Heartworm is a horrible but relatively common concern for dog owners. The disease is spread by mosquitoes, which transmit the heartworm larvae into the dog’s bloodstream. If left untreated, those larvae lodge themselves in the heart, where they grow and spread until they heart is so full of worms that it cannot effectively pump blood to the rest of the body. The drugs to treat full-blown heartworm are incredibly strong, and many dogs with the disease are not physically healthy enough to go through treatment and have to be euthanized.
Because of the potential damage this parasite can do, heartworm prevention is a serious responsibility for all dog owners. But as with many health issues, a debate rages as to the best prevention methods. Below is a review of the two schools of thought, and when each solution may be best for your dog. As with any health care decision for your dog, please consult with a veterinarian before starting or stopping any treatments.
The most common form of heartworm prevention is to give a monthly commercial medication. The active ingredient in heartworm medication is ivermectin, which is a broad spectrum de-wormer that kills any developing worms that may have entered the system. Ivermectin is not an actual prevention; it is a treatment for a possible infection. The vast majority of dog owners use ivermectin-based products to keep their dogs from getting heartworm. Most vets recommend that the treatment be given monthly all year round, even when there are no mosquitoes. Medication is the easiest way to prevent a dog from getting this deadly disease.
Ivermectin does have several negative side effects including vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions. Certain breeds of dogs are over-sensitive to the drug, such as collies, and may not be able to take medication. And many proponents of holistic veterinary medicine are against using any drug to treat a possible infection, citing undue stress on the liver and kidneys to process the medication. They make the case that wild canids, such as wolves and foxes, do not take any heartworm preventative and manage to fight off infections on their own. Holistic vets prefer a combination of more natural prevention measures to ward off heartworm.
The natural approach to heartworm prevention starts with diet. Many vets and holistic advocates recommend a raw-food diet, or at the very least a commercial diet without any preservatives or fillers. By increasing the dog’s overall health, its body is more able to fight off disease on its own, and drugs are not needed. Natural heartworm prevention also uses specific herb combinations in the place of drugs. Some of the herbs used for heartworm prevention are black walnut, wormwood, spearment and mugwort (artemisia). Garlic is also recommended both for health properties and for mosquito repellant. The herbs help boost the immune system, repell mosquitoes from actually biting, and make the dog’s blood inhospitable to parasites.
So how do you, the dog owner, decide what the best course of action is for preventing your own dog from contracting heartworm? The main consideration is the mosquito concentration in your area of the country. If you live in an area with year-round humidity or sultry summers, your dog will come in contact with mosquitoes. Pet owners in these areas may feel that the risk of their pet contracting heartworm is much greater than the dangers from ivermectin side effects. Monthly heartworm medication is also a relatively cheap and easy solution; pop a pill in your dog’s mouth once a month and your concerns are greatly reduced.
Dog owners who live in areas of the country with much cooler, drier weather don’t see as many mosquitoes. They may choose to use a combination of more holistic methods instead of medication. Owners of ivermectin-sensitive breeds may also chose to use natural heartworm prevention. Because this method requires more work and some background research, it may not be for everyone. Dog owners who choose alternative prevention must be willing to put in the work and consult regularly with their vet to make sure their methods are still effective.
-PetPlace.com Ivermectin Toxicity http://www.petplace.com/dogs/ivermectin-toxicity/page1.aspx
-The Herbs Place Heartworm Prevention http://www.theherbsplace.com/Heartworm_Prevention_sp_104.html
-Jeanette (Jeannie) Thomason, The Whole Dog Natural Heartworm Prevention