A More Natural Heartworm Protocol For Dogs
I saw my first mosquito of the season the other day, which means the weather is starting to warm up where we live. It also means it is time to start my heartworm regime on the dogs.
Most pet parents administer the standard year-round, monthly tablet, or yearly and twice yearly injection, but my approach is a little…. different.
WHAT IS HEARTWORM?
Heartworm or Dirofilaria immitis is a parasitic roundworm which affects dogs as well as some other animals and is transmitted via mosquito bite. When dogs are bitten by infected mosquitos, heartworm larvae are deposited in the bloodstream where they then mature and grow in the heart and pulmonary blood vessels. This eventually causes serious cardiovascular impairment and complications such as coughing, difficulty breathing, collapse on exercise, anemia, and if left untreated, death as a result of congestive heart failure.
THE HEARTWORM LIFECYCLE
Image courtesy of Cú Faoil & Anka Friedrich
HOW DO I TREAT MY OWN DOGS FOR HEARTWORM?
You may assume that as a naturopath I use 100% natural heartworm prevention, well, not exactly.
Although there are natural options for heartworm, in my opinion, there are situations where conventional treatments can also be used safely and effectively. I still like to take an integrative approach, and combine the best of both worlds, so here is my natural(ish) heartworm protocol.
It may surprise you to hear that I use conventional heartworm tablets (Interceptor), however, I use them at a much lower dose than recommended, known as “off-label dosing”. This is based on research done around a product known as Safeheart, which received FDA approval but was never marketed. The active ingredient in this product is milbemycin (the same ingredient used in Interceptor). Clinical trials done on this product demonstrated that the low dose of milbemycin oxime (0.1 mg/kg) provides effective heartworm prevention in dogs.
For my own dogs who weigh 23kg and 17kg, I actually purchase the Interceptor product “for very small dogs”, which is the lowest dose available and is advertised for use in dogs up to 4kg. It contains 2.3mg of milbemycin oxime per chew. When using Safeheart dosing as a guideline I would need to provide the following dosages for effective treatment:
Poppy weighs 23kg (0.1mg x 23kg = 2.3mg of milbemycin)
Flick weights 17kg (0.1mg x 17kg = 1.7mg of milbemycin)
While this is an effective dose against heartworm, it will NOT address roundworm, whipworm, hookworm or tapeworm which Interceptor is also designed to control. I use natural products for intestinal parasites (that I will be sure to share in a future blog) and therefore do not need this added protection from my chosen heartworm product.
DOSING ONLY DURING MOSQUITO SEASON
Keeping in mind that heartworm is transmitted by mosquitos, and in order for heartworm to successfully reproduce, the weather must remain at or above 27°C (80°F) for two weeks, without dipping below 14°C (57°F), I therefore only treat my dogs for heartworm during the warm mosquito season. Where we live in Australia mosquito season usually runs from November through to April, so I generally only administer treatment during this time and give them a break from treatment during the cooler months.
It is advisable that you become familiar with the mosquito seasons in your area, and be extra vigilant in warm, humid, wet areas where mosquitos tend to thrive. If like me you choose to forgo year-round heartworm treatment I would also recommend regular heartworm testing.
REGULAR HEARTWORM TESTS
Conventional heartworm preventatives are not really preventatives at all, but rather work by killing off immature heartworm larvae. By regularly testing your dog for the presence of these immature heartworms, they can be treated and eradicated before they have a chance to mature, grow in size and cause an issue.
With recent reports from the US of cases where heartworm preventatives failed to provide protection, regular testing can provide a back up should the worse occur.
It is also VERY important to have your dog tested for heartworm before commencing treatment, as many products cannot be given to heartworm positive dogs. This is due to the danger of a shock like reaction in your dog caused by the sudden death of multiple heartworm microfilaria in the bloodstream.
In addition to using conventional treatment, I regularly add natural heartworm fighting herbs including garlic, cinnamon, wormwood, thyme and ginger to the dog’s meals. Given in small amounts these herbs can be very effective tools in helping to combat heartworm.
So there you have it guys, my almost natural heartworm protocol. I can’t stress enough, that while this is the protocol I have successfully used for my own pets, the information in this blog post is not designed to replace veterinary advice, and you should make any decision regarding your pet’s health based on your own research.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this blog post and anything else related to canine heartworm in the comments below.
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