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Pets Q&A: Some timely tips from ‘Dr. Flea’

Parasites are a very popular topic this time of year. Today, veterinary parasitologist Dr. Michael Dryden, of the Department of Diagnostic Medicine and Pathobiology at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, answers your questions. Dryden speaks around the globe on flea and tick issues, and is known lovingly, no doubt, as “Dr. Flea.”

Q: How worried about tick disease should I be, really? Everyone’s talking about it these days, but isn’t this just a way (for companies) to make money? Years ago, I didn’t hear so much. – S.C., Kansas City, Mo.

A: “Tick disease is more prevalent today than it’s ever been,” says Dryden. “We love all the deer and other wildlife, but they bring ticks. Even wild turkeys (carry ticks). Where we live plays a role, as suburbia has sprawled into places where there’s wildlife. Also, weather could be a factor. In any case, wherever there are ticks, you can be certain there’s tick disease.”

Dryden adds that while Lyme disease is only now beginning to infiltrate where you live, it’s spreading southeast and west of New England, where it was first identified, into the Midwest, upper Midwest and Southeast. And while your dog may not require a Lyme vaccine, the prevalence of Lyme in dogs is clearly on the rise. Where Lyme is on the rise, Dryden suggests the Lyme vaccine, as well as a tick preventive, and checking your dog daily for ticks.

Where you live, you’re hardly home free, as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis all too commonly affect unprotected dogs, as well as often fatal cytauxzoonosis in cats. All are spread by ticks.

Since tick disease is likely vastly underdiagnosed, Dryden supports testing to determine if a dog has tick disease in the first place. There’s a simple blood test that screens dogs for three types of tick disease: Lyme, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis, plus heartworm disease (caused by mosquitoes). Since the heartworm test should be given annually, for only a few extra dollars it makes good sense for most dogs in most parts of the U.S. to be screened for tick diseases, too. Ask your veterinarian about the IDEXX 4-Way Snap test.


Q: The flea and tick product I’ve been using for years – a spot on suggested by a veterinarian – hasn’t been working, but there doesn’t seem to be a safe alternative at this point. The product is expensive, so I buy it at a big box store. I think veterinarians have priced themselves out of the market. What should I use on my dogs? – A.K.M., Garden City, Mich.

A: “Veterinary (recommended) products do work, but the right product for your home may be dependent on where you live, and also your pets’ lifestyles,” Dryden says. “In any case, there’s new technology available. Comfortis and Nexgard are monthly chewables, with excellent residual speed of kill, which is how rapid the kill rate is even after the product was given some time ago. The same is true for Bravecto, also a chewable, which has the added bonus of giving the pet 12 weeks of protection.”

Dryden also likes Vectra 3D, a monthly spot on, which can potentially deter fleas and ticks from latching onto your pet in the first place, but kills them quickly if they do attach.

Consult your veterinarian about alternative flea products. Some products aren’t any more expensive at the vet office. Wherever you buy, at least get veterinary input first. If you have problems with a product purchased through a veterinarian, you have recourse you wouldn’t have when buying online or through a big box store. And believe it or not, there’s counterfeit product out there online. Paying a tad more for the right product is far less expensive than dealing with an exterminator or treating tick disease.

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