5 Ways to Have the Worm Conversation with Your Clients

Man and dog in woods

When clients come to your clinic and discuss the parasites that worry them most, they often start with ticks and fleas because they’re visible — they can see the threat. As a veterinary professional, however, you know there are other dangerous parasites they can’t see, including more than just heartworm. You also know that recommending broad-spectrum parasite protection isn’t a sales tactic; it’s good medicine. So how do you start the conversation about the importance of protecting dogs against other types of parasites in a way that pet owners will understand, appreciate, and ultimately listen to?

Here are five conversation starters to help your clients understand the risks and why intestinal parasites can pose a bigger problem than they may think.

1. Parasites disrupt the pet owner-pet bond.

No pet owner wants to see the dreaded “rice” on their dog’s rear, or learn their dog has been shedding eggs from intestinal parasites and contaminating their yard. Intestinal parasites aren’t just stressful for pet owners, but for pets, too. An indoor dog could suddenly be relegated to the outdoors or confined to a single room – all while a frantic pet owner tries to reach their veterinarian after hours. Dogs are intelligent creatures, but that doesn’t mean they will understand why their owner is suddenly distant, worried or disgusted. The bottom line: Parasitic infections can undermine efforts to create a warm, inviting, Fear Free home for a pet.

2. Intestinal parasite prevalence rates are rising.

The average number of heartworm-positive dogs per clinic increased by 21.7 percent in a 2017 survey conducted by the American Heartworm Society.1 While pet owners may recognize the importance of protecting against heartworm, they might not realize the threats posed by intestinal parasites as well. Along with the increasing threat of heartworm, prevalence rates of intestinal parasites are also on the rise. In shelter dogs:

  • Canine hookworm (Ancylostoma caninum) prevalence rates increased from 19.2 percent average prevalence nationwide in 1996 to 29.8 percent in 20142,3
  • Canine whipworm (Trichuris vulpis) prevalence rates increased from 14.3 percent average prevalence nationwide in 1996 to 18.7 percent in 20142,3

3. Pets are out and about (and exposed) more than ever.

Dog parks are prime areas for the spread of parasites like hookworm, whipworm and roundworm. In a pilot study conducted across the Dallas-Fort Worth area, 80 percent of sampled dog parks had at least one dog test positive for intestinal parasites.4 If a client frequents dog parks or other areas with lots of dogs, they should know that it increases their dog’s risk of picking up a parasitic infection.

4. Shelter dogs may increase parasite prevalence in your area.

Did you know nearly two thirds of animal shelters and rescue organizations do not test, treat or provide heartworm prevention before transporting dogs? From 2014 to 2017 shelters imported 114,000 dogs to Colorado, and during that same time period Colorado saw a 67.5 percent increase in heartworm prevalence. Even if you practice in an area with historically low parasite prevalence, shelter dog relocation may contribute to a higher local risk of parasitic disease for your clients.5

5. Owners and their families are at risk, too.

Pet owners often don’t realize that zoonotic disease transmission is a real threat to their families, especially young children.6 If clients question the necessity of intestinal parasite protection, explain that roundworm eggs can remain in an environment for years6 — leaving pets and human family members at risk long after the problem was thought to be “over.” Even walking around barefoot in their own yard could be a risk, because infective hookworm larvae can penetrate human skin to spread zoonotic disease.7

Regardless of the many Fear Free reasons to protect against intestinal parasites, educating pet owners on the risks of these “hidden” parasites can be a challenge. Using the conversation starters above can help support a recommendation for heartworm prevention that also protects against hookworm, roundworm, whipworm, and tapeworm, as well as potentially increasing compliance. After all, a client who understands the value of intestinal parasite protection for their pet is that much more likely to administer it.


    1. American Heartworm Society. AHS survey finds increase in heartworm cases. Available at: https://d3ft8sckhnqim2.cloudfront.net/images/bulletin/AHS-1705-May-17-Summer-Bulletin.pdf?1535050388. Accessed June 20, 2019.
    2. Blagburn BL, Lindsay DS, Vaughan JL et al. Prevalence of canine parasites based on fecal flotation. Comp Cont Educ Pract. 1996;18(5):483-509.
    3. Blagburn BL, Butler JM, Mount J, et al. Prevalence of internal parasites in shelter dogs based on centrifugal fecal flotation [abstract]. In Proceedings AAVP 59th Annual Meeting. Denver; 2014. 26-29 July 2014.
    4. Elanco Animal Health. Data on file.
    5. Drake J, Parrish RS. Dog importation and changes in heartworm prevalence in Colorado 2013-2017. Parasite Vector. 2019;12:207.
    6. Companion Animal Parasite Council. Ascarid. Available at: https://www.capcvet.org/guidelines/ascarid/. Accessed May 16, 2018.
    7. Companion Animal Parasite Council. Trichuris vulpis. Available at: https://www.capcvet.org/guidelines/trichuris-vulpis/. Accessed May 16, 2018.


  1. This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

    This post is brought to you by our sponsor, Elanco, the makers of Credelio® (lotilaner) and
    Interceptor® Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel).


    Credelio kills adult fleas, treats flea infestations (Ctenocephalides felis) and treats and controls tick infestations [Amblyomma americanum (lone star tick), Dermacentor variabilis (American dog tick), Ixodes scapularis (black-legged tick) and Rhipicephalus sanguineus (brown dog tick)] for one month in dogs and puppies 8 weeks or older and 4.4 pounds or more.


    The safe use of Credelio in breeding, pregnant or lactating dogs has not been evaluated. Use with caution in dogs with a history of seizures. The most frequently reported adverse reactions are weight loss, elevated blood urea nitrogen, increased urination, and diarrhea. Please see full Credelio product information for complete safety information or contact your veterinarian.


    Interceptor Plus prevents heartworm disease (D. immitis) and treats and controls adult hookworm (A. caninum), roundworm (T. canis, T. leonina), whipworm (T. vulpis) and tapeworm infections (T. pisiformis, E. multilocularis, E. granulosus and D. caninum) in dogs and puppies 6 weeks or older and 2 pounds or greater.


    Treatment with fewer than 6 monthly doses after the last exposure to mosquitoes may not provide complete heartworm prevention. Prior to administration of Interceptor Plus (milbemycin oxime/praziquantel), dogs should be tested for existing heartworm infections. The safety of Interceptor Plus has not been evaluated in dogs used for breeding or in lactating females. The following adverse reactions have been reported in dogs after administration of milbemycin oxime or praziquantel: vomiting, diarrhea, depression/lethargy, ataxia, anorexia, convulsions, weakness, and salivation. Please see full Interceptor Plus product information for complete safety information or contact your veterinarian

    Credelio, Interceptor, Elanco and the diagonal bar logo are trademarks of Elanco or its affiliates.
    © 2019 Elanco. PM-US-19-1483

Happy Paws Magazine

Fall/Winter 2019 Issue Available Now!