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Pets Get Topical Heartworm Drug

July 13, 1999

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Dog and cat lovers are getting an alternative to forcing heartworm pills down their pet’s throat: a once-a-month topical drug that protects against not just heartworms, but fleas and five other parasites, too.

Pfizer Inc.’s selamectin, which it will sell under the brand name Revolution, was approved by the government Monday as the first topical heartworm prevention.

Selamectin comes in premeasured monthly doses according to an animal’s size and age. Simply push aside the pet’s fur and squeeze the liquid onto the back of the neck, between the shoulder blades, said Dr. Elizabeth Luddy of the Food and Drug Administration. The drug is absorbed through the skin.

Selamectin is only for dogs and cats at least 6 weeks old _ and while side effects in healthy animals were minimal, it should be used with caution in pets who are sick or underweight, Luddy warned.

While giving pets a pill isn’t always easy, ``what’s important here is really the convenience factor″ of a once-a-month medication that fights seven different parasites, said Pfizer veterinarian Dr. Ed Kanara.

Mosquitoes transmit heartworms, a parasite that can destroy pets’ hearts. It’s a well-known problem for dogs, who routinely are tested for heartworm. But many cat owners don’t know that heartworm threatens their pets, too. Symptoms include coughing, breathing difficulty, lethargy and weight loss.

Selamectin is as effective as oral drugs that prevent heartworm, Luddy said.

In addition, selamectin kills adult fleas and prevents flea eggs from hatching for a month and treats ear mites, an itchy dog condition called sarcoptic mange, or scabies, and intestinal roundworm and hookworm in cats.

In studies of more than 1,700 animals, side effects appeared minimal, fewer than 1 percent of cats had hair loss where selamectin was applied, and fewer than 1 percent of pets vomited or had diarrhea.

However, the FDA urged caution in animals who are sick or underweight, because a malnourished stray kitten died eight hours after one selamectin dose.

Pfizer said the drug will be available, by veterinarians’ prescription, by September. It hasn’t finalized a price, but said the drug should cost $10 to $20 a month, depending on the animal’s size.

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