You’ve likely heard about the dangers of heartworm in dogs and cats—it’s a serious problem which can even be fatal. But are you aware that conventional preventative treatments for heartworm can lead to serious complications and possibly be fatal, too? It’s true, unfortunately, as many pet owners can attest to.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm disease is caused by a parasite known as Dirofilaria immitis, which lives in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of dogs and a few other smaller mammals. If left unchecked, these worms can lead to lung disease, heart failure, and organ damage.
The heartworm cycle begins when a mosquito bites an infected animal, ingesting the microscopic larvae, known as microfilariae. The larvae develop into the infective stage inside the mosquito, and when the mosquito bites another animal, the larvae are transmitted into the tissue, where they develop over a period of about two months. From there, the larvae migrate into the bloodstream and eventually take up residence in the heart, where the adults reproduce and start the cycle all over again.
Cats are not ideal hosts for heartworms, so feline infection is thought to be less prevalent; however, because of cats’ restricted pulmonary vascular capacity, they may more likely to die as the result of infection.
Heartworm infection can be difficult to detect in many instances. However, some animals will cough, have difficulty breathing, and reduced exercise tolerance. Blood tests are the only way to diagnose heartworm infection.
Standard Heartworm Treatments
Preventative heartworm treatments are widely prescribed by vets. These treatments typically consist of one or more types of de-worming (insecticide) drugs (ivermectin, pyrantel pamoate, etc.), which usually come as an oral medication, given either daily or once per month. A couple of the newer treatments, however, are topical.
Unfortunately, the conventional treatments do not come without risk. Because heartworm treatments are intended to be given long-term, this often leads to toxic build-up in the animal’s system. The liver and kidneys may not be able to keep up with eliminating these toxins, which may then lead to conditons such as arthritis, liver and kidney disease, skin allergies, or other types of degenerative problems. The AVMA has even stated that 65% of all reported drug reactions and 48% of reported deaths have been linked with heartworm preventative medications.
Alternative Heartworm Treatments
Though many vets have your pet’s best interest at heart, they may very well be unaware of the dangers of long-term heartworm medication use. And many pet owners only learn about the dangers after the fact, unfortunately. There are alternatives though. Most importantly, feeding a species-appropriate diet can go a long way in keeping your pet’s immune system healthy, and healthy animals are less likely to fall prey to illness from parasites, including heartworm. The Holistic Horse also has a product called HeartwormGuard which is safe alternative treatment made from botanicals instead of chemicals. (Please note that this product is only intended for dogs.)
Discuss heartworms and treatment options with your holistic vet (some are available for phone or online consultation) and hopefully, you can find a way to keep your pet healthy without the use of conventional chemicals which may do more harm than good.