Heartworm parasites and heartworm prevention is a HOT topic for dog owners. I mean everyone loves their pet and no one wants to see their pet ill, but I'd like to share with you the truth behind the big business of conventional heartworm preventatives and exactly what it is that you can do to keep your pet safe and healthy. Heartworm medications do have side effects, are toxic and are a form of slow poison hoping to kill, not actually prevent, the heartworm parasite if your dog happens to contracts it. “Heartworm preventatives can cause serious side effects in dogs, including depression, lethargy, vomiting, anorexia, diarrhea, dilation of the pupil, loss of balance, staggering, convulsions, and hypersalivation. Some dogs are especially prone to side effects from Ivermectin, the main ingredient in one of the most widely used heartworm preventatives. Also, some of the preventatives are combined with drugs aimed at killing other pests such as fleas, mites, roundworms, and hookworms.” (Source) “Ivermectin has also been associated with a central nervous system event in some dogs which leads to loss of coordination, seizures, and in some cases, death.”- Dr.Karen Becker. The good news is that there are safer, more effective ways to actually prevent heartworm.
Where do heartworms come from? They come from infected mosquitoes.
However, what the average pet owner may not realize is that the conditions have to be just right for the dog to contract heartworm.
Dogs can only get heartworm disease through infected mosquitoes. They can't get it from other dogs or other types of animals, from dog feces, or from their mothers while in the womb or through nursing.
- They must be female.
- They must be of a species that allows development of the worms in the cells of the body (not all species do).
- They must be of a species that feeds on mammals (not all do).
- They must have bitten an animal infected with stage 1 (L1) heartworms about two weeks prior, since approximately 14 days are necessary for the larvae from the other animal to develop to stage 3 (L3) inside the transmitting mosquito.
- This mosquito must then bite your dog. When the larvae reach stage L4-L5, which takes three to four months, under the right conditions they can travel via your dog's bloodstream to the lungs and heart.
- Weakened immune system and/or gut microbiome imbalance.
If your dog's immune system doesn't destroy these invaders, they will reach maturity (L6), the adult stage, in which males can grow to six inches in length and females to 12. (Source)
Two other critically important features that must happen in the transmission of heartworm are:
- The right temperature. During the time the heartworm larvae are developing from L1 to L3 inside an infected mosquito, which is approximately a two-week period, the temperature must not dip below 57°F at any point in time. If it does, the maturation cycle is halted. According to Washington State University heartworm report from 2006, full development of the larvae requires “the equivalent of a steady 24-hour daily temperature in excess of 64°F (18°C) for approximately one month.”
- Humidity and standing water. Mosquitoes are a rarity in dry climates.
What about wild dogs, coyotes, wolves and foxes and their low rates of heartworm?
Dr. William Falconer, a homeopathic veterinarian in Austin, Texas says: “Heartworm has been out there forever as far as we know, but we don't read reports of wolves and coyotes being wiped out by heartworm, and yet domestic dogs are falling prey to it.” (Source)
So why exactly are our domesticated dogs and cats falling prey to heartworms?
Poor health and wellness guidance and advice from the media, pet food companies and pressure from veterinarians. Did you know that The American Heartworm Society (AHS), an organization that studies the disease, its treatment and prevention, recommends year-round chemical preventives for every dog over the age of eight weeks, regardless of where the dog lives. The American Heartworm Society has three “platinum” sponsors and five “bronze” sponsors. All eight are major pharmaceutical manufacturers. No surprise to me.
We are also over vaccinating our dogs, we are feeding them poor quality dead nutrition and we are using chemicals to suppress their skin issues, anxieties, antibiotics to suppress infections, using pesticides to kill their fleas, ticks and any internal parasites they may have. All of these toxins combined with an imbalanced gut microbiome and weakened immune system, and their immunity is the only thing that can save them from contracting dis-ease.
On the contrary, wild dogs, coyotes, wolves and foxes go completely un-vaccinated, eat only raw meat, raw bones, and these wild canines are never exposed to the dozens of “preventatives” we use to kill fleas, ticks and even heartworm. Through research, it has been found that some coyotes and foxes have been able to “fight off” heartworm infestations and some others become host to the parasite, however, in small enough numbers that the heartworms does not threaten their hosts' lives. Again due to a less compromised system.
Dr. Jeffery Levy, a classical homeopathic veterinarian practicing in Williamsburg, MA states: “Thanks in large part to the scare tactics of many veterinarians in promoting (so called) preventive drugs, many people believe that contracting heartworms is the equivalent of a death sentence for their dogs. This is not true.” (Source)
Dr. Levy concluded that it is not the heartworms that caused disease, but the other factors that damaged the dogs' health/immune system to the point that they could no longer compensate for an otherwise tolerable parasite load. “It is not really that different from the common intestinal roundworms, in that most dogs do not show any symptoms. Only a dog whose health is compromised is unable to tolerate a few worms. Furthermore, a truly healthy dog would not be susceptible to either type of worm in the first place. It seems to me that the real problem is that allopathic attitudes have instilled in many of us a fear of disease, fear of pathogens and parasites, fear of rabies, as if these are evil and malicious entities just waiting to lay waste to a naive and unprotected public.” (Source)
The Truths behind Heartworm “Prevention”?
Dr. Karen Becker states three points, specifically:
- Huge conflict of interest potential. Heartworm prevention through the overuse of potentially toxic medications sold by pharmaceutical giants like Bayer Healthcare, Merial and Pfizer, is a virtual money machine for drug manufacturers, online retailers, testing laboratories, veterinarians and any other entity that can find a way to cash in.When there's money on the table – in this case billions of dollars – your pet's health and quality of life can quickly become a secondary concern.Note also that the ASH recommendation for year-round dosing is not because your pet needs it year-round in every state, but because it's assumed dog owners will forget to re-start the medication when the weather warms up.And by the way – heartworm “preventives” don't actually prevent your pet from getting worms. What they do is poison the larvae at the microfilaria (L1-L2) stage of development, causing them to die.
- Relatively low actual incidence of life-threatening infection. Heartworm disease is more difficult to acquire – and less lethal – than the dire warnings and marketing claims for chemical preventives would have you believe. In order for heartworm disease to take hold, a precise sequence of events must occur involving the right climate, the right temperature for the right amount of time, the right species and sex of mosquito, and your dog's less-than-optimal immune system function.This information is not intended to minimize the need to protect your dog, but only to point out the actual potential for heartworm disease is less than you've been led to believe by financially-motivated marketing campaigns designed to scare pet owners into buying 12 doses of preventive, year in and year out, regardless of where you live!
- The existence of less toxic recommendations. There are less harmful protocols to prevent heartworm in your dog than a lifetime of once-monthly, year-round doses of toxic drugs.
Safe and Natural Heartworm Prevention
How to prime your pets health, help prevent parasites such as heartworm and achieve top immunity, these are my recommendations.
- Ancestral Raw Food Diet. This is critical to keep your dogs immune system boosted and healthy to fight off parasites. This includes a raw food diet, hands down, raw meats, bones, saturated fats, bone broth, fermented foods, fermented cod liver oil and probiotics. Dogs should never eat grains, corn, wheat, milk bones…these are not part of their ancestral diet, and avoid (over) vaccinating, (over) medicating are immune system crushers and be sure to keep the chemicals out; chemical shampoos, flea/tick and HW “treatments”, etc…
- Supplementation. I recommend using homeopathics, such as heartworm nosodes, glandulars, such as dessicated spleen, herbs to flush toxins and build up tissues, you will need to work with a Naturopath on this. I also recommend fermented cod liver oil, fermented foods, probiotics and magnesium liquid. Dogs should never eat grains, corn, wheat, milk bones, and avoid (over) vaccinating, (over) medicating and keep the chemicals out; shampoos, flea treatments, etc…
- Naturally repel and control mosquitoes. Here is my recommendation for an easy spray or 1 ingredient repellent.
- Remove any standing water in your yard.
- Never ever have an “outside” dog, where your dog is left alone outside for long periods of time.
- Work with a Natural Health Care practitioner who can guide you through this process, please do not wing it, your pet deserves an educated parent. The education you receive will more that pay for a few appointments.
- Test your dog 3 times per year to be sure he/she is safe from heartworms. The last should be done at the end of the heartworm season. For example test #1 should be done Jan-April, test#2 April-Aug and the #3 test Sept-Dec.
- You may consider using a heartworm preventative drug if you live in an area with more cases of heartworm such as the south (see map below). However, you want to stick to preventative drugs without all the combinations such as for fleas, ticks, intestinal parasites, etc.. The less chemicals – the better state of health and life longevity for your dog, no matter what the vet says or the drug companies tell us.
If you live in a region where mosquitoes are more prevalent, such as the Southern United States, and your dog's risks and exposures are high, these are my recommendations.
A Natural Protocol If your Dog Does Have Heartworm
Black Walnut tincture. ¼ – 1 dropper once a day for 4 days days, stop treatment for three days and repeat the cycle for one more week, then stop for two weeks and repeat the whole cycle of treatment one more time.
Perform the heartworm DNA test four months from the beginning of the treatment or as an alternative perform the microfilaria or antigen test.
The picture above is of Tucker, my happy 2.5 year old Paleo/Primal GSD.
Do you use a natural heartworm immune system boosting protocol for your pet? I'd love to know in the comments below.