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Pets Q&A

Q: I purchased an all-natural flea product at the store, but it didn’t help. My neighbor says that because I live in Florida, I have to learn to live with fleas. Is she right? – E.B., Ocala, Fla.

A: No one has to live with fleas, according to veterinary parasitologist Dr. Michael Dryden, professor of veterinary parasitology at Kansas State University-Manhattan.

Buying products at a store can be dicey, however. Not all flea products are created equal. Your veterinarian is the best source of information.

I’m not sure which product failed you, but Dryden says he and his colleagues have studied many of the so-called alternative approaches to battling fleas, and found the failure rate to be substantial. Therefore, your concerns aren’t particularly surprising.

He notes that even products that work with 70 percent or 80 percent effectiveness aren’t good enough. Fleas reproduce so fast and efficiently that the kill rate needs to be somewhere over 90 percent for complete effectiveness. The best products have both immediate and longer-term speed of kill.


Q: We’re adopting a dog with heartworm disease from a shelter. He’s nearly completed the treatments. What I find odd is that the shelter told us Rudy wasn’t the exception, and that at least a quarter of the dogs (at the shelter) have heartworm. I thought that heartworm can be avoided with medication. Why do so many dogs then have heartworm? – P.S., Cyberspace

A: Dr. Stephen Jones, president of the American Heartworm Society, wonders the same thing. He says you’re absolutely right in that “heartworm is a preventable disease. But people need to buy and then use that preventative.”

Jones, of Moncks Corner, S.C., notes that 64 percent of dogs (and far more cats) leave veterinary clinics without a heartworm preventative. Most often, it’s clients who balk, either complaining about the expense or saying they don’t want to use a “drug” (although side effects are exceedingly rare).

Occasionally, veterinarians are guilty themselves, and don’t even broach the topic. Or clients refuse the testing for heartworm, which is done before a preventative is dispensed. Some veterinarians refuse to prescribe a preventative if the test is not done.

Some clients do purchase heartworm preventative, but then forget to give it to their pet.

Sadly, too many pet owners never see a veterinarian. Heartworm prevention isn’t readily available online or anywhere without a veterinary prescription.

Jones points out that heartworm disease can kill, and prevention in dogs is less expensive than costly, arduous treatment. In cats, there is no treatment, and the only symptom may be sudden death.

“It’s a shame so many dogs, particularly in the South (where mosquitoes that spread heartworm are most common), test positive for heartworm,” says Jones. “Dogs with heartworm get sick or worse needlessly.”


Q: Taffy recently had emergency surgery when bladder stones caused a blockage in her urethra. The vet said she removed 11 stones form Taffy’s bladder during surgery and that the bladder was pretty torn up. Taffy did heal fast. We’re feeding our cats Royal Canin SO now, a moist prescription diet. Any advice? – G.L.M., Cyberspace

A: Dr. Vicki Thayer, a feline veterinarian based in Lebanon, Ore., is a fan of Royal Canin diets, in general. But her opinion doesn’t count nearly as much your own veterinarian’s, or most certainly, your cat’s. If Taffy likes the diet and is medically doing well, that’s what matters most.