Why aren't you talking about feline heartworms?!

November 22, 2016
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

Feline heartworm has been diagnosed in all 50 states, and it was important enough the American Association of Feline Practitioners crafted an entire campaign about it. So why don't veterinary technicians talk about preventive care as much as we could?

"Veterinary technicians usually have the biggest role in the [heartworm] discussion as we're the ones getting a history and talking to [pet] owners about what's recommended," says Ciera Miller, CVT, VTS (clinical practice.) (Shutterstock.com)A veterinary visit is busy. There's a lot to talk about. And you're putting your brilliant mind to work at tunneling through the patient history and clients' information to figure out what's most important to talk about right now. But Ciera Miller, CVT, VTS (clinical practice), with Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pennsylvania, really hopes that includes heartworm disease and heartworm preventives when it's a cat you've got on the exam room table (or, with those rare, strangely calm cats, wrapped around your ankle looking for attention).

Get hot for heartworms

Uhhh, I could have phrased that better, in retrospect. Regardless, here are three steps from Ciera Miller, CVT, VTS (clinical practice), to get your pulse pounding to educate clients about heartworm disease and prevention. (See? I made a heartbeat joke there.)

1. Get updated education for staff members. Many studies have shown that feline heartworm disease is more prevalent than we'd thought in the past.

2. Get help from your favorite, trusted veterinary drug reps, who may have educational materials on heartworm disease, preventive measures and annual screening tests.

3. Put it all to work. Team members who take these opportunities to learn more about the disease-including the latest, updated statistics-may be more willing and better equipped to have the often-dreaded feline heartworm prevention talk.

"As with any aspect of veterinary medicine, the more we know, the better we can continue to raise the standard of care for our patients," Miller says.

"Veterinary technicians usually have the biggest role in the discussion as we're the ones getting a history and talking to owners about what's recommended," Miller says. "But, yes, I know it's common for veterinary staff to recommend less vaccines and often no preventive medications for cats who stay strictly indoors."

But because the health consequences for an infected cat are so grave, Miller really wants to press the point home with cat owners.

We need to remind them that although the chances are greatly lowered, it's possible for indoor cats to be infected with heartworm," she says. "It only takes one mosquito to transmit the disease, and cats who live in areas of larger mosquito populations are at an even greater risk."

OK, OK, you knew all that already. So now the question is: Why don't YOU recommend it all the time?

"Many veterinary staff members are reluctant to push feline preventive medications either becaue they do not believe in their necessity or because they have experienced a long history of clients declining them."

"I believe that many veterinary staff members are reluctant to push feline prevention medications either because they themselves do not believe in their necessity or because they have experienced a long history of clients declining them," Miller says, echoing the reality that for many DVMs and their teams, too many "no" answers over a day, a week or a career can be exhausting if you take them personally. Don't. Up your game, Miller says.

"This is where educating ourselves the best we can about the risk for heartworm disease can aid in accurately and efficiently making our recommendations."

Start here ... or here ... or here. Go forth and educate yourself-and then your client. When you believe heartworm preventive is important, you'll start down the road to be the best advocate for heartworm preventive for your feline friends in the practice.