Taming Heartworm

Taming HeartwormTaming Heartwormcover stories, smlanimalBy Marissa Heflin04-06-2009


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When it comes to educating pet owners about heartworms, veterinarians need not stand alone.

The American Heartworm Society and the Com-panion Animal Parasite Council have ample education materials and resources, but another group is making a push: the companies behind the preventive medications.

For instance, Merial of Duluth, Ga., recently partnered with the America Heartworm Society to launch “April is Heartworm Awareness Month.” The campaign supports veterinary clinics in their efforts to educate pet owners about the potentially deadly disease and to correct some of the most common misconceptions about its prevention, transmission and treatment.

Almost 50 percent of dog owners who took part in a recent survey regularly took their pets to veterinarians but did not give the animals heartworm preventives, according to the campaign’s marketing material.

“We are trying to equip the clinic to have a conversation with the pet owner that leads to more pets being on heartworm prevention,” said Michael Murray, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, technical marketing director for USA pet parasiticides at Merial.

As part of the campaign, the society and Merial developed an unbranded Heartworm Awareness Month kit, available free here. It includes a program guide; pre-printed postcards and e-mails to send to pet owners; an animated DVD; illustrated booklets; consumer dog and cat brochures; window clings; wall posters; and templates for radio spots and print ads.

Merial also released an educational CD on heartworm infection in dogs. It aims to bring to life the concepts of heartworm infection and management through animation and graphics.

“The CD’s purpose is to provide heartworm education in a different format, not just a didactic approach of writing notes and seeing PowerPoint slides in a lecture, but something that was interactive and brought heartworm to life,” Dr. Murray said. “We know that veterinarians who have participated in the CD really, really like it. They find that it’s not only reminding them of things they already knew but is filling in gaps and giving them ‘ah-ha’ moments.”

John Phillips, DVM, managing area veterinarian for Pfizer Animal Health of New York, said veterinarians are pretty much up to speed about canine heartworm disease, but he said a gap may exist with the feline counterpart.

Educating Staff, Clients
To help bridge this gap, Pfizer is working on feline heartworm education. For example, the company sponsored a session at February’s Western Veterinary Conference on the clinical significance of feline heartworm disease, presented by Auburn University’s A. Ray Dillon, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM.

Pfizer has an emerging program called Techspert in which veterinary technicians go out in small groups and teach about feline heartworm disease.

“What we try to do is educate veterinarians and staff,” Dr. Phillips said. “Staff members have the contact with the consumer. It is important they understand the life cycles, understand what these products do. They are pivotal in a client’s understanding and accepting heartworm treatment.”

Pfizer also provides live Webinar meetings on a variety of topics and in-clinic seminars.

To help dealings with the pet owner, Pfizer offers clinic materials such as brochures and posters as well as puppy/kitten kits, which includes a free first dose of Revolution. An e-mail and telephone medication reminder is available to pet owners, telling them when to administer the product.

“The websites, of course, are also available to consumers,” Phillips said. “We try to do it all across the board.”

Conversation Starters
Novartis Animal Health of Greensboro, N.C., also is taking an active role in heartworm education.

“Our role is supporting veterinarians’ efforts to educate pet owners,” said Lee Cahalan, brand manager for Sentinel. “We try to facilitate the conversation between the veterinarian and the pet owner through a number of different things, including education materials we provide to the clinics.”

For example, the company provides posters and pet-owner handouts.

Because many products need to be used year-round, one of Novartis’ focused efforts is increasing compliance. Novartis supports RemindMyPet.com, which sends a monthly e-mail or text message to pet owners reminding them to administer the product. Other brands can be added to the system.

In addition, the company has incorporated a compliance wheel with its packaging. Pet owners can check off each month of the year as each medication is given.

The packaging was developed using consumer input and focus groups, said Mickey McDermott, vice president of North American communications for Novartis.

“Consumers said they would be more likely to remember to give medication if they were reminded through different channels,” McDermott said.

Since the packaging was launched only last summer, it is too early to say whether compliance improved, but the feedback has been very positive, McDermott added.

Novartis recently donated $225,000 to the Oklahoma State University Foundation to become the first industry partner of the university’s National Center for Veterinary Parasitology. The partnership will support the center’s mission of furthering advances in controlling parasitic animal diseases, including heartworm.

Back to School
Bayer Animal Health of Shawnee, Kan., became the parasitology center’s second industry partner when it awarded a $225,000 grant in February. Members of Bayer Animal Health’s Veterinary Technical Services Team will serve on the center’s advisory board and work with graduate students and residents in training.

Ernst Heinen, DVM, Ph.D., vice president of research and development at Bayer Animal Health, said veterinarians today are getting less training in parasitology, a big mistake since controlling parasites is a major part of veterinary medicine.

“Parasitology is such an old science that it almost got lost and we need to get it back,” Dr. Heinen said. “It’s one of our major goals.”
To further that effort, the company gave pet owners an opportunity in February to receive a $20 rebate toward preventive veterinary care through its Help Your Pet, Get to the Vet Campaign.

Thousands of Rebates
Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health of Kenilworth, N.J., offers rebate animal marketing. “The company is proud to help promote education about heartworm disease through its top-tier sponsorship of the American Heartworm Society, whose mission is to be the global resource for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heartworm disease.”

The company reintroduced ProHeart 6, a sustained-release injectable for the prevention of heartworm infection, to the U.S. veterinary market in June 2008. Because the product was returned to the market after a voluntary recall, Fort Dodge implemented a post-marketing surveillance initiative based on programs used to monitor the safety of human drugs. The effort included veterinarian training, pet owner education and consent forms and specific requirements for the purchase and administration of ProHeart 6.

“We have been pleased with the response to ProHeart6,” Hoffman said. “Despite short-term marketing limitations associated with the risk minimization plan implemented at reintroduction, veterinarians have embraced ProHeart6 and appreciate that they can take control of heartworm prevention to help ensure their patients are protected.”

Online Learning
Virbac Animal Health of Fort Worth, Texas, offers heartworm continuing education credits and certification through its Virbac University. The online interactive resource includes training modules in dental health, dermatology and canine hypothyroidism.

“What we have found is that education and knowledge equals power,” said Denise Skurdalsvold, Virbac’s senior marketing manager.

“If you have educated clinic staff, they feel more comfortable prescribing the products, they feel more comfortable talking to the consumer about it, they will sell more and they will increase their profits.”

The company provides veterinarians with Puppy Pacs to help them educate pet owners about heartworm prevention.

“The Puppy Pac is a tool to help the clinic sell heartworm prevention to a new pet owner,” Skurdalsvold said. “It’s a tool to say, ‘Here, this is your very first sample. You need to provide it and we are going to sell you a six-month or 12-month prevention pack so you can continue.’ ”

The Puppy Pac includes a vaccination record and information on other health issues. A free e-mail medicine reminder is available for pet owners.

Why it is important for companies to get involved in education?

“In any industry, you take partial responsibility for whatever you are manufacturing,” Skurdalsvold said. “I think it is important for any manufacturer in any industry to help support their product and help educate so that people—the veterinary community, the pet owner community, everybody—fully understands what they are expected to do with the product.” <HOME>

The American Heartworm Society and the Com-panion Animal Parasite Council have ample education materials and resources, but another group is making a push: the companies behind the preventive medications. The American Heartworm Society and the Com-panion Animal Parasite Council have ample education materials and resources, but another group is making a push: the companies behind the preventive medications. American Heartworm Society, pets, animals, heartworms, heartworm awareness, heartworm infection

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