By Dr. Andrew Jones
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Heartworm disease in dogs- it’s a potentially very serious disease, which sounds very ominous. What could be worse than a parasitic disease of the heart? One of the more common questions I was asked by pet owners was whether or not their dog really needed to be on a conventional preventive medication. More often than not, most clients are told only one thing: to give their dog a monthly Heartworm preventive. In this article I’ll explain exactly what is heartworm, the causes of heartworm, determining if your dog needs to be on a preventive heartworm medication, and the holistic options available to prevent heartworm in pets.
Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) is a parasitic worm which infects mostly dogs. Although all internal parasites can be harmful to your pet, heartworm infestation is serious and can be cause death. The worm mainly affects the lung arteries, and clinical signs are associated with damage to the lungs, and then the heart.
Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes. Not all mosquitoes carry heartworm, but when an infected mosquito bites your pet, it can transfer larvae to the animal’s tissues. The worms require development in the mosquito at a temperatures above 27 °C (80 °F) ; below 14 °C (57 °F), development cannot occur, and the cycle will be halted. If the temperature is warm enough, and the heartworm larvae progresses to being infective, they can infect another dog. These larvae then migrate through the body, until they reach the animal’s heart and lungs. There the adult worms will grow. They can grow to 70 -110 cm long and cause a great deal of damage to the heart and lungs.
Dogs show no sign of infection with heartworm during the first 6 months. The first signs include a cough, especially after exercise. As the disease advances, signs can include fainting, pronounced coughing, syncope, crackles in the lungs, general weakness, and heart failure. In serious cases of heartworm disease, it can lead to sudden death.
Most (certainly not all) holistic veterinarians consider the use of pharmaceutical preventatives to be less harmful than a heartworm infection. What you need to be aware of is the incidence of Heartworm in your area, and whether or not your pet really is at risk of Heartworm disease. For example in Canada, Heartworm is difficult to acquire, and usually not fatal; far less than the dire warnings and marketing claims of the Heartworm preventive companies. For heartworm to be transmitted to your pet, you need the correct temperature for a long enough period of time, the right climate, and the correct species and sex of mosquito.
Holistic heartworm prevention options include many common sense natural health suggestions to keep your dog’s immune system healthy, along with preventing mosquito bites. First avoid unnecessary vaccines- keep your dog’s immune system healthy. Avoid repeated uses of steroids, or conventional antibiotics. Provide excellent nutrition by feeding quality natural brands of dog food, home diets and raw food. Ensure that the diet includes certain neutraceuticals that help prime the immune response; essential fatty acids in adequate levels, probiotics, and consider the use of colostrum. Practice excellent mosquito control, for this is the insect that spreads heartworm. I have had some great success with a natural mosquito repellent using cedarwood oil. Use natural alternatives when possible – this can mean using nosodes and herbal supplements, while also having your dog tested for heartworm. This is better under the guidance of a holistic veterinarian.
My thoughts on conventional use of monthly heartworm preventives are this: If you are in a high risk area, use the conventional preventives, but for as short duration as possible- ie when the conditions really exist to transmit the disease. Use the lowest effective dose of the preventives; you can also follow up the conventional meds with liver supportive products such as milk thistle and Vitamin E. If you live in an area with little to no risk of heartworm, consider no use of conventional medication.
You should now have a better understanding of what heartworm is in dogs, and how it is spread from dog to dog. Now you know the clinical signs of heartworm infection, plus are able to determine whether or not your dog needs heartworm preventives based on the incidence in your area. Lastly you can use some of the suggested holistic modalities to prevent heartworm, avoiding the potential side effects of the conventional heartworm drugs.
Heal Your Pet At Home!
Dr Andrew Jones
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