The fight against fleas, ticks and other pet-related pests is nothing like the trench warfare it was two decades ago, say veterinary experts, who hail the advent of modern parasite-control products.
But the problem can still rear its ugly head if complacency kicks in, say those who advocate a comprehensive year-round battle plan led by the professionals who counsel dog and cat owners.
Treat and protect the pet, of course, they say, but also pay attention to the indoor and outdoor environments.
In her role with the animal health company Virbac United States, Heidi Lobprise advises veterinary professionals about how best to help clients understand the importance of proactive steps in the fight against parasites.
“Dealing with parasites is not the most fun thing to talk about, but it is critical,” says Lobprise, DVM, Dipl. American Veterinary Dental College, senior technical manager for Virbac, which carries a comprehensive line of parasiticides, from yard sprays and foggers to shampoos and dewormers.
One of the key messages veterinary technicians and front-office staff members can convey is information about the life cycle of fleas, notes Josh Norsworthy, marketing manager for parasiticides at Fort Worth, Texas-based Virbac.
“It’s good to start simply,” Norsworthy says. “Talk about the life cycle and how rapidly fleas drop eggs, and then once those eggs are in the environment, what you can do to get them out.”
Some veterinary experts contend that treating the dog or cat is enough of a flea-control strategy. After all, today’s products have a record of effectiveness that has made the nightmare infestations of years past a distant memory for many pet owners.
But others with pest-control expertise say that treating only the animal accounts for only about 10 percent of the flea population—mainly the adults—in the pet’s environment. Neglecting to treat for the 90 percent of fleas, larvae pupa and eggs found in the carpet, bedding and elsewhere indoors, as well as those in the yard, risks creating a problem that requires intensive steps to eradicate.
“We always try to build in premise control,” says Dwight Bowman, MS, Ph.D., president of the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC).
Dr. Bowman says outdoor environmental issues are particularly strong regarding ticks.
“These days everyone wants the wildlife to be as close as possible, so they have lots of trees and scrub areas,” he notes. “Unfortunately, these backyards are also designed to be homes for ticks.”
Bowman suggests cutting back brush and, if necessary, treating with environmental sprays that include cyfluthrin or esfenvalerate.
He advises veterinary staff to remind clients to use such products only as the label indicates. To do otherwise is not only unsafe, it’s illegal, he says. The same holds true for room and area foggers, when their use is necessary.
“It seems obvious, but it’s important—if the instructions say one can of fogger per room, don’t use more than that,” he says.
CAPC guidelines suggest that veterinarians should guide all parasite control. And clinic staff play an important role in keeping clients compliant with “year-round broad-spectrum parasite control that includes efficacy against heartworm, intestinal parasites with zoonotic potential, fleas and ticks.”
Considering pet health as well as practice management, clinicians make a mistake when they “send pet owners home with spot-on treatment products but then send them to retail stores to buy pesticides to take care of the carpet or the yard,” Norsworthy says.
In most cases, pet owners appreciate the chance to get products that treat the environment from a source they trust, he adds.
Typically, veterinary clinics carry products that are backed by research, notes Lobprise, adding, “If something negative should come to pass, you have both the veterinarian and the company standing behind the products.”
Providing comprehensive care against parasites is why it’s important for clinic staff members to ask pet owners a full range of flea-related questions during regular visits, Lobprise says.
“A lot of times in clinics, the client will say, ‘My cat or my dog is an inside pet, so I don’t have to worry about issues related to his environment,’” she notes. “But then when you ask, ‘So they never go outside?’ you find out they do go to the dog park every once in a while, or they do go for occasional walks.
“Even with the products we have, there is that chance for the fleas to repopulate,” she adds. “And if you have a flea-allergic dog, it doesn’t take long for that exposure to become a problem.”
Which brings Lobprise to what she calls “the ick factor.” She notes that veterinary technicians and other staff may not raise the issue of protection from parasites as early or often as they should just because they have a stronger tolerance for the clinical effects.
“We have a high level of tolerance for unpleasant things such as parasites,” she says. “But what happens if a patient eats a flea and then has a tapeworm issue? As Dr. Mike Paul often says, “the first time a client ends up with a tapeworm on a pillow, that will be the last time that dog sleeps on the bed.”
A moment of such extreme “gross factor” has tremendous potential to damage the human-animal bond, Lobprise notes.
The doctor doesn’t suggest clinic staff try to shock clients into action with gross-out stories, but she does advocate that they talk from their own experience. In other words, don’t just practice what you preach, but preach what you practice.
“It’s so much more powerful when a staff member can say, ‘With my pet, I found these work for me,’ vs. just reading off a list of products,” she says.
This Veterinary Practice Staff article was underwritten by Virbac U.S. of Fort Worth, Texas.