Heartworm, fleas and ticks... our parasite FAQs

Every spring, we have questions from clients about our recommendations for parasite testing and control in their pets. We thought that it might be useful to address some of the most common questions here. As parasites prepare to be active in the warm weather, one of our major focuses is how to keep your pets safe. This list of “frequently asked questions” is expanded from our spring newsletter, which is to be released online this week

.I know that heartworm disease is not common in Ontario. Why do we need to do a heartworm test every year?  It is recommended for safety and peace of mind. Every year there are a few hundred dogs that test positive for Heartworm disease in Ontario. This includes animals on preventative medication. We need to recognize positive cases, as symptoms do not occur until late in this disease, when treatment is dangerous and expensive. Heartworm is a life-threatening disease which is easier to prevent than to treat.

I give my dog its heartworm protection every year. Does this mean that my dog does not need a test?  NO.  We recommend regular testing, as none of our preventative products have 100% efficacy and we find that animals rarely receive all of their doses every year (e.g.the dog may not take them easily, owners forget, etc). This includes dogs which travel to the south in the winter, even if they are on heartworm prevention year round.

I have never seen a tick on my dog. Why are you testing him for tick-borne illnesses? Ticks are an emerging danger and it is rare for ticks to be recognized and removed, even in known tick areas. By screening for tick-borne infections, we are protecting both your pet and your family as owners need to know that tick exposure has occurred. Since we started testing all dogs for tick-borne illnesses, there are a number every year who come up positive for exposure, and a handful of these have also required treatment for Lyme Disease. This is in dogs in which their owners had never seen a tick!

I have heard that some animal parasites can be transmitted to people? True. Although this is rare, it is possible for certain animal parasites (e.g. roundworm, giardia) to be transmitted to humans. Those at highest risk are children, the elderly, and anyone with poor immunity. This is why most of the parasite prevention products include treatment or control of intestinal parasites. So far in 2014, we have seen a higher than usual number of parasites in fecal samples, and anticipate seeing more as the weather warms up.

Do you recommend flea control? Fleas, of course, can also be a nuisance to all members of the household if brought into the house. The decision as to whether to include flea prevention in your dog’s parasite prevention products is a personal one based on the pet and your lifestyle.

There are so many options out there for parasite control. Why should I buy from the vet rather than a pet store? Safety and expertise.   Prescription parasite products contain ingredients with tested safety margins and guarantees. Would you rather take your advice from one of our team members, or from the teenager at the pet store? Sadly, we do see reactions to pet store parasite prevention products every year (particularly in cats), because owners are just not given good advice.

We appreciate that the spring visit to the clinic for blood testing and parasite control products can be both expensive and overwhelming at times. Our team is here to help with any questions that you may have. The key to remember is that by protecting your pet from disease, our goal is to keep them healthy and avoid costly visits to see us for things that could have been prevented.