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"Ask Cynthia"- Westie with FLEAS!

Dear Cynthia,

My parents have a Westie named Louie. My Dad loves and adores his little Louie. They live in Alabama near the Florida State line.  On their 4 acre fenced yard are lots of sand.  Due to that environment, they have a flea problem.  I came for a visit and could not believe poor Louie.  His fur is thin and bare in some places due to the fleas.  I immediately took him to the vet to get some help for Louie.  My parents try to treat Louie with what they feel will help but I explained to them that sometimes they need to rely on their vet.   My question's  to you are............

What is the best way to treat the flea problem and maintain a healthy coat on Louie?”

“What products work best for the Westie?”

“Will his fur grow back in as the great coat that it once was?”

“Any suggestions on how to explain this all to my parents that are retired and sometimes set in their ways?”


Dear Susan,

Thank you for contacting Westie Rescue about your parents' little Westie “Louie”.  I am sorry to hear he has been having problems with fleas.  

I know your parents love Louie and want him to be with them for many years.

I am sure they also want him to be:

Healthy (no diseases which could have been prevented),

Comfortable (not itching or in pain), and

Happy (their love and attention will take care of this one!).

Unfortunately, when we take on the responsibility for the life of another being --whether it is by having a baby or adopting a pet-- we have to accept the cost of caring for the one who is depend upon us. 

For pets, providing 1) high-quality food, 2) adequate water and exercise, 3) shelter that protects them from the weather (heat, rain, cold, etc.), 4) positive interaction with humans, and 5) preventative medical care will help maintain the health of a Westie and keep him with his family for many wonderful years.  It will also help keep down the cost of medical care by preventing major illnesses that would, if not treated by a veterinarian, cause a Westie to suffer or die early.

Many people do not realize that dogs are not only prone to diseases related to canines but also to diseases that affect humans.  Dogs can have heart disease, cataracts, cancer, arthritis, etc.  Just like people take a baby to the doctor for check-ups or for medical care, we have to take dogs for medical care occasionally too.  Food, water, exercise, shelter, and owners' attention  go a long way in keeping a Westie healthy. 

On the other hand, there are some problems that can only be resolved by a Vet.  Dogs depend upon us to provide the care that is required.


The best product for flea and tick prevention is "Frontline Topspot."  It can only be obtained from a Vet and is the only safe and effective product we recommend. 

Westies tend to have sensitive skin.  Some are highly allergic to flea bites (especially to sand fleas) and develop severe dermatitis.  You will see the dogs scratching incessantly; chewing their paws or body; developing raw, red patches of skin; losing fur; and even developing skin infections.  Louie seems to be in the second stage of dermatitis with loss of fur and bare patches. 

Even with a significant flea infestation, a Westie's coat can grow back and look good. 

However, this will only happen if you get rid of the fleas and keep them off of the dog. 

Topspot will provide good protection for Louie if applied monthly by your parents.  It is a very simple job to just lift the fur [about 4 inches from his collar] and apply the oil to his skin.  It takes about a minute to do.

The Vet will show them how to do it.

Similar-looking products you can purchase in a store are not regulated and tested like the ones you get from a Vet.  They can cause severe skin irritation or even be toxic.  You might save some money in buying the product but spend more money trying to treat the resulting skin problems or to save the life of your dog.

You did not mention other preventatives so I want to stress other medical care that Louie should also receive.


Particularly in the South where it is not cold long enough to kill insects, dogs are very susceptible to getting heartworms from mosquitoes which live year round.  This is a very real danger.  All dogs with untreated heartworms will DIE! 

Fleas are a nuisance and can become a health problem but heartworms ARE fatal.

The best product is "Interceptor."  Again, you can only get it from a VET as it is distributed by prescription.  Your parents should give it to him once a month all year (12 months).  It is a tiny pill which most dogs just love.

If Louie has not been on a heartworm preventative, the Vet should do a heartworm test prior to letting you give him the Interceptor.  If Louie has heartworms already, the Interceptor could make him ill. 

Although people cannot see the problems heartworms are causing inside a dog, they are a much graver danger than fleas. 

Giving Louie a heartworm preventative will simply save his life.


Distemperis highly contagious, and although somewhat rare, it still pops up from time to time. There is about a 50/50 chance of survival from the disease.  Those dogs that make it may be left with permanent brain damage.

[I am fostering a Westie which got distemper at 3 months old. She survived but has no sight in the center of her eyes, has nerve damage, and has to take medication now for seizures.  It is a terrible disease.]

Parvovirusis a newer disease, even more deadly than distemper. Most of those affected die. Many times, the survival rate depends upon the age of the dog.  Both younger and older dogs have high death rates from parvo.

Hepatitiscauses a variety of symptoms, depending on the affected dog's immune system. It can also be fatal.

Minimum of medical care should include:

Rabies shot every three years [required by law in every state] –

Annual preventative shot [1 shot that covers distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza, and (optional) leptospirosis]

Annual heartworm test [in the colder regions this test is sometimes done every two years; in the South, it should be done every year] Annual physical at Vet's office to check for problems [especially for young dogs under 2 years old and seniors over 12 years old]. Monthly pill for heartworm prevention [Interceptor given to Louie by your parents but purchased from a Vet] -Monthly application of flea and tick preventative [TopSpot applied to Louie by your parents but purchased from a Vet]

This amount of medical care may seem like a lot to a person who grew up in times when people felt that giving a dog adequate food, water, and shelter was enough.  I grew up in Arkansas so I know how hard it is to change ideas about animals that were formed years ago. 

The animal medical field has progressed so much in the past 20 years in being able to help dogs live long, healthy lives.  It would seem a shame to not provide the best care possible within the financial constraints of the owners.  I know your parents do not want Louie to suffer or become ill.

However, you may have to do things in small steps to reach the goal you want for Louie.

If you can convince them to get Louie a rabies shot every three years, the Frontline Topspot for flea/tick prevention, and Interceptor for heartworm prevention, you will have succeeded in contributing greatly to the quality and length of life that Louie will have.

I hope the information I have provided helps.  If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Have Questions? 

“Ask Cynthia”



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