An Interview with Dr. Paula Harvatine

Flea and tick season is upon us and a good time to catch up with a veterinarian for some general tips. Dr. Paula Harvatine is practicing veterinarian and co-owner with her husband Dr. Michael Huston of West Salem Veterinary Clinic in West Salem, Wisconsin. She is a graduate of Iowa State University Veterinary School and has been in practice for twenty-five years.

Many veterinarians decided to be a veterinarian at a very young age. Can you tell us your story?

I grew up with Ginger, a red, smooth, standard-sized dachshund. Ginger was overweight and had an overbite. In my memory she is perpetually grey, but she was beautiful to me and she was one of my best friends. I could talk to her about anything.

When I was in grade school, Ginger was hit by a car, leaving her with two broken rear legs. Our veterinarian said the best thing would be to take her to the veterinary school two hours away. That was not feasible for us, so he did what he could. He put each rear leg in a full Thomas splint.

A Thomas splint is created by bending stiff rods into a shape that looks like a V with a circle inside of it-kind of like a very large metal ice cream cone. Ginger’s legs were taped into the splints to hold the bones in position and we were able to use the top of the circles to help her walk. We were her legs for 8 weeks. She let us take care of her. From that time on, my sights were set on veterinary medicine.

Did you always want to be a cat and dog veterinarian?

When I graduated from Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, I had every intention of being a mixed animal veterinarian. However, when my husband and I moved to Wisconsin so that he could practice dairy medicine, I could not find a mixed animal position in the same area. I took a small animal (dog and cat) position and I was hooked. I have been a small animal practitioner ever since.

How many dogs and cats do you see in a week?

The number of dogs and cats that I see in a week has varied over the twenty-five years that I have been in practice. When I was working full time I probably saw in the range of 50 to 70 patients in a week. Now I work part time and see between 15 to 20 patients a week.

Why is flea and tick prevention and treatment so important for pets? Do they all need flea and tick treatment?

Flea and tick preventive and treatment are extremely important to all pets because fleas and ticks are vectors of disease. Vector is Latin for “carrier”. Fleas and ticks carry and transmit diseases which can be deadly to pets and humans, including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, ehrlichia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and plague. Even strictly indoor pets need flea control if any other pets come into the home, because parasites com in with the outdoor pets. Remember that in any disease situation, prevention is always better than treatment.

Have you had any special cases you want to talk about?

I will tell you about two cases:

1) Years ago a client told me that her toddler picked something off of the floor and put it in her mouth. The client saw what she did and made her spit it out. The child had attempted to eat an engorged tick which had fallen off of their dog. How many levels of disgusting is that? If we had products like Vectra 3D, which repel and kill, back then, that tick would not have been on their floor because it would not have wanted to be on their dog.

2) We first started carrying Ceva’s Vectra 3D in the fall of 2011. One of the first clients that switched to Vectra 3D had been using another product that did not repel ticks. She emailed me after she started using Vectra 3D because she was so happy with the results she was seeing. The weekend before she applied the Vectra 3D, her dogs had ticks crawling all over when they came out of the woods. She applied the Vectra 3D and the next weekend she saw no ticks after their romp in the woods. There is no tick prevention that will keep pets completely free of ticks, but within two days after the proper application of Vectra 3D, 100 percent of ticks are repelled for up to one month.

You practice in Wisconsin. When does the flea and tick season start and end there?

Flea and tick season never stops in Wisconsin. Ticks are moving in the environment any time temperatures are over 30 degrees. Fleas and ticks are found on many animals in the wild year-round, such as deer, mice, rabbits, and squirrels. In addition, if pets are not protected with flea and tick preventive, fleas can be spread by domestic animals in winter months any time pets are in contact with other pets (dog day cares, pet stores, veterinary clinic waiting rooms, etc.)

What flea and tick prevention tips do you recommend for your canine patients?

I have recommended year-round flea and tick control for years, even though I live in Wisconsin. I noted concerns about fleas and ticks in cooler climates in my comments above, but one also needs to consider that we are a very mobile society. Many people vacation with their pets in warmer weather throughout the winter months. West Salem Veterinary Clinic carries Ceva’s Vectra 3D almost exclusively. We do so because Vectra 3D repels and kills fleas and ticks better than any other product out there. There have been good products in the past, don’t get me wrong. I believe Vectra 3D is better. The only time I recommend a different product is if an animal has a reaction to Vectra 3D.

Remember, any animal can react to anything. That does not mean the product is a bad product, it means that the product does not agree with the animal. It is like my Grandma said, “I like it, but it doesn’t like me!”. I have compared it to hair color before. Some women cannot use hair color because they break out or have severe reactions. That does not mean that hair color is evil, it means that it is not right for everyone. The same is true about flea and tick products for animals-there is no one product that is right for every animal.

What do you recommend for your feline patients?

For our feline patients that go outside, we recommend Merial’s Frontline Plus spot-on because it kills fleas, flea eggs, and larvae, ticks, and chewing lice, in combination with Bayer’s Advantage Multi, which kills heartworms, fleas, hookworms, roundworms, and ear mites. We recommend this combination because we have had issues with cats accepting oral heartworm preventives; even though cats are not the preferred hosts for heartworm disease, they can get it and it can be fatal. By using the combined topicals, we keep them protected against internal and external parasites.

For indoor cats, we recommend Advantage Multi alone for flea, heartworm, and internal parasite control. Mosquitoes and fleas can come into the home much more readily than ticks can. Studies of heartworm in cats have found significant exposure with indoor cats. If you live where there are mosquitoes and you have not seen mosquitoes in your homes, you are not looking for them! As far as internal parasites, 15% of commercial potting soil can contain roundworm eggs. The parasite eggs that you bring in on your shoes will vary with your environment. It is important to keep your cats protected.

How easy are these products to use?

Far and away, Vectra 3D has the most user-friendly applicator that I have ever seen…or used! You do not need a scissor, the tube empties as the product is applied, so you do not wonder if you got it all, and it is just a cool applicator! There is nothing like it. Clients tell me how great it is all of the time.

What is the effect of a product like Vectra3D that prevents flea bites?

One of the maladies that pets experience that people are not well aware of is flea bite allergy. Animals with flea bite allergy will chew off their hair and even chew at their skin until it bleeds. It is the antigens in the saliva from the flea that creates the allergic reaction in our pets (just as it is the antigens in the saliva of our pets that create the allergic reactions in us.) This means that one flea bite can cause a severe reaction in a flea allergy patient. Have you ever reacted to something? It is miserable! If that flea is repelled with a product like Vectra 3D, that flea bite does not happen and that allergic reaction is not started. End of story.

How does a topical treatment (one you put on your pet) compare in effectiveness with a product that is taken orally (a pill your pet needs to swallow) in preventing ticks?


Some products provide repellency, how significant is this as a benefit?

Repellency Is HUGE! I have been waiting for 24 years for a product that will REPEL and KILL external parasites to the level that Vectra 3D does. Our clinic philosophy is based on the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. I treat my patients as I treat my pets…and I am thrilled to have Vectra 3D for my two Brittany Spaniels, Orion, the magnificent hunter, named after the constellation, and Luz, (Spanish for his “light”), his daughter and our ‘special’ girl, who is not really into hunting, but loves butterflies and happiness.

What should a pet owner be aware of if they are switching from one product to another?

If a pet owner switches from one product to another, he/she should be aware of the following:

1) When do you need to apply the new product so that your pet remains protected?

2) Is there any contraindication (will something bad happen) if you apply the products together or overlapping?

3) What are you protecting against, and are you protecting against the right things.


Your own veterinarian is the best source of information about these things.

Why should a pet owner go to their veterinarian for flea and tick control when there are so many products available in the grocery store and online?

I only recommend products that I believe are the best products for each pet. My goal, my reason for being a veterinarian, is to be an advocate for pets. I can tell you that the people who sell you products at the grocery store or online are only concerned about making a sale. They are ‘hired hands’ who have no knowledge of the products that than they sell, other than that they are supposed to sell them. In addition, most over-the-counter products are less effective than products available from your veterinarian.

As far as buying veterinary products online, buyers beware. There are counterfeit, black market, and diverted products that may or may not be effective. Ceva does not sell Vectra 3D to online pharmacies. Merial does not sell Feline Advantage Multi to online pharmacies. If you buy flea and tick products online, you have no idea what you are getting; if you purchase flea and tick products from your veterinarian, you know what you are getting, plus you typically save money with company incentives and rebates.

Is there any other message you wish to convey to pet owners?

Veterinarians and their support staff do what they do because they love what they do. They are looking out for the best interests of their patients and the pet owners. People have to realize that they are part of the veterinary care team as well-they are the voice of their pets. They know their pets better than anyone and they know when something is wrong. They are the decision makers-the veterinary care team can only do as much as the pet owner allows. Please realize that veterinarians are not recommending things to ‘make a buck’. We are recommending things because they are in the best interests of the pets. Yes, veterinary care can be expensive, but it is by far and away the least expensive medical care out there. Your four-legged family members are worth it!


Comments are closed.