Heartworm prevention: Dont take no for an answer

February 11, 2019

The clinical team in the exam room tells a veterinary client all about parasite preventives. But the client may ask anybody in the hospital, including receptionists, Do I really need to shell out money for this? Is everyone armed for the conversation?

(Cat photo: Oksana Kuzmina/stock.adobe.com; heart illustration: lisagerrard99/stock.adobe.com)The American Heartworm Society (AHS) canine guidelines for heartworm prevention, diagnosis and treatment were recently revised, with a strong emphasis placed on the importance of year-round heartworm prevention.

Down with heartworms!

Want to read more about new canine heartworm treatment guidelines?

• American Heartworm Society releases 2018 canine heartworm guidelines

Counter cost concerns with heartworm treatment

What clinicians need to know about the guidelines

Why? A 2016 AHS survey of almost 5,000 veterinary practices revealed that the number of heartworm-positive pets per clinic rose by 21 percent since the previous survey of three years earlier. Among veterinarians who reported that heartworm disease was “on the rise” since the previous survey, the leading reason was that “owners skip doses or don't give preventives year-round.” This compliance conundrum highlights the importance of client conversations about heartworm prevention-a priority that puts staff members front and center. Following are suggestions for handling heartworm prevention pushback from owners.

Client: “Heartworm medicine's so expensive. Why should I spend my money on it?”

Veterinary team member: “While it seems expensive, you get a lot more value for your prevention dollar than you realize. Consider this: You can protect your dog from a fatal heartworm infection for an entire month for what you'd spend on a pastry and coffee at your local coffee shop. Many monthly medications also offer more than just heartworm protection- some protect against fleas and common intestinal worms, too. That's important to your pet's health as well as that of your family, when you consider that parasites like roundworms and hookworms can be spread to your kids and other household members.”

"You can protect your dog from a fatal heartworm infection for an entire month for what you'd spend on a pastry and coffee at your local coffee shop."

Client: “I still don't think I can justify spending money on it.”

Veterinary team member: “Here are two important facts you need to know. First, preventing heartworms is a lot cheaper than treating them; heartworm treatment can cost up to $1,000 in medication and veterinary bills. Secondly, while heartworm disease in dogs can be treated and the worms eliminated, the damage left by heartworms is forever, and many dogs are left with residual health problems.”

(Bonus round for staff members in “nonendemic” areas)

Client: “I don't think I need it. Heartworms aren't that common around here.”

Veterinary team member: “While heartworm disease isn't as common here as in other parts of the U.S., heartworms have been diagnosed in every state in this country. In parts of the country that stay cold for six months or more, there are lots of warm, protected spots where mosquitoes that transmit heartworms can live. In urban areas, radiated heat is stored in concrete and asphalt and is released at night when mosquitoes are active. In rural areas, mosquitoes may find a warm spot in a hollow log or animal burrow to ride out the winter. In dry locales, thanks to sprinkler systems, birdbaths and watering cans, there are pockets of standing water everywhere where mosquitoes can breed.

"Isn't it easier to give a single medication once a month-or an injection every six months-to keep him or her safe?"

“I know parasite preventives may be an added expense you weren't expecting, and you may be weighing the costs and benefits. Makes perfect sense. It boils down to this: No matter where you live, is it worth putting your pet at risk? Isn't it easier to give a single medication once a month-or an injection every six months-to keep him or her safe? Think about it this way: You may never have been in a car wreck, but you still put on your seat belt. Would you risk your life by not wearing one? Why would you risk your pet's life by not giving him or her heartworm prevention?”