Heartworm, Flea, and Tick Prevention

Stilwell Animal Hospital & Equine Center, P.A. is dedicated to providing the best education to our clients as possible and the prevention of fleas, ticks, and heartworms is no exception. We advocate for proactive management of these preventable problems. We carry a variety of preventative products that can kill or deter these parasites. We are happy to find you a product that fits your needs, finances, and your pet’s lifestyle to ensure the continued good health of your pet.

Although we strongly advocate for prevention, we also routinely will check your pet for fleas and ticks during their regular visits. It is strongly recommended that all animals have blood drawn and a fecal sample taken yearly to test for heartworms and intestinal parasites. If positive results are found with either of these tests, we are equipped to eliminate the infestation and prevent future problems for your pet. We prefer to regularly screen animals for these infestations before it becomes a large enough problem to affect your pet’s health. That is simply another way we wish to be proactive in your pet’s health.


What are the signs of a flea infestation?

A flea infestation on your pet is not always obvious, but some things you might see are: flea droppings (dark specks in the fur), flea eggs (white specks) in the fur, excessive licking or scratching, scabs or hot spots on the skin, crying out or anxious behavior, hair loss on the back near the tail. If you see any of these signs in your pet or you directly visualize fleas, we recommend contacting us for treatment of the infestation.

The warning signs for a flea infestation can include:

  • Flea droppings (dark specks in the fur
  • Flea eggs (white specks) in the fur
  • Excessive licking or scratching
  • Scabs or hot spots on the skin
  • Crying out or anxious behavior

I bought a flea product at a local petstore, but my pet now has fleas anyways. How does this happen and how can I prevent it?

Many of the products carried at local pet stores are not regulated by the same governing bodies that ensure the ingredients of name brand flea prevention products. There are many off-label companies that make “flea prevention” products that use similar-looking labels or product names to mimic those of the legitimate name brand products. A common one that is mimicked is Frontline. These companies will often misspell the name of the product to avoid breaching copyrite laws, but still fool unsuspecting people. These products are cheaper than the name brands because they either do not contain active ingredients, or they contain too little to be effective. It is highly recommended that you receive all of your parasite prevention products from a veterinarian to avoid spending money on products without any or enough active ingredients to protect your pet. It costs more in the long run to treat a flea infestation than it does to prevent it.

Why does my pet need a heartworm test before starting heartworm prevention?

Heartworm disease, scientific name of the worm being Dirofilaria Immitis, is caused by the adult form of the worm. Dogs and cats are infected with a younger larval form of the worm called a microfilaria. The microfilaria form then grows through many larval stages before becoming an adult worm. When we test for heartworms in the clinic, we use what is called an antigen test, which tests the blood for proteins found in the reproductive systems of the worm. The presence of these proteins indicates that there is an infection with the adult form of the worm. Heartworm prevention kills off the younger worms, the microfilaria, and prevents the presence of adult worms. If we administer heartworm prevention to animals with adult worms, the adult worms will not be killed and the disease can continue. More importantly than that, there is a risk of an anaphylactic reaction which can be rapidly fatal to your pet if not treated quickly. This reaction is characterized by swelling of the face and throat, inability to breathe, and then death. Frequent heartworm testing can prevent this reaction and also catch the heartworm infection before your pet starts having clinical signs of disease and permanent damage to the heart and lungs.

Why does my pet need heartworm prevention year round?

Heartworm microfilaria (the juvenile, infective form of the worm) are carried in mosquitoes that have fed on an infected animal. When an infected mosquito feeds on an uninfected animal, these microfilaria enter the bloodstream of that animal. It is a common misconception that because mosquitoes are less prevalent in winter months, pets do not need to be on their heartworm prevention in these months. Unfortunately, the risk in winter months is still present for many reasons. First, mosquitoes often survive in cold weather by wintering indoors in garages, barns, and even people’s homes, which leaves your pets susceptible to infection year round. Second, the lifecycle of the heartworm is such that the adult form of the worm takes about 6 months to develop in your dog or cat after infection with microfilaria. This means that when you discontinue heartworm prevention in the winter months, you are allowing any potential microfilaria to grow to their adult stages. By maintaining the heartworm prevention in your pet year round, you are ensuring a high enough level of drug in the body of your pet to prevent disease by adult worms year round.

Do dogs need tick prevention if they don’t have access to a wooded area?

It is recommended that all dogs be put on tick prevention regardless of access to wooded areas. It is true that ticks are more prevalent in wooded areas and during early summer months. However, ticks are not limited to wooded areas, and even very sparsely wooded areas can have high numbers of ticks. The more important reason for tick prevention is to prevent the fatal diseases that ticks can carry. One of the most popularly known tick disease is Lyme disease caused by a bacteria called Borrelia Burgdorferi. Lyme disease is zoonotic, meaning that it can also be transmitted to people, which makes it a huge human health concern. Lyme disease is a potentially fatal disease that is incredibly difficult and expensive to treat. We also have a vaccine for Lyme disease in dogs, which is highly recommended for dogs that spend time outdoors. Another tick-borne disease in animals is Ehrlichiosis, which is a broad term for disease caused by many different species of bacteria in the genus Ehrlichia. This disease is also zoonotic and causes fever, lethargy, muscle and joint aches, and in severe cases, can cause an immune-mediated response in the joints called polyarthropathy. This disease can also be expensive to treat and is preventable. Bottom line is that there is more risk from ticks than just sucking blood, and even dogs not spending time near heavily wooded areas are recommended to be on a tick prevention product.

Is there a single product that takes care of all parasites?

There is currently not one single product that takes care of fleas, ticks, heartworms, and intestinal parasites. However, there are many products that cover more than one parasite, and these products can be used in combination with each other to fully cover your pet. We have a variety of both topical products and oral formulations. We would be more than happy to discuss with you which products best fit both you and your pet’s lifestyles.