An increase in the number of canine heartworm cases isn't a problem of pet owner compliance with drug dosing instructions. It's a problem with the drugs themselves -- parasites are becoming resistant to them because they're overprescribed and overused.
There are a few important things to keep in mind as you consider heartworm protection for your own dog:
- The incidence of life-threatening heartworm disease is considerably less than the scary warnings, gruesome pictures and drug company marketing campaigns would have you believe. Heartworm disease can only occur under a precise set of circumstances.
- According to heartworm preventive dosing maps, there are only a few areas of the U.S. where dosing your dog with 9 months to year-round heartworm medicine might be advisable. Those locations are in Texas and Florida, and a few other spots along the Gulf coast. The rest of the country runs high exposure risk at from 3 to 7 months. The majority of states are at 6 months or less.
- Preventives don't actually prevent your dog from getting heartworms. What these chemicals do is kill off the worm larvae at the microfilaria stage. These products are insecticides designed to kill heartworm larvae inside your pet. As such, they have the potential for short and long-term side effects damaging to your canine companion's health.
- There are less toxic ways to protect your pet than administering a lifelong course of monthly, year-round chemical heartworm preventives.
Build a strong foundation of vibrant health in your dog by feeding a balanced, species-appropriate diet. The healthier your dog is, the less attractive she'll be to all types of pests and parasites, and the better able her immune system will be to fight off invaders.
If you live in an area of the U.S. where mosquitoes are common and you know your dog's risk of exposure to heartworm disease is significant, here are my recommendations for protecting your precious furry family member:
- With guidance from a holistic vet, try using natural preventives like heartworm nosodes rather than chemicals. Make sure to do heartworm testing every 3 to 4 months (not annually) as natural heartworm preventives can't guarantee your pet will never acquire the disease. Remember, heartworms live in your pet's bloodstream, so natural GI (gastrointestinal) dewormers, such as diatomaceous earth, and anti-parasitic herbs (such as wormwood) are not effective at killing larvae in your pet's bloodstream.
- If your dog's kidneys and liver are healthy, try using a chemical preventive at the lowest effective dosage. This could mean having the drug compounded if necessary for dogs weighing in at the low end of dosing instructions. Give the treatment at 6-week intervals rather than at 4 weeks, for the minimum number of months required during mosquito season.
- Avoid all-in-one chemical products claiming to get rid of every possible GI worm and external parasites as well. Remember – less is more. The goal is to use the least amount of chemical necessary that successfully treats heartworm. Adding other chemicals to the mix adds to the toxic load your dog's body must contend with. Also avoid giving your pet a chemical flea/tick preventive during the same week.
- Follow up a course of treatment with natural liver detox agents like milk thistle and SAMe, in consultation with your holistic vet.
- Always have your vet do a heartworm test before beginning any preventive treatment. A protocol I put in place in my clinic last month is to run a 4Dx blood test every 6 months on dogs that spend a lot of time outdoors during warmer weather. The 4Dx tests for heartworm, Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and e. canis.
This is a change from my prior recommendation for annual heartworm testing. Because parasites are becoming resistant to heartworm, flea and tick chemicals, the sooner you can identify infection in your pets, the sooner a protocol can be instituted to safely treat the infection with fewer long-term side effects.
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