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Published January 11, 2013, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Dogs need heartworm prevention

Dear Dr. Fox: I have an 8-year-old Tibetan terrier, Jesse; a 4-year-old Maltese, Sophie; and a 2-year-old Maltese, Dylan.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: I have an 8-year-old Tibetan terrier, Jesse; a 4-year-old Maltese, Sophie; and a 2-year-old Maltese, Dylan.

My vet believes that monthly heartworm prevention is necessary. All dogs get Heartgard Plus every month. Even though I’ve never missed a month, when it gets close to a year, the vet requires blood work for a negative reading before she will approve more medication. The blood work is $45 per dog. The medication is also quite costly. She requires that I sign a waiver for the meds if I do not buy them from her and get them on the Internet.

According to Dr. David Knight and Dr. James Lok of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, addressing recommendations for year-round meds, “The practice of some veterinarians to continuously prescribe monthly chemoprophylaxis exaggerates the actual risk of heartworm transmission in most parts of the country and unnecessarily increases the cost of protection to their clients.”

What do you think? – C.Z., Naples, Fla.

Dear C.Z.: In most states, there are flea/tick and mosquito seasons that justify intermittent use of preventive drugs. But in areas like Florida, it can be a year-round battle. Check my website, DrFoxVet.com, for safer methods of flea and tick control.

If you are confident that you can keep mosquitoes away indoors and out, your dogs may stop taking heartworm medication. But since the Heartgard Plus also keeps other parasites at bay and the low dose is safe for most breeds, it may be wise to continue with the monthly preventive medication.

Use botanical insect repellents such as Organic Orange TKO Natural Cleaner (diluted in water) or a water/eucalyptus oil or lemon oil spritz to keep mosquitoes and other biting insects away from you and your dogs.

We must adopt precautionary principles such as keeping dogs off chemically sprayed sidewalks and lawns and fight the use of such poisons in our communities.

Lymphoma and other cancers, even in young dogs, are the main causes of death in our canine companion animals. I attribute much of this to the toxic environments we have created in our homes and outdoors, where insecticides and herbicides are used routinely and by and large unnecessarily for cosmetic purposes. Also, agrichemical contaminants of human food and pet food play a significant, but impossible to quantify, role in the genesis of cancer, some types being especially prevalent in farmers and agricultural workers.

Dear Dr. Fox: We have a 7-year-old male Russian blue cat, Boris, who weighs 6½ pounds. His weight has remained constant, and, apart from what I am about to describe, he has had no significant health problems.

Boris was adopted when he was a year old, and we noticed soon after he arrived that he periodically choked or gagged and threw up food he had recently eaten or bile. We took him to our veterinarian, who advised that the behavior might be genetic but was no cause for concern.

We feed Boris moist food (Friskies) in the form of shreds or flakes. He’s a finicky eater, and he will turn up his nose at one form of food or another, even though he relished it the day before. He also gets treats in the afternoon (Temptations), and he doesn’t let me forget to give them to him. He rarely gets tuna, but yesterday we gave him a few bits and some liquid from the can. He ate and drank everything and did not regurgitate it. I tend to believe the treats may be responsible for his problem, but he throws up his regular food too.

Lately, he has been throwing up more often, and he always gags or chokes beforehand. We are wondering whether or not we should discontinue the treats, change his food, provide some sort of medication or simply ignore the problem. – R.F.T., Bonita Springs, Fla.

Dear R.F.T.: I receive many letters from people whose cats share the same symptoms as yours and have posted many replies on my website.

I do not like the cavalier attitude of the veterinarian who saw your cat. The problem should not be dismissed as some kind of genetic behavioral quirk of no consequence. I would cut out the treats, consider fur balls in his stomach and urge you to transition him onto a raw food diet or one that is grain- and soy-free.

Your cat most likely has a food allergy or hypersensitivity. There are many other reasons why cats regurgitate their food, from eating too quickly and not being fed four to six small meals a day to having chronic renal failure or fatty liver disease. I would not ignore this problem.