Parasite control in pets often seems to be a complex topic. Everybody knows that they ought to deworm and deflea their pet, but that's about as far as it goes. When the topic is investigated further, many questions come up.
How often should you deworm and deflea? Once a month, once a quarter or once a year?
What products should you use? Spot-ons or tablets? From supermarkets, pet shops or vets? Or can you buy them online?
What about other parasites, like ticks or mange? Will the flea products sort them out?
How can you tell if there is a problem with your pet? What happens if you don't carry out regular parasite control?
I frequently meet owners who are wasting time and money buying ineffective products or using them in the wrong way.
Parasite control is a rapidly changing area. New, improved products are continually being developed, with better efficacy, safety and ease of use. And the parasite threat is continually changing too, with a climate that's getting warmer and moister, and with increased movement of pets from country to country (at least, until the Covid-10 pandemic arrived).
An innovative, up-to-date website has been set up, specifically designed to offer advice to pet owners and vets alike. The European Scientific Council for Companion Animal Parasites (www.esccap.org) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation staffed by experts in the field of parasitology and public health. It was formed to address the need for a consistent European approach to parasite control in pets. It's a free and independent parasite control resource aimed primarily at veterinary professionals but accessible to all. Its primary function is to develop free best-practice guidelines for the treatment and control of parasites. Its aim is to protect the health of pets, enhance the safety of the public and to preserve the human-animal bond.
The ESCCAP website is independent, Its aim is to provide good quality, truthful information rather than trying to sell products or services.
The website has separate sections for each European country, since the local parasite challenge varies significantly. Pets in southern Europe need regular treatment for heartworm, in eastern Europe life-threatening diseases are carried by ticks, and in many countries, pets can carry worms that can cause serious illness in humans. So it makes sense for Irish pet owners to head for the section dedicated to our local parasite population. Even then, there are specific, localised issues within Ireland (e.g. ticks are far more common in Donegal than in Dublin), so the best approach for pet owners generally is to talk to a local expert. Your own vet is likely to be the most suitable person to advise you.
For most people, the annual health check is the easiest time to talk to your vet about parasite control. A conversation is always needed, because the answer for one pet owner in your area may be different to another owner. There are a number of questions that your vet might ask. How old is your pet? (puppies and kittens need different parasite control to adults). Are there young children or immune-suppressed adults in your home (once monthly worming will be needed rather than every three months). Does your pet ever eat raw meat? (e.g. dogs fed on a raw diet, or cats that are hunters). Does your dog or cat spend time outside, where they may nibble on slugs and snails, or even eat these accidentally when chewing on grass? (if they do this, there's a significant risk of picking up lungworm). Do you want a zero-risk approach to parasites, or can you accept a small risk that your pet might bring back a creepy-crawly into your home, or that they might fall ill because of an internal parasite? People have different levels of risk that they are prepared to accept.
The answers to these questions are individual, for every pet and every person, which means that a different type of parasite control regime is needed on an individualised basis for each situation.
This can all sound very complicated to owners, and many people just want a simple answer. In the old days, the simplest advice was to give a broad spectrum worm dose every three months, combined with flea control as needed. And this may still be an answer for some people, as long as there are not children or immunocompromised people in their home, and as long as their pet stays indoors.
But for most people, perhaps with an unpredictable spectrum of humans in their household, and with pets that spend time outdoors, a more thorough, comprehensive answer makes more sense. The latest drug formulations mean that it can still be kept simple, but the products do need to be given more often.
The good news is that external parasite (e.g. flea and tick) control has now been combined with internal parasite (worm) control. A once monthly dose (via a tasty tablet or a spot-on liquid) can now solve all of your pet's parasite problems at once..
If you want the pets and humans in your life to be protected, you do need to pay attention to effective parasite control. Visit that website, or ask your vet, to find out what you need to do.