As a dog owner, one thing you dread hearing from the vet is “your dog’s got heartworm.”
The conventional treatment, a series of injections with a drug named Immiticide (melarsomine), is a daunting prospect and is very risky for your dog. The drug, made by Merial, can cause many side effects and is described on Merial’s own literature as having “a low margin of safety.”
Here are some of the heartworm treatment side effects filed with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on melarsomine.
In some cases vets start the Immiticide treatment after treatment with the antibiotic Doxycycline. This is an extra precaution in case the Wolbachia bacteria is also present, as it is in some dogs. Wolbachia can affect the success of treatment, so the antibiotic is used first.
The treatment takes about three months, during which time your dog must be on crate rest and restricted exercise. This is to minimize the risk of dead worms getting into your dog’s bloodstream, which can be fatal.
Fortunately, there are alternatives to the conventional treatment. We’ll cover those a little later. First, a few words about preventing heartworm.
Dog Heartworm Prevention
Clearly it’s best to prevent your dog from getting heartworm in the first place. And your veterinarian will emphasize this when they insist on prescribing heartworm preventives for your dog.
But the so-called preventive drugs also carry risks for your dog. Heartworm drugs don’t actually prevent heartworm. They work by killing any heartworm larvae that may already be in your dog.
The drugs haven’t been tested for more than a few weeks, so we don’t know what the long term effects of giving them to your dog are. But just the short term adverse reactions are bad enough … vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, diarrhea, ataxia, staggering, convulsions, and hypersalivation, to name a few.
But (now for some good news), there is a way to protect your dog from heartworm without using these meds.
You can use regular testing throughout the heartworm season to protect your dog from heartworms.
5 Natural Heartworm Treatment Alternatives
First of all, a caution.
Please don’t attempt any of these treatments without the help of a holistic vet. Heartworm is not something to treat at home by yourself and you should always ask your holistic vet for help.
1. Herbal Heartworm Remedy – HWF
There are several herbal heartworm remedies on the market. Amber Technology makes a product called HWF heartworm treatment. By law, they’re not permitted to say that the product treats heartworm, so the description says HWF may support the heart by cleaning the cardiovascular system from unwanted foreign substances.
This is a gentle treatment option that takes from 16 to 36 weeks to help your dog eliminate heartworms. Your dog doesn’t have to be on restricted activity during this time.
The remedy contains the following herbal ingredients designed to work together to detox your dog:
- Black seed
- Hops flowers
- Apricot kernel extract
- Hawthorn berries
- Sheep sorrel
- Grapefruit seed extract
Work with your holistic vet to determine the appropriate dosing schedule for your dog. AmberTech recommends starting with their “Basic Detox” dosage guidelines if your dog has heartworms. It may be necessary to increase the dose over time if your dog’s heartworms aren’t clearing up.
AmberTech is very helpful in providing advice on how to use the product successfully. They encourage customers to contact them for assistance.
To find a holistic veterinarian who uses western herbs in their practice, search at ahvma.org and select Western Herbs as the Modality.
2. Herbal Heartworm Formula
A formula from Steve Marsden DVM is published in the Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine and is used successfully by holistic veterinarians to treat heartworm.
The formula includes:
- Peppermint is sometimes added as well
*See the caution about wormwood in #5 below.
Dr Marsden states that the formula should be used in conjunction with Bromelain. Bromelain is an enzyme extracted from pineapples. It helps break down the dead worms. Bromelain is available at many health stores and the recommended starting dose is 30 mg per lb of body weight, divided into two or three daily doses and given two hours away from meals.
Dr Patricia Jordan told us she uses a modified version of the formula in her own practice.
To find a holistic vet who uses herbal treatments, search at ahvma.org and select Western Herbs as the Modality.
3. Dr Deva Khalsa’s Homeopathic Heartworm Protocol
Holistic veterinarian Dr Deva Khalsa has found the following homeopathic protocol to be successful in treating heartworms.
You’ll need the following remedies in all the potencies indicated.
- Croton tiglium 9x, 20x, 30x, 200x
- Lycopersicum esculentum 9x, 20x, 30x
- Tanacetum 9x, 20x, 30x
- Allium cepa 9x, 20x, 30x, 200x
- Allium sativum 9x ,20x, 30x, 200x
Mix all of these remedies together and give a few drops orally, twice a day for three months.
This protocol combines a number of carefully selected potencies of the same remedy to produce a remedy called a potency chord. These work on a number of different healing levels in the body at the same time, and can be faster acting and more effective than single potencies.
After two months, ask your vet to run an occult heartworm test twice a month to monitor your dog’s progress. It may take two to five months for testing to show as negative but Dr Khalsa has had great success with it.
If Your Dog is Very Sick
If the heartworms have caused serious damage to your dog’s heart, or if he is older or has a kidney or liver problem, you may want to use the above treatment concurrently with Crataegus (hawthorn) tincture to strengthen the heart.
Give a few drops three to four times a day, along with CoQ10 (30 to 100mg twice a day) to boost the metabolism in the heart muscle and detoxify the body.
4. Constitutional Treatment From Your Homeopathic Veterinarian
Homeopathy can offer another way to help your dog with heartworms.
The goal of constitutional treatment by a homeopathic veterinarian is to bring your dog’s vital force into balance so that his own healing process can take place. Over time, this can help your dog overcome the heartworms.
What To Expect
When a homeopathic veterinarian treats your dog constitutionally, she will start by taking a detailed case history of your dog. This process usually takes well over an hour.
She’ll want to know everything about your dog … not just medical history and physical symptoms, but emotional and mental symptoms as well. You should even tell her about any character or behavioral quirks your dog has.
This process helps your homeopath get a complete picture of your dog so that she can select the best remedy to help your dog with his overall health.
When your homeopath selects a remedy, she will give you dosing instructions and ask you to observe your dog and keep notes of any changes over a period of time. Some of these changes may be subtle. She will tell you when to report back to her.
Depending on what you feed your dog, your homeopath may also recommend some dietary changes to support your dog’s return to health. Most homeopathic vets will insist you feed a whole food based, raw meat diet.
At your second appointment, depending on what changes you’ve seen in your dog, your homeopath may prescribe a new remedy or recommend repeating the same remedy.
This process will continue until your dog’s condition is resolved. You will probably find your dog’s overall health will improve as well, and other health and behavior issues may resolve along the way.
Most will do phone consults so they don’t have to be local.
5. Black Walnut and Wormwood
There are several products and protocols using these two powerful herbs, and there are reports that they are effective. However, due to the risk of side effects they should be used with caution, under guidance from your holistic vet or herbalist.
Strong tannins in both herbs can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Don’t give wormwood to dogs who suffer from seizures, kidney or liver disease, or to pregnant or lactating dams.
Some heartworm treatment products and protocols that include these herbs are:
- Dr Hulda Clark’s Pet Parasite Program
- Systemic Formulas VRM2
- Black Walnut and Wormwood Tincture (several brands)
Again, it’s important to only use these with guidance from your holistic veterinarian or herbalist, because they can be toxic when used improperly.
I hope your dog never gets heartworm. But if he does, you have some natural options to avoid the dangerous Immiticide treatment.