Talking about fleas and other parasites with your veterinary clients can be exasperating when your advice goes unheeded, but veterinarian Jessica Stroupe finds humor in her frustration about what she calls "flea denial."
Like many veterinarians, I give “the flea talk” several times a day. In fact, most of us could probably do it in our sleep. Educating our clients on the importance of year-round parasite protection can be a frustrating and drawn-out process, especially when dealing with what I like to call "flea denial."
As someone with a science background, I tend to reference science when talking with clients. I tell them about the 2011 AAHA/AVMA Preventive Healthcare Guidelines for cats and dogs, which clearly state that every dog and cat should receive “year-round broad-spectrum parasite control with efficacy against heartworms, intestinal parasites, and fleas.” The guidelines also recommend a customized plan for tick control based on risk assessment.
Most of us have had a client say, “I don’t need to give preventives in the winter months.” I live and practice in rural Missouri, where the winters can be cold and long, but I see patients infested with fleas 365 days a year.
I can talk about the AAHA guidelines or go over the flea life cycle with clients until I’m blue in the face, but it seems to have little impact on whether they decide to protect their pets against parasites year-round. I try to reinforce that clients who only administer preventives on a seasonal basis are playing Russian roulette with their pet’s health, but despite my best efforts I still have clients like Mrs. Shay in the poem below.
We can’t win them all.
Doc Stroupe came into her clinic one morning,
outside clouds were gray and rain was pouring.
Dogs barked, cats meowed, cages shut with a clang.
Doc glanced at the schedule, and then the phone rang.
"Doc Stroupe, this is Mrs. Shay.
I simply must bring my dog in today!"
"Ok, Mrs. Shay. What is your concern?"
Then all of a sudden she was very stern.
"Her skin is red, and she itches and scratches.
She even has hair coming off in patches!"
"Certainly, Mrs. Shay. Can you bring her at ten?
I don't have an opening until then.”
Mrs. Shay agreed with a sigh,
"I'll see you at ten. Thank you, goodbye."
The next couple of hours were kind of a haze
of trying to finish the neuters and spays.
As Doc was putting in the final stitch,
she remembered her appointment with the dog with an itch.
She walked into the exam room and saw the Maltese.
"Hello, Mrs. Shay. This must be Louise."
"Yes, Doc. I simply don't know what to do,"
as she crossed her arms and tapped her shoe.
"She itches and scratches all day and all night!
When I give her a bath, she tries to bite!"
Doc Stroupe paused and asked with some trepidation,
"Does Louise happen to be on flea medication?"
Mrs. Shay replied, "No, but I know it's not fleas!
Now hurry and look at my dog, if you please."
Doc Stroupe saw the skin, and thought with a smile,
this is a classic case of flea denial.
Mrs. Shay was distressed and dismayed to learn,
that Louise had the Bermuda shorts skin pattern.
As Doc ran a flea comb through the dog's hair,
she saw tiny fleas jumping here and there.
"Fleas can't be the problem. There's only two or three,"
Mrs. Shay said quite defensively.
"Adult fleas are only part of it, Mrs. Shay—
There's also eggs, larvae and pupae.
You must know that when there's two or three,
many more, there are sure to be."
Mrs. Shay then relaxed with a sigh.
Louise has fleas—she could no longer deny.
"If keeping fleas off your pet is your intention,
Louise needs year-round flea prevention.”
Louise looked up at her owner with pitiful eyes.
Mrs. Shay knew she must help to stop her dog's cries.
Doc Stroupe went over which products work best.
Soon they would be rid of this nasty pest.
As Mrs. Shay left with a supply of flea pills,
Doc Stroupe felt great about her education skills.
Months later, when Doc did her reminder call,
Mrs. Shay said, "I'm good on meds for a few months. It's almost fall."
Dr. Stroupe did her best to remain calm
as she sat at her desk, and did a facepalm.
Dr. Jessica Stroupe is a practice owner and mixed animal veterinarian in Missouri. A 2012 graduate of the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, she enjoys using poetry to commiserate in a humorous way with her colleagues about life as a vet. When she’s not working, she enjoys spending time with her husband and sons, running and weight lifting.