Veterinarians are armed with preventatives that are safe and highly effective at stopping ticks, fleas, heartworm disease and intestinal parasites. Pet owners and their vets should evaluate each pet’s lifestyle and then chose the appropriate preventative medicine. The biggest thing I can stress to owners is that preventatives work only if they are given to the pet.
Everyone is different when it comes to how they remind themselves to give their pets preventatives. The majority of the monthly flea, tick and heartworm treatments come with reminder stickers that can be placed on the calendar to remind when the next dose is due. Owners also can enroll in monthly email reminder systems or download smart phone apps that send reminders.
Q: If my cat stays inside all the time, do I really need to worry about parasite prevention?
When talking about parasites, we need to first break it down into the categories of internal and external parasites and then take an honest look at the cat’s environment. Internal parasites include those that live inside the cat, such as roundworms in the intestines. External parasites are those that live on the surface of the cat, such as fleas and ticks.
An indoor-only cat living in an apartment complex is in a dramatically different risk category from a cat allowed outdoors during the day. This is where it becomes important to make the distinction between a preventative program and a monitoring program.
Cats spending time outdoors should be on a preventative program for internal and external parasites. Cats living exclusively indoors should be monitored for parasites. Cats have a strong prey drive, so even an indoor cat may catch an occasional rodent, putting it at risk of contracting parasites. Owners can typically detect external parasites such as fleas and ticks, but a microscopic exam is needed to test for internal parasites.
I frequently hear people say that they aren’t seeing parasites in their pets’ stools, so they think their pets don’t have parasites. But internal parasite detection isn’t that easy. For the majority of intestinal parasites, we never see the adult worm. The adults stay attached to the lining of the intestines and lay eggs that are shed in the stool—nature’s way of infecting other animals. When a veterinarian checks a stool sample, he or she is looking for these microscopic eggs.
Low-risk cats may not need a preventative but should have a stool sample checked annually to monitor for parasites. All cats, regardless of lifestyle, should visit the veterinarian yearly for a discussion about the animal’s lifestyle and a physical exam to ensure that the cat is on an appropriate preventative health-care plan.