An interview with Dr Tan Do Yew, Regional Technical Manager, Boehringer Ingelheim, on pet parasites, how they can affect both pets and their owners, and BI’s newly launched Project Vision.
As pet ownership continues to increase, it is important to know that it comes with responsibility, and part of that responsibility is knowing that our furry friends can be hosts to many parasites. What are some of these parasites, how does it affect our pet’s health, and what about our own health? More importantly, how can we start the conversation on preventive medication?
In this article, we speak to Dr Tan Do Yew, Regional Technical Manager at Boehringer Ingelheim on pet parasites and the company’s newly launched project that aims to educate pet owners on the reality of such parasites and the importance of preventive medication.
1. How prevalent are parasites in pets? What are some of the most common parasitic infections?
Southeast Asia has seen a dramatic increase in pet ownership with more people bringing pets into their homes. However, pet ownership also means having a better understanding of preventive approaches to keep animals free from diseases. According to a recent epidemiological study sponsored by Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health, around 47% of dogs and 43% of cats are infected by parasites in Southeast Asia.1 In the region, gastrointestinal parasitic infections affect 1 in 10 dogs and 1 in 7 cats. 1 in 5 cats is also infested with fleas, and more than 1/5 dogs have ticks. These data highlight the need to alleviate the standard of care to prevent these diseases in companion animals and humans in Asia.
Moreover, ticks infest 10% of dogs in Singapore, while ear mites infest 19% of cats. Surprisingly, 1 in 3 cats in Singapore is infested with fur mites.
There are several types of parasites and very common in pets. Although treatment with parasiticides is simple and straightforward, many pet owners are unaware of how common these infections are. If left untreated, these infections can cause health issues and are even transmissible to humans. Pet owners should consult their veterinarians for more information on parasite prevention and protection for their pets against a wide range of internal and external parasites.
2. How do parasites affect a pet’s health and their owner’s health? Are there any transferrable parasitic infections?
Pets infected with parasites may endanger their owners’ health. Known as zoonotic parasites, these parasites can infect both animals and humans. Humans can be bitten by ticks and fleas from pets. Animal intestinal worms, such as roundworms and hookworms, are also infectious and pose a risk to public health. Roundworms can cause ocular larva migrans, which can cause permanent eye damage and even blindness in humans. Hookworms that feed on blood can cause cutaneous larva migrans, leading to creeping dermatitis – a skin infection leading to rash and severe itchiness in humans.
Ticks can transmit infectious diseases to dogs such as canine ehrlichiosis, which can cause fever, depression, inappetence, bleeding, and even death.
Flea infestation in cats may cause itching, hair loss, allergic reactions, and skin inflammation. As intermediate hosts for tapeworms, fleas can infect both cats and dogs.
Fortunately, the health problems caused by parasitic infestations can be effectively managed by taking preventive medication monthly. Dogs and cats that receive veterinary care are less likely to be infected by parasites.
3. Given these dangers posed by parasitic infections, what are the current recommended prevention measures and what do you think may be deterring some pet owners from taking such precautions?
Often, pets are brought to veterinary clinics after being severely parasitised. Itching, hair loss, skin inflammation, and anaemia are all common symptoms of ectoparasite (external parasite) infestations. Even though parasite treatment is essential for pet owners, parasite prevention is even more crucial. For example, an adult flea detected on an animal represents only 5% of the total flea population, while 95% of the immature flea stages remain invisible and spread easily within the homes of pet owners.
With the advancement of veterinary science, parasite prevention has become easier. Monthly administration of Boehringer Ingelheim parasiticide products provides long-term protection for pets against a wide range of internal and external parasites.
There are some common misconceptions that indoor pets aren’t susceptible to parasite infestations. (1) There is an assumption that cats don’t need veterinary care, since they are self-sufficient and capable of taking care of themselves; (2) the assumption that prevention is unnecessary since treatment alone is sufficient when the pets are infested with parasites; and (3) That parasite infestations are self-limited and will not cause serious health issues. (4) Removal of ticks and fleas can be effectively managed with the use of shampoos to prevent parasite infestations in pets.
As parasites are prevalent in the environment, indoor pets are also at risk of parasite infestations as well. It is important to provide regular veterinary care for both cats and dogs, including parasite prevention. Ticks and fleas can both transmit infectious diseases like tick fever and tapeworm infections. It is more effective to manage parasite problems with preventive medication.
4. Boehringer Ingelheim (BI) Animal Health have recently introduced a handheld microscope called Smart Scanner under Project Vision. Tell us a bit more about it and how it will help reduce the parasite issue.
Boehringer Ingelheim has always been at the forefront of parasiticides research and development to find innovative solutions and treatment options. Our commitment extends beyond simply providing treatment choices. We understand the importance of promoting awareness, championing prevention, and developing innovative solutions so pet owners can effectively protect their canine and feline companions with regular parasiticide usage. It includes improving understanding of the importance of regular parasite prevention — early diagnosis, treatment, and ensuring regularity.
Most pet owners are unaware that their animals are infested with parasites. Ticks in their immature stages and fleas are very small, and pet owners often mistake them for dirt.
Project Vision was initiated by Boehringer Ingelheim ASKAN (ASEAN, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand) region to address this gap to raise awareness and encourage a behavioural shift towards parasite prevention rather than treatment.
A first-of-its-kind digital initiative in the region, the project introduced the use of a handheld microscope to see magnified images of parasites on animals in real-time. This handheld microscope, aka Smart Scanner, enables vets and pet owners to have a closer inspection of parasite infestation on their pets. Seeing these parasites helps pet owners understand the importance of parasite prevention as they are often unaware of how common and dangerous they are.
Prevention of parasite infestation in pets is often overlooked in vet clinics as pet owners usually visit the clinic to seek treatment. Project Vision is a game-changer in raising awareness among pet owners about proactive parasite prevention. As a first step to elevating the standard of care, our primary goal was to offer simplicity and timely solution to address the complexities of parasite detection and diagnosis. The Smart Scanner is an easy-to-use device that instantly captures and records, high-quality images and videos that can be magnified up to 220 times. Clinically, this dramatically improves the speed and ease of parasite diagnosis, as compared to the use of conventional samples and microscopes. The second step was to promote integrating digital scanners into all pet health checkups. This is important not only to protect the pets but also to ensure pet owners’ own safety from zoonotic parasitic diseases.
5. What is Project Vision’s role in strengthening the relationship and bridging the communication gap between vets and pet owners?
Project Vision empowers veterinarians and/or veterinary technicians to communicate a clear call to action to pet owners, encouraging a behavioural shift towards parasite prevention rather than treatment. In the images and videos captured by veterinarians using the device, it is evident that parasites are a common problem in one’s environment.
It is upsetting for pet owners to see real-time images of parasite infestations on their animals, which prompts them to take proactive measures to prevent them. Further, these visual assets can be used to create educational materials aimed at raising awareness about the prevalence, related diseases, and the need for prevention.
Additionally, this reinforces the importance of parasite prevention and encourages compliance with monthly parasiticide administration, such as Boehringer Ingelheim’s NexGard SPECTRA® for dogs and NexGard® COMBO for cats.
6. Finally, has Project Vision been launched within Southeast Asia yet? Or when can we expect to see this rolled out in our local veterinary clinics?
Several clinics in the Philippines and Vietnam have successfully launched Project Vision. Smart Scanners are now used in more than 60 clinics, with customers rating them as an easy-to-use, convenient tool to engage in meaningful conversations with pet owners.
As a result of its success, we plan to expand it soon to Malaysia and Indonesia. The Smart Scanner is a unique device introduced by Boehringer Ingelheim, making us the only company in the region offering a preventative approach to pet health care with a simple diagnostic tool.
Working in collaboration with our customers, experts, and key opinion leaders, we will be expanding this across other countries in Southeast Asia including Singapore.
Fur mites infest 1 in 3 cats in Singapore. Ear mites infest nearly 1 in 5 cats. However, many pet owners in Singapore are unaware of the prevalence of these parasites. Project Vision will provide veterinarians in Singapore with a unique opportunity to discuss and educate pet owners about parasite prevalence and proactive prevention approaches. Our collaboration with our customers has also been bolstered by the endorsement of a renowned veterinary dermatologist in Singapore. [APBN]
This article was first published in the March 2023 print version of Asia-Pacific Biotech News.
- Colella, V., Nguyen, V. L., Tan, D. Y., Lu, N., Fang, F., Zhijuan, Y., Wang, J., Liu, X., Chen, X., Dong, J., Nurcahyo, W., Hadi, U. K., Venturina, V., Tong, B. Y., Tsai, L., Taweethavonsawat, P., Tiwananthagorn, S., Le, T. Q., Bui, K. L., . . . Halos, L. (2020). Zoonotic Vectorborne Pathogens and Ectoparasites of Dogs and Cats in Eastern and Southeast Asia. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 26(6), 1221-1233. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2606.191832
- Colella, V., Wongnak, P., Tsai, YL. et al. Human social conditions predict the risk of exposure to zoonotic parasites in companion animals in East and Southeast Asia. Commun Med 2, 144 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43856-022-00210-8
About the Interviewee
Tan Do Yew, DVM, PhD, MBA – Boehringer Ingelheim
Dr Tan Do Yew is the Regional Technical Manager for Companion Animals for ASEAN, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. He has over 15 years of experience in the Animal Health Industry in various regional roles, with a strong background in technical, regulatory, and commercial operations. Dr Tan is currently based in the Singapore regional office.