I get asked a lot why I choose NOT to give my dogs heartworm medication.
I have never really broadcasted the fact openly, but, because of the amount of owners I deal with who are looking for more holistic solutions these days, I get asked quite often what do I give my own dogs to prevent heartworm?
When I tell people I don't use a heartworm 'preventative' like Heartguard, they are shocked.
Truth is, though, I haven't done so in probably 8 or nine years.
Before you get on your high horse and tell me that I am an awful pet parent or an ill-informed dickhead who refutes science, I'd just ask you to bear with me.
Firstly, let's talk about the word 'preventative'.
Are you 'preventing' heartworms by giving your dogs Heartguard etc once a month?
Or are you really treating a condition that actually isn't there?
Your veterinarian may likely have told you that your dog needs this stuff once a month to keep heartworms at bay and stop the formation of microfilaria (put simply, baby heart-worms).
If my doctor told me I needed to take hefty antibiotics every month to keep a urinary tract infection at bay, I would think he didn't have a clue what he was doing, and yet, isn't this basically the same?
Shouldn't we be actually told by veterinarians "I'm going to have you buy this hugely expensive stuff so you can treat your dog every month for a condition he doesn't have, and more than likely won't get, by the way, as he is an inside dog with a great diet and a healthy immune system. There might very well be substantial side effects, and we know of at least 264 dogs that have died from ingesting this product. Oh, and by the way, it doesn't always work!"
Would you still buy it? Would you panic quite so much if you missed a dose?
In fact the very reason I don't use Heartguard is because my dog, Levi, who came from the Mississippi Delta some ten years ago, is one of the dogs it failed. He was rescued, taken to the Hall County Shelter where it was discovered he had the disease and was treated with the dreaded Immiticide shots pretty much straight away upon intake. He had a clear test before he was adopted out to me and I embarked on a monthly 'preventative' regimen straight away, just as the prescribing vet told me to.
His next annual heartworm test was clear.
The one after that was positive.
I had never missed a dose. Not one.
And yet...still he tested positive.
Like most people, I had my dogs tested once a year for heartworms...but by the time I had Levi tested, they were well into the adult phase.
I couldn't believe it. I felt I had done something wrong, that I had failed him, been a bad dog mum somehow.
However, there was no way I was going to let him go through that awful Immiticide treatment again, and back then, that was the treatment most regular vets recommended.
For those of you who don't know what Immiticide is, it's an arsenic based, intramuscular shot that goes right into the lumbar muscles. By the manufacturer’s own admission, it has a low safety margin. It isn't safe to give to dogs with very advanced cases of heartworm due to the already very weak condition of the dog.
After injection, the dog must stay quiet and crated for a month. This is because any heightened activity can cause dead worms to travel into the lungs and cause an embolism.
Imagine, you've been rescued from a shelter where you were crated all day, or off of a chain where you had no freedom, and your first experience with your new life is that you can't move......yet again.
Remember, dogs have no concept of tomorrow, they just think they've exchanged one shitty life for yet another dismal, shitty life. Thankfully, Levi has always been a pretty low energy dog, but imagine if he had been a hyper active type? How the hell do you manage keeping a dog like that calm in a crate? And remember, it's not just about activity level.......after the Immiticide injection, they don't want dogs getting stressed or overheated either, while they're in their crate. Yep, good luck with that!
I couldn't do that to Levi, there had to be another way.
My research led me to a remarkable man called Dr Gerald Wessner, a holistic veterinarian in Florida who had developed a gentle heartworm treatment that required no 'incarceration' and was easy to administer. It was also about one fifth the cost of the Immiticide injection.
It required daily use, for about a month and a half, of a substance called Paratox, a liquid that we just put into whipped cream for Levi every day. We used a heartworm nosode (homeopathic vaccine) administered orally, on a declining basis for a period of months. Through choice, we shored up his heart health with taurine, magnesium and co enzyme Q10 and of course fed him a healthy, fresh food diet. It’s not stipulated as a requirement of this protocol, but we felt that if we wanted to give him the best chance of succeeding, we should ensure his heart was as otherwise healthy as possible.
The result? After 8 months he tested negative for heartworms.
But here's the really big deal...at NO time during his treatment was he incarcerated in a crate, told he couldn't join the others playing in the yard, forced to stay inside because it was hot out....he just lived a normal life. Near the end of his treatment, we started him on Heartguard, per my local holistic vets' advice.....luckily, Dr Churchill at Gwinnett Animal Hospital had been on board with this all along and had used Dr Wessners' protocol with other patients, so she was successfully able to utilise the best western and eastern meds in symphony.
I had no issue with that, it is a heartworm treatment after all.
This is not the only treatment available. Thankfully, many well informed veterinarians are now using the antibiotic doxycycline to kill the microfilaria, then using Heartguard to kill off the adult worms over a longer period of time. This method also requires no crating, although obviously we don't want any dog with a compromised heart going out in the noonday sun for a ten-mile run. There is a need to keep dogs with a heart condition of any kind, quieter and calmer.
It's important that you educate yourself about heartworm and the various treatment and preventative options, as there are lots of scare tactics used to get you to buy these monthly so-called preventatives. As with all things, different dogs have different needs. A dog that lives outside on a chain with a crappy diet and no chance to move around has a much higher chance of getting heartworms, and so would possibly have more need of a product like Heartguard every month.
That is a high-risk situation. I won't refute that.
But a dog that lives inside, has a healthy immune system, fantastic diet, a clear heartworm test every six months, whose owner utilizes mosquito repellents? Does that dog need the product?
We are bombarded with pictures of nasty adult worms and what they can do to the dog by the manufacturer of Heartguard every time we go into the vets office and told that the treatment is painful and expensive. Such warnings have us reaching for our checkbooks to buy a six-month supply, no questions asked.
But, these days, as you now know, the dreaded Immiticide injection isnt the only option for treating heartworms and there are kinder, less invasive, less tortuous and even less expensive methods of doing so. In some ways, (not all, obviously) treating a case of heartworms, if caught early enough, can be somewhat less risky than some of the drugs given monthly to prevent them.
I have personally seen the effects of Trifexis on a client dog that had a very bad reaction to it. Within an hour after ingestion the poor dog was in grave distress, was rushed to the vets and spent three days there. All so that he wouldn't get fleas, ticks or heartworms? I'd rather my dog had an early, easily treatable case of heartworms than risk a so called 'preventative' like this!
So, let's get back to what I do to stop my dogs from getting heartworm disease. And, please remember, this is my personal opinion, I'm not a vet and your regular old-fashioned veterinarian absolutely will think I'm full of shit.
Just putting that out there.....
1. I feed a very healthy diet.
According to the Heartworm Society, the hosts' (your dogs') immune response can be a factor in contracting the disease. A healthy dog with an excellent immune system is way less likely to get the disease.
I feed fresh meat, fresh vegetables, raw food with all of the beneficial enzymes therein, and I use a small amount of garlic in my dog’s food every day to repel mosquitoes. Mosquitoes hate garlic.
I'm going to reiterate this, it is well documented that heartworms do not thrive normally in a healthy immune system. Everything starts, and ends, with diet.
If you are a very clever person and obtained a copy of my book 'Cut the Crap', I absolutely recommend utilizing the ancient Chinese medicine protocol of feeding an organ to help an organ. The raw food that we feed our own dogs has heart in it. In fact it has lots of different organs in it, but heart is one of the first four ingredients in any of the blends we feed. We also feed foods rich in taurine, the critical amino acid needed for heart health, without which dogs can develop dilated cardiomyopathy, (or as you and I call it, an enlarged heart.) Foods rich in taurine are chicken and turkey, sardines, liver and eggs.
2. Get a heart worm test done at least every six months.
Yes, it's a pain in the ass having one more test done on your dog every six months, but it's for their own good and at 35 bucks is still way cheaper and less risky than all those bloody awful heartworm treatments that they don't need. You'd pay more than that for a box of Heartguard wouldn't you?
3. I make sure that mosquitoes CANNOT bite my dogs.
As well as garlic in their food, I use cedar oil on my dogs all the time when it's mosquito season. They get sprayed every week at least, all over, with a fine mist of the stuff. This gets reapplied after bathing or swimming.
Cedar oil REPELS mosquitoes. A mosquito bite from an infected mosquito is the ONLY way your dog can get heartworms. Please remember that. So instead of treating a disease that your dog probably doesn't have, doesn't it make way more sense to instead concentrate on stopping the mosquitoes getting to your dog?
The product I use is called 'Best Yet' and it repels mosquitoes from both humans and dogs. The same company also do a product called 'PCO Choice' which I have used with great effect outdoors to repel mosquitoes around the small fenced yards. It's no good for when dogs are out on the land as it'd cost thousands to treat the acreage, but for when your dogs are lazing in the sun in the backyard, it's great.
By the way, both Peter and I also use the products as mosquito and tick repellents on ourselves, as they are completely non toxic on humans or dog...cats are a different matter, I'm afraid.
Here's the cedar oil company, www.cedarcide.com.
If you're looking for something stronger because you live in a densely wooded area and/or near water I recommend their product 'Tick Shield', which is a higher concentration of cedar oil and even more effective.
If you want further information on the dangers of Heartworm drugs, I'd like to point you towards an excellent article written by Julia Henriques in the magazine 'Dogs Naturally'.
The author went to great lengths to compile an incredibly detailed list of the side effects and dangers of each heartworm drug on the market and uses the manufacturers own research to expose the dangers of using them as a preventative as opposed to a treatment.
In closing, I'd like to reiterate that I am not opposed to drugs as a TREATMENT for heartworm disease, as I think they are brilliantly effective. But any more than I'm going to agree to having chemotherapy to stop me getting cancer, I won't put these toxic substances into my dogs unless there's a disease to treat.
Remember, you can always talk to your veterinarian about setting up a wellness protocol for your dog that includes more regular heartworm tests, a better diet, managing the environment more. The most important thing to do is research, know the poison you are putting inside your dog every month and decide for yourself whether you want to continue doing so. Whatever you decide to do, at least it will come from a place of knowledge and caring, and not blindly accepting what is fed to you.