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Warmer weather is here! It’s the season of flowers blooming, BBQs grilling, outdoor adventures, and… fleas and ticks. Breeders often are faced with so many decisions on what products are safe to use on pregnant/breeding dogs and puppies. Several preventatives, including new 3-in-1 flea, tick and heartworm preventatives, state they have not been tested in pregnant/breeding dogs, making it difficult to choose a best option.

Dr. Lisa McKinney Sponsler, DVM, an associate veterinarian of Broad Ripple Animal Clinic in Indianapolis, Ind., not only cares about the well-being of animals but faces these questions herself as a breeder of Schapendoes. “It’s a tricky issue, and I think the answer somewhat depends on where you live and the severity of the parasites in that area. Like anything, it’s balancing the risks and benefits.”

Her first recommendation to all pet owners and breeders is to always follow the directions on the label. Only use flea and tick products for the species they are intended for, along with the age/life stage the product recommends. The same rules apply when administering heartworm preventatives. Typically, puppies should start on a combination of flea/tick/heartworm prevention as young as 6- to 8-weeks, following the product recommendations for the minimum age and weight.

“Here in Indiana, for now, I’m using a monthly preventative with selamectin as an active ingredient, year-round on my breeding girls. I add a topical treatment with active ingredients fipronil and methoprene from March to November, depending on the weather. I alternate applications so they receive one or the other, every two weeks.”

Dr. Kate Bremser DVM, the veterinarian/owner of Quail Roost Animal Hospital in Rougemont, N.C., also uses a topical treatment containing fipronil and a monthly ivermectin-based heartworm preventative on her breeding and nursing dogs. She feels the risk of heartworms or a flea/tick infestation on neonatal babies is greater than the risk of negative side effects. For example, a flea infestation can cause anemia in young puppies, a potentially fatal condition due to severe blood loss.

Many dog owners are finding that products that previously worked well are no longer are as effective. There is a growing concern among vets nationwide about the emerging parasite resistance of these preventatives. Some newer products may have better efficacy for this reason, so it is best to ask your regional veterinarian which may have the best local results.

Another risk/benefit factor to consider is how products are defined as “safe for pregnancy” on the label. Lufenuron is also found to be safe to use during pregnancy and is often found combined with milbemycin, a birth control for fleas, along with a heartworm preventative. However, a preventative that is given once every three months, with the active ingredient of fluralaner, is also approved for pregnancy, although the approval studies did have some puppies with birth defects. Bremser said she typically refrains from using products with fluralaner during pregnancy as an extra precaution. Again, this could be a factor in deciding what would be best for a specific geographic region when calculating risks verses benefits.

Some veterinarian breeders even decide to not use any prevention during planned breeding times. If a breeder has additional questions or concerns regarding the safety of products on a breeding/nursing dog, consult with a reproductive veterinarian specialist.

There are many natural remedies that some people claim to work as an alternative to traditional veterinarian-prescribed preventatives. Ingrediencies include, but are not limited to rosemary, cedar, apple cider vinegar, citrus, lavender, and sage. It is important to remember that because an ingredient is “natural,” it doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe for pregnant or breeding dogs. Often natural remedies have not had the same testing as products approved by the FDA.  “I have yet to see convincing evidence that any of the natural options actually work,” Sponsler said.

Dr. Sponsler owns Dream Star Schapendoes. She has owned Schapendoes for 12 years and now is a breeder. She trains and competes in agility, conformation, and Fast CAT.  She has also owned and trained Lhasa Apso, Löwchen, Shih Tzu, Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers, Flat Coated Retrievers, and was a foster-fail of a mixed breed dog.

Bremser owns Sweetpea Springers. She owns Quail Roost Animal Hospital and lives in central North Carolina with her English Springer Spaniels and several horses. She competes in multiple dog sports, including conformation and flyball.