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Make the Most Out of Your Heartworm Prevention Products

Dogs Internal ParasitesLike most pet owners, you probably give your dog a preventative for heartworm every month. Many cats who go outside, live in the south, or both, receive monthly preventatives as well.

It is very important to prevent heartworm, that’s for sure! It can be fatal in dogs if not treated. Treating is expensive and downright sucks for your dog. In cats it’s always fatal. Period. We can’t even try to treat it in cats!

Yet, today’s heartworm preventatives actually do so much more than prevent heartworm! It’s worth your time to learn what each brand covers, and talk to your vet about which is best for your pet. Every pet is different, and with so many great products out there, we can tailor the medication to the pet!

First, let’s meet the main characters in this little production, then we’ll discuss which preventatives prevent what. Here are the four intestinal parasites that can be treated by various products. There are a couple different species of each, so I am generalizing to keep it somewhat simple.

Roundworms – Nearly every puppy and kitten is born with roundworms. They are very common, and the nature of the life cycle is to migrate to a uterus and  wait for puppies to appear! Both dogs and cats can get roundworms from infected soil – not fresh feces. It takes about 30 days for the eggs in feces to grow into the larval form that can infect people, dogs, and cats. Typically, these are found in soil, as the feces have eroded and are long gone by then.

Hookworms – Puppies are commonly infected with hookworms as well (thanks mom!). The unique thing about these larvae is that they can penetrate skin. Walking in grass, or even laying with the belly contacting the ground, are all opportunities for hookworm larvae to infect an animal. Pets can also get hookworms from eating infected rodents or birds. Good news – hookworm eggs in soil are not very hardy, and cannot survive freezing temperatures like roundworms can.

Whipworms – Probably the most frustrating parasite in this group, whipworms rarely show up in a fecal test. The worm only releases eggs once every 2 weeks or so, so the odds of getting a fecal with eggs in it is slim……unless the pet has a LOT of worms! Also frustrating – once these eggs are in the soil, nothing kills these suckers. Heat? Love it! Freezing? Bring it on! I tell owners once they’ve had a pet with whipworms in their yard, assume there are whipworm eggs in the yard for life.

Tapeworms – The only parasite that owners can identify in feces (or on their pet) only rarely shows up in a fecal test!  Why? Tapeworms release segments (those white rice-like things) and not microscopic eggs like everybody else does. When we do a fecal test, we are looking for microscopic eggs – tapeworm fail! Most dogs and cats contract tapeworms from fleas – swallowing them, specifically. If you don’t have fleas, the tapeworm risk is minimal. However, there are a couple species of tapeworm that dogs and cats can contract from eating dead mice, rats, rabbits, etc. If your pet is a frequent hunter, preventing tapeworms is something to consider.

In my next article, I will review the products!

Web-DVM guest blogger Dr. Karen Louis is a practicing small animal veterinarian.  See more of her articles at her blog at


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