5 heartworm prevention recommendations you should stop half-assing

5 heartworm prevention recommendations you should stop half-assing

Seriously. It’s time to take a stand on these veterinary client noncompliance situations.
Dec 26, 2017


You work with clients all day long who won’t take your recommendations to heart. It can be tempting to just give in and smile and nod while they give you excuses about parasite prevention. Here are five ways to stop doing that.

No. 1: Stop telling people who say their pet doesn’t go outside that they can skip heartworm preventives

Just the other day I was in a room in my house that was the farthest from any exterior doors, and guess what was buzzing around my ear? A mosquito. You know it, I know it, we all know it: Indoor-only pets are still at risk for heartworm disease.

No. 2: Stop arguing your client’s limits

Ever said any of the following to yourself?

> “The client only has so much money, and the fill-in-the-blank chronic medicine is more important.”

> “This is a rabies-vaccine-only client. They’ve declined it before. I’m not going to bother.”

> “OMG, this dog has so many problems I have to talk to the client about. There’s no way they’re going to hear me out on parasite control too!”

> “This client has already balked at the price of the vaccines. Why bother?”

> “Yikes, this dog is so old, and the client’s never used heartworm prevention. They aren’t going to start now.”

These internal monologues are definitely familiar to me—I’ve had all of them run through my head when choosing whether to add on a parasite control talk at the end of an already long office visit. Will the overwhelmed client even hear me?

As human health sentinels, we need to suspend the internal commentary and say what needs to be said, no matter what we “believe” the client may or may not go for. You don’t know—you aren’t them! Why should parasite control be less important to any of these clients? (Short answer: It isn’t.)

Do yourself a favor and suspend your own disbelief about what the client will pay for, and just go into that exam room and give your clients the information they need to hear—even if you don’t think they want to hear it or you don’t want to say it.

Time management during a well-pet appointment is critical when you're dealing with a pet that has a laundry list of problems. Make a plan with your client to address only one or two of the most important health problems, prioritize those issues along with the parasite control talk, and schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss less-pressing issues.

No. 3: Stop saying clients can give preventive only during mosquito season

Have you ever found a hardy mosquito in your basement in January? I have! I have clients push me on this all the time and, I agree—it gets old. I’m super-tempted to throw in the towel and say, “Fine! Just give it during the summer!”

However … if I do that, then I’m not doing my job or doing the client any favors. We all know that while the risk decreases during the winter, pets are at risk for internal parasites year-round. Clients who feel “safe” from parasites during the winter are getting a false sense of security from us when we tell them it’s OK to stop protection during the winter.

No. 4: Stop saying clients don’t have to give prevention because you don’t have heartworm in your area

Remember the micro-outbreaks of heartworm disease after dogs were rescued from areas affected by Hurricane Katrina? Hundreds of dogs were also lost or displaced after the hurricanes this season—where are those dogs and their undiagnosed heartworm disease going to end up? Have you already seen these dogs in your practice? One need only introduce Patient, err, Dog Zero into an area with previously low reports of heartworm disease, and suddenly all dogs are at risk. Your clients deserve to know that their dog is at risk anywhere, at any time.

No. 5: Stop saying “I recommend”

One of the most profound and effective changes I’ve made in the way I talk to clients is to stop saying, “I recommend …,” and instead substituted, “Your pet needs …” or “We need to …” or “You need to …” While clients value our opinion, they’re less interested in what we recommend and more interested in what their pet needs. Switch your language and take the emphasis off you and put it back it onto the pet, where it belongs.

Dr. Sarah Wooten graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in 2002. A member of the American Society of Veterinary Journalists, Dr. Wooten divides her professional time between small animal practice in Greeley, Colorado, public speaking on associate issues, leadership, and client communication and writing. She enjoys camping with her family, skiing, SCUBA, and participating in triathlons.