Keep the Parasite Prevention Compliance Conversation Alive

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Distributor reps can help their veterinary practices keep parasite prevention compliance from falling through the cracks. 

The way James R. Freeman, DVM, sees it, distributor reps are on the front lines of the industry’s efforts to improve parasite prevention among pet owners.

“A sales rep can help keep the discussion alive,” said Dr. Freeman, a senior professional services veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health. “These discussions that we’re talking about with pet owners sometimes fall down the list of priorities. When a pet owner comes in with their dog, there are a lot of things to discuss – a lot of preventive needs, diseases that the dog may deal with, etc. As a result, discussion about heartworm and GI parasites may fall through the cracks.”


“For a sales rep to regularly ask the practice something as basic as, ‘Hey, what are you doing about GI parasites?’ could have a tremendous impact on prevention,” Freeman said because it “keeps the conversation alive and helps remind the veterinary practice staff that, ‘Yes, we do need to discuss this.’”

Indeed, parasite prevention needs to be a frequent, on-going discussion with pet owners. In the case of heartworms and GI parasites, “we’re talking about things the owners just cannot see,” said Freeman.

“These are internal to the dog’s body, unlike a flea or a tick that they may be able to see on the dog’s body or attached to the dog’s skin, or perhaps the dog is scratching at a flea or tick. The heartworm and GI parasites are silent. The dog might know that they’re there but doesn’t display signs to alert the pet owner. The parasites are out of sight, out of mind for the pet owner. And if the pet owner can’t see them, then they’re not reminded about it, and it becomes a challenge.”

From Heartworm 2020 to Worm Wars

Boehringer Ingelheim is doing several things to keep parasite prevention top of mind for pet owners. At VMX, the maker of HEARTGARD® Plus (ivermectin/pyrantel) announced the final results of its Heartworm 2020 initiative. In one year, 58,800 previously unprotected dogs received heartworm disease prevention. Boehringer Ingelheim said that since Heartworm 2020 proved so successful in helping to protect more dogs against heartworm disease, the company will grow the effort this year with a new initiative called Worm Wars.

“Heartworm 2020 achieved the goal of getting more unprotected dogs on prevention by arming clinics with new educational tools to talk about heartworm disease with dog owners. As we looked at how to leverage that momentum this year, we knew we needed to expand the conversation to talk about important intestinal parasite threats and also address compliance,” said Max Bernstein, HEARTGARD Plus marketing manager at Boehringer Ingelheim.

Heartworm 2020 was a nationwide campaign that focused on clinics getting 20 new dogs on heartworm disease prevention during 2019. Worm Wars, which will focus on GI parasites, is taking that a bit further by asking that clinics get 20 new dogs on heartworm disease prevention or get 20 lapsed dogs back on prevention during each month of the year.

Lapsed dogs are a key demographic in the fight against parasites, Freeman said. “When you start talking about either heartworm or GI parasite prevention, a lot of pet owners simply forget to give their product to their dog, or they forget to come back for more when they’ve given all they have,” said Freeman. “That creates a lapsed user or lapsed pet. What we’re trying to do is to continue discussing heartworms and also GI parasites and try to get the message back to clients that this is a 24/7, 365 potential threat to their dog and that we want them to be using preventative products like HEARTGARD® Plus to keep these parasites at bay. Lapsed users are always a big part because every clinic has them.”

Can compliance be enjoyable?

Freeman said gaining more compliance among pet owners is about making it easy for them. “We try to create an easy monthly routine for the client, something that both the client and the pet enjoy together,” he said.

The lives of pets and humans are often intertwined, especially when that animal becomes a pet in the household. Very few people have pets for their utility value alone, in virtually all cases the pet becomes a companion as well.  Boehringer Ingelheim has designed its parasite preventatives with the idea of trying to help foster lifelong benefits to both the pet owner and the pet.

“We do that with products like HEARTGARD® Plus,” Freeman said. “It’s got a beef flavor, it’s palatable and chewable, so the dogs love getting it and owners love giving it. No owner likes to poke a pill down their dog’s throat, so when you get something that the dog likes to take and it becomes an enjoyable experience, it brings benefits. It’s a treat for the dog and a fun activity for the pet owner.”

More on Worm Wars

To participate in the Worm Wars initiative, clinics can visit HeartgardClinic.com to download tracking sheets. For every tracking sheet submitted, the clinic will be entered for a chance to win in the Worm Wars Sweepstakes which starts in March. Clinic staff can also reach out to their Boehringer Ingelheim sales representative to receive more details on the program.

Photo of Vet Nurse with dog representative of parasite prevention compliance conversation

Conversation starters

Veterinary practices can get the message across of the need for parasite prevention to pet owners in a number of ways, said Freeman, including:

Visual cues. Veterinary practices doing compliance well have messaging via graphics, posters, and brochures available in various places in the clinic, from the exam room to the receptionist’s desk to waiting areas.

Reminders. Phone calls, text messages, cards sent in the mail, emails – “The folks at the top of their game in compliance are doing all of these,” said Freeman.

Verbal confirmation. Freeman said Boehringer Ingelheim uses lunch-and-learns to help train veterinary practice staff on things like parasite life cycles and the incidence of heartworm and GI parasites, with the intent of that knowledge becoming almost second nature so it can be passed on to pet owners.

Materials. “We actually give the team members prepared messaging pieces they can share with clients,” said Freeman. For instance, Boehringer Ingelheim will provide reprints of brochures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that speak to the zoonotic threat that some parasites pose to humans and pets. “Probably one of the best pieces Boehringer Ingelheim had last year and is still using, is a heartworm book with pictures,” said Freeman. “I mentioned earlier that these parasites are unseen to the pet owner, so they have no idea what’s going on. This heartworm booklet walks pet owners through a lot of different aspects and includes photographs that very few people ever get a chance to see. The pictures show the damage that can be done. This damage is long-lasting – even permanent – for dogs.”

Photo credit: istockphoto.com/Motortion, istockphoto.com/shironosov

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