safe for your pet? Does every pet need protection and/or which are more likely to harm your pet if used? These are questions you need to discuss with your veterinarian before giving preventive medications.

We would like to help you to organize your thoughts before discussing parasite prevention with your veterinarian. If you have a better understanding of these products, you will be more able to wisely decide which your pet may need. Please read the entire article as we share with you some of the pros and cons of parasite control.

There are products that only control one parasite while some control several. Most of the medications for heartworm control also have some effect on parasitic worms. Other brands/products may also control fleas and newer products include tick control. Understand that each of these medications or chemicals is a form of poison in that it destroys the pest or the larva of a pest. The dose in the product is minimal and should not be harmful to your pet. There are circumstances in which your pet can be harmed, especially if there is a health problem present. This is why it is important that you discuss your pet’s general health with the veterinarian before administering the controls. We do not recommend the use of over-the-counter medications that have not been prescribed by your vet.

What about parasites and their danger to your pet? Heartworm disease is carried by mosquitoes and heartworm disease is found in dogs throughout the United States. Heartworm can kill! We urge you to use a safe heartworm preventive. Mosquitoes also carry West Nile virus. At this time we do not know enough about this disease to know if it affects dogs. While it appears that dogs are more resistant to this virus than humans, there have been a few documented cases in dogs.

Fleas can transmit tapeworm though the incidence of transmission to Bichons seems to be relatively low. However for those few Bichons with flea allergy, being afflicted by fleas is another misery that causes the Bichon with flea allergy to suffer great distress. There would appear to be no need to use flea prevention year round except in areas of the country where fleas are present year round. Many Bichon owners feel comfortable with no flea control because of the need to groom these hairy dogs daily. They simply spot the fleas when they are present, remove and destroy them, and avoid an infestation of fleas by this simple method of control. In other words, if you don’t have fleas, there is no need to prevent them!!! When they are present, use preventive only as needed.

Ticks seem to occur in most parts of the country but are more likely to be found on outdoor dogs. Since the Bichon is principally a house dog, watching for ticks is much like watching for fleas. Proper grooming will detect the occasional tick before it can transmit disease. However ticks do transmit several serious diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Ehrlichiosis. Tick prevention is on a need basis and not for every dog.

New products on the market are designed to prevent all three types of parasite carriers, i.e. heartworm, fleas and ticks. As you can understand, these products are designed for the outdoor pet, one that is rarely in the house or that spends hours each day outside. It is important that you assess your life style and the life style of your pet when deciding which products you need to use. While they are supposed to be entirely safe, there have been reports of dogs, including Bichons, that have become ill after using these preventives.

What sort of illnesses may occur? The illnesses that seem to cause the most concern are those of the autoimmune designation. An autoimmune disease is one in which the body “attacks itself”. Your veterinarian will be happy to discuss autoimmune disease with you, as well as to help you determine which of the products you may need to use on or in your pet. Unfortunately the dog that has an underlying autoimmune disease may not develop overt symptoms until after you have given the preventive. In other words, the illness was already present in the dog but added stress causes it to become full blown systemic disease. When using preventives, it is wise to observe closely any changes that occur in your dog and consult with your veterinarian about any that you see. Early treatment of autoimmune diseases can mean the difference between life and death.

While there is a great need in this country for preventive medications and while some dogs do need protection from all parasites, it is important that these products not be used indiscriminately. Unfortunately we do have reports of reactions from almost all brands in a limited number of Bichons. We urge you to have a discussion with your dog’s veterinarian and then to decide if your lifestyle or the conditions in your area of the country necessitate using one or all of them. The one most needed in all dogs is heartworm prevention. The others should only be used after careful consideration.

This article has been reviewed by a veterinarian/breeder for accuracy.

EPA to Increase Restrictions on Flea and Tick Products Cautions consumers to use products with extra care.

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