A Review: How Bravecto Cost Me $1000 in Vet Bills
Ticks are the spawn of Satan, seriously. They are disgusting, disease-infested, creepy-crawly parasites that are nearly impossible to kill. Of course, you could crush them with enough force, drown them in isopropyl alcohol, or suffocate them in a wad of tape, but any way you go about it, these nasty little arachnids will not go down easy.
Ticks are far too easy to pick up, and most of the time, you won't even notice. If you've got a dog, especially one with dark or long fur, it's next to impossible to spot a tick on them. The best prevention is avoiding areas infested with ticks, likes woods and fields. However, avoiding tick infested areas may not always be possible, or you may enjoy taking your dog for a hike through the forest.
So when tick-infested areas cannot be avoided, any good, responsible pet owner does the next best thing: treat their pet with a preventative tick medicine. Even if ticks aren't a problem, most responsible pet owners use a preventative flea medicine, as fleas are also nasty disease-infested parasites that cause their own host of problems.
As such, there are a lot of different products on the market for flea and tick prevention. Each come with their own side effects and with varying degrees of success. For the first four years of my dog's now six years, I used the same topical flea and tick preventative and never had a problem with ticks or fleas. Two years ago, however, tick season came with a vengeance, and the topical solution did little to nothing to prevent ticks. It may have killed the ticks after they bit him, I don't know. That's not really helpful, though, when my dog was bringing ticks into the house on a near daily basis despite the medication. Ticks plus my house equals a big, fat NO!
Desperate for a solution, I talked to my vet, and she recommended I try Bravecto. And therein started nearly a years worth of problems.
What Is Bravecto?
Bravecto is an oral chew that unlike topical treatments only has to be re-administered once every 12 weeks. It claims to kill fleas, the black-legged tick, the American dog tick, and the brown dog tick for 12 weeks, and lone star ticks for 8 weeks. Merck, the chemical giant, created the medicine, and if you don't know who they are then you must live under a rock.
The fact sheet that comes with the medicine states the potential side-effects include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, lethargy, refusal to eat, and liver damage. In a study conducted by Merck of 224 dogs, results found that 7.1% of the dogs experienced vomiting, 6.7% experienced decreased appetite, 4.9% experienced diarrhea, and 5.4% experienced lethargy over a 182-day period. If those numbers mean nothing to you, in my opinion, those percentages are quite high.
Merck severely downplays the side-effects, and they are so confident in their product that it comes with a satisfaction guarantee. But I am going to tell you what Bravecto could potentially do to your pet, and why you should think twice before trying an oral chew.
Bravecto Side Effects
Before I get into the nitty-gritty details, first a disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. I am merely describing my encounter with the drug and what it did to my poor dog. Second, I am not saying every dog who takes this drug will have adverse reactions. I am just saying that it's possible and to be on the lookout for it if you decide to try an oral flea and tick medicine.
With that out of the way, I'll start from the beginning. The problem with Bravecto was not immediately apparent in my dog, Harley. Despite the fact that Harley already had a long history of stomach problems before the Bravecto, Harley (a purebred German Shepherd for those wondering) showed no visible side effects from the first dose. He didn't vomit, he didn't have diarrhea, he didn't have seizures or lethargy, and he continued to eat his food like normal, which is to say he already ate sporadically and when he felt like it, which was never. So when it came time to re-administer the medicine, I did so without hesitation believing there to be no adverse reactions.
The problems did not start until weeks after I gave him the first dose. It began with my dog refusing to eat breakfast and then throwing up later in the day. By the next day, he'd start eating again and would be fine. As stated earlier, my dog had a long history of stomach issues. He often refused to eat and often threw up because his stomach was empty, so I didn't think anything of it at first.
Then he started to get worse. Once a week every week, he would refuse to eat, throw up, and then get diarrhea, before rebounding the next day. I was worried, but not overly concerned yet. I thought, given time, it would pass.
Then Harley started getting aggressive. In my article "Living and Coping with an Aggressive Dog," I talk about how aggression issues are not unusual for my dog. However, he was getting worse and getting aggressive towards people he'd never had a problem with before. To make matters even worse, (and as if I wasn't worried enough already) blood began to appear in his vomit and diarrhea.
A few months after my dog started getting sick on a weekly basis, and a couple weeks after the blood appeared, I finally made a vet appointment. Due to my dog's extensive stomach issues in the past, which included bouts of serious diarrhea that lasted for days and a previous incident where he threw up blood, the vet wanted me to bring in my dog for a full checkup.
When I mean a full checkup, I mean the vet ran pretty much every test she could think of. Now before you ask, my vet is very good, and no she was not trying to scam me. The vet took x-rays of his stomach, did an ultrasound, ran blood work and sent a sample to a lab for a GI panel to check for pancreas problems, which are common in German Shepherds. In the end, the bill came to nearly $800, and I was a nervous wreck. I worried it was cancer or an ulcer, or that he had perhaps swallowed something and it was stuck in his GI tract somewhere. I feared most of all that I might have to put him down.
The result? There was absolutely nothing wrong with my dog. No obstruction, no ulcer, no pancreas problem, and everything in his blood work came back completely normal except for an elevated white blood cell count.
I was absolutely shocked. How could my dog, who was throwing up and pooping out blood every single week, not have anything wrong with him?
The vet thought maybe it was his food. We switched him to a very expensive, low fat, prescription only food. No effect. Maybe it was something in the creek I took him to play in every week? So I stopped taking him to the creek, but it made no difference.
Since the problem persisted despite the tests proving there was nothing medically wrong with him, the vet decided to treat him for parasites. My dog had been treated for whipworms in the past, and the vet decided to treat him again for whipworms despite the fact multiple fecal tests came up negative for parasites because whipworms are notoriously hard to detect. In the end, the special prescription food and the whipworm treatment cost another $200.
Obviously, the parasite treatment had no effect whatsoever on my dog, and he kept getting sick week after week. I am ashamed to say that it took me a couple more weeks to figure it out.
It took me a while to put two and two together, but once I realized that my dog was getting sick on the same day every week, it finally clicked for me. What if it was the Bravecto, I finally thought, and the reason he was getting sick on the same day was because the Bravecto was a time-released drug?
Is Bravecto actually time released? I don't know, but it got the gears turning in my brain. I began to notice, as it came to the end of the 12 weeks of the most recent dose, that he wasn't as sick as he usually was. I skipped his next dose of Bravecto, and almost miraculously at this point, my dog did not get sick that week. As the weeks went on, my dog continued to improve immensely after being taken off of Bravecto. Though he still has the occasional stomach issues, I am very relieved to say he is no longer puking up blood and there is no longer blood in his diarrhea. There is no doubt that is was the Bravecto that made my dog sick.
Purebreds and Bravecto Do Not Mix!
My dog's experience with Bravecto is not an anomaly, and a quick google search also shows that adverse reactions to Bravecto are not as rare as Merck would like to make them out to be. While the problem is not limited to purebreds, and any dog can experience adverse side effects from Bravecto, purebreds appear to be more susceptible to adverse reactions. If you have ever owned a purebred, then you already know they can be very high-maintenance and often come with a whole host of medical issues. For example, along with hip dysplasia, stomach problems are so common in German Shepherds that the Hill's Prescription Dog Food Brand makes a food specifically tailored to the breed. However, German Shepherds aren't the only purebred at a high risk for developing side effects from Bravecto. In talking to my obedience trainer, Collie owners are also actively speaking out against Bravecto for the nasty side effects it can cause in the breed.
Alternatives to Bravecto
In the end, I will obviously never give my dog Bravecto nor any other kind of oral flea and tick prevention medicine. Topical medicines never made my dog sick, but they appear to be useless in preventing ticks. Personally, I have switched to using a . Not only have I found it to be effective in preventing fleas and ticks, it doesn't make my dog puke up blood every week. Seresto flea and tick collar
Will your dog get sick from taking Bravecto? If you believe the makers of Bravecto, the chances are low. In defense of the medicine, my vet commonly prescribes it and so far I am the only one who has noticed side effects and come forward about it. Therefore, Bravecto is most likely safe to give to most dogs.
However, I wanted to write this article because of all the time I spent worrying about my dog and the limited information out there. I ended up giving my dog three doses total, and because neither my vet nor I made the connection immediately, I spent months worrying about my dog, anxious that there was something seriously wrong with him, like cancer or a pancreas problem or an ulcer. I also spent nearly a $1000 at the vet between tests and treatments that did not work, simply because of this product (though I will admit my dog's previous stomach issues did play a role in that).
This isn't a warning, nor is it a "never give your pet Bravecto ever," PSA. I just wanted to provide information on the side effects so no one has to worry for months on end about their beloved pet like I did for something that can so easily be fixed.