So as summer draws to an end, the annual debate on year round flea, tick and heartworm prevention, comes up again. Even after all the facts and statistics that have been gathered, this debate still continues among many doctors in our field. Hopefully this article will help some pet owners with that decision and some of the frequently asked questions regarding preventatives. Within this feature, I’ll share with you the life cycles of these parasites and how they are transmitted. I’ll also show you the costs for parasite prevention compared to the costs of treatment. It’s a lot of information to share, so let’s get started!

Fleas seem to be everyone’s biggest concern, so I’ll start there. This well known parasite is transmitted by just about every furry animal. If you have rabbits in your garden, squirrels in your trees, deer in your backyard, there’s a good chance you have fleas too close for comfort. You can be extremely adamant with your flea preventatives and still encounter an adult flea on your pet from time to time.  Knowing and understanding that there are 4 stages to a flea’s life cycle, (egg, larva, pupa and then adult) is an important part when it comes to the treatment and preventive measures one can take against the war on fleas. To my knowledge, there is not a single, safe product out there that kills all 4, so preventing an infestation is key. Some preventatives work almost like a birth control, while others work just to kill the adult flea.  Most of the oral tablets, taken monthly, are the “birth control” type and the topicals are used to kill the adult fleas and maybe the larva or pupa stage also. Over the years,  some people feel that fleas are becoming immune to the topicals, and less of them are being used. The monthly oral preventatives may not kill the adult fleas, but the eggs that are laid by them don’t hatch and the cycle gets broken. Some pet owners choose to use both oral and topical preventatives, to make sure they have all stages covered. This course of action is sometimes a recommendation when an infestation of fleas is prevalent.

Due to them not caring who their host is, ticks are another huge concern for pet owners. They don’t care if you’re furry or not, they’ll hitch a ride on us just as fast as they’ll catch a ride on an animal. Ticks feed on mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians which allows them to share their nasty diseases with us, not just the animals. Different ticks carry different diseases, but Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis are just a few of the diseases transmitted. What makes it even scarier, is they’re not just a summertime problem. Recent studies done by the pharmaceutical companies that provide flea and tick preventatives, have found that the tick season is longer than initially thought to be. Here in Ohio, we’ve seen ticks as early as February and as late as December. And just like fleas, most ticks have four life stages. A ticks life cycle goes as follows: egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph, and adult. After hatching from the eggs, ticks must eat blood at every stage to survive. With the wide diet that they have, survival comes easy to them. Preventing your pets from becoming a tick’s next host and meal, helps prevent both you and your pet from getting a tick born disease.

Life cycle for heartworms

Life cycle for heartworms

Our next nasty parasite is heartworms. Heartworms have two stages to their life cycle.  Adult heartworms and microscopic baby worms called microfilaria. They are transmitted by mosquitoes that have fed on a host already infected with heartworms. While feeding on an infected host, a mosquito will ingest the baby worms and when the mosquito feeds on the next host, the larvae then enters through the mosquito’s bite wound, infecting the next host. It then takes about 6 months for the microfilaria to turn into adult heartworms, reaching a foot in length. Heartworms live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure and possible long term damage to other organs in the body. Dogs are it’s favorite host but heartworm disease can also affect cats, ferrets, wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions and—in rare instances—humans. As with the previously mentioned parasites, prevention is of utmost importance.

Now that we know how these awful parasites grow and travel, it’s time to go over the cost of prevention compared to the cost of treatment. To make this less complicated, I’m going to pick one weight range from one of the many options for parasite prevention, to show the comparisons. Please keep in mind that there are many forms of parasite prevention available (Sentinel, Revolution, Heartgard, Nexgard, Frontline, etc.), and I encourage you to do your own research and talk to your veterinarian about what product would be the best fit for your furry family member. I’m going to pick the products that I use on my own pets, Sentinel for my dogs and Revolution for my cats. Sentinel is a tablet, given monthly, that gives your dog protection against 6 different parasites, and is one of the main reasons why I choose it for my dogs. It helps prevent flea infestations, heartworms, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms and whipworms. For a 40 pound dog, I can get all this prevention flea-life-cycle-pyramidfor about $10 a month! To me, that’s one heck of a deal!! Especially if you compare it to the cost of treatment if your dog get’s one or more of these parasites. But let’s start with fleas for now. Let’s say my dog gets fleas and I now have an infestation. My dog is also suffering from skin infections from scratching at herself until she bled, so I also need some antibiotics for her. I need to get a product that will kill the adults fleas now and stop them from reproducing later. I also need to get flea treatment for my house and possibly my yard too. To make sure I get rid of all of them, I need to treat everything, all pets in the house, the house and my yard, for three solid months. $$$Cha$CHING$$$ The cost for the war on fleas can seem endless and this is just one of the parasites that could be prevented. For instance, if your dog suddenly starts having diarrhea for no reason, we’re going to suggest for you to bring in a fecal sample to run a test and see if they’ve come across a parasite or bacteria. The cost for this test runs about $30. If whipworms are found, the cost to treat my 40 pound dog is about  $34.00. If roundworms and hookworms are found, it will cost me around $10.00 to get rid of them and over $40.00 to get rid of tapeworms. If the fecal doesn’t give us an answer and your dog is showing signs of lethargy, our veterinarian might recommend doing a heartworm test. This test is done by collecting blood from your dog and costs over $45.00. This test will also look for 3 tick born illnesses, which could also be causing your pet to be lethargic. If your dog  does test positive for heartworms, the cost for heartworm treatment can run at least $250.00 and your dog could possibly die from a blood clot, while being treated. As far as a tick preventative for my dog, I would give Nexgard; a monthly chew-able tablet that kills adult fleas and ticks and costs around $22.00. For an additional $8.00 a month, I could use Heartgard (instead of the Sentinel) and give my dog protection against heartworms, roundworms and hookworms. As I previously mentioned, there are many options available and your veterinarian will be happy to answer your questions and help you decide what is the best match for your family.


Veterinarian staff removing hundreds of ticks from a stray kitten

When it comes to cats, our hospital recommends and sells Revolution. As I stated earlier, cats can also get heartworms. They can also get fleas, ticks, roundworms and hookworms. Revolution for cats is a topical that is applied once a month, to give protection against these parasites. The cost for a month’s worth of protection is around $20.00 and is priceless compared to the struggle of pilling your cat if it happens to get hookworms or roundworms and needs treatment. For those that have had to pill a difficult cat, we could triple that price and some would say that the preventative is still worth the price! But we won’t 🙂 The whole message behind this article is, it is much cheaper for you to provide prevention than it is to provide treatment. We want you to be able to afford the preventatives so you don’t go bankrupt trying to pay for treatments instead.  Just like Benjamin Franklin explained, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

To help you to determine which form of prevention you choose to use and for further information on the parasites mentioned, I recommend following the links that have been attached. There is a lot more information out there than what I’ve shared here and I strongly suggest doing your own research and finding out what type of parasites are more prevalent in your area and lifestyle. I’ve learned that I don’t want to risk getting any of them and I have chosen to treat my pets year round. Fair warning to those that choose to do additional research, be ready to be grossed out, we are talking about parasites, remember?