DIY Heartworm Treatment For Dogs

Heartworm Treatment For Dogs

If you’re afraid of your dog getting heartworms … it’s not surprising.

Let’s face it … conventional vets and pharmaceutical companies try to frighten you. Because they want you to use the heartworm prevention meds they sell.

Your vet will threaten you with the horrifying prospect of your dog getting heartworm. Because the treatment itself is dangerous … if you use conventional drugs.

But there are natural remedies that can get rid of heartworms. They may take longer than the conventional treatment. But they’re much safer for your dog.

In this post you’ll find information about heartworm disease symptoms, as well as conventional treatments and natural remedies. Click on the link below if you want to know how to prevent heartworm without toxic meds.

RELATED: How to prevent heartworm naturally …

How Dogs Get Heartworm

Let’s recap this, because not everybody knows how heartworm is transmitted.

Your dog can’t catch heartworm from another dog … or any other animal. Except a mosquito.

The only way your dog can get heartworm is a bite from a mosquito that’s already infected with heartworm.

So …

  • First the mosquito has to bite another animal with heartworm.
  • The mosquito picks up microfilariae (heartworm babies) from that animal.
  • The microfilariae grow up and become larvae … inside the mosquito.
  • If the mosquito bites your dog, it transmits larvae to your dog.
  • Larvae grow up into adult heartworms in your dog.
  • The adult heartworms breed inside your dog and create microfilariae.

You’ve doubtless seen the scary photos or 3-D models in the vet’s office … showing a dog’s heart full of spaghetti-like heartworms. But that kind of terrifying infestation takes a long time to happen.

In fact, it takes 6-7 months after the mosquito bites your dog for adult heartworms to develop in his body. So heartworm is quite a slow-growing disease … which means you have time to treat it naturally.

This also means your dog can have heartworms without showing any symptoms. So it’s a good idea to do regular heartworm tests.

RELATED: Find out about different types of heartworm tests and how often to do them …                                                              

Symptoms Of Heartworm Disease

Dogs who don’t have clinical signs have heartworm infection … but not heartworm disease. That means your dog can be infected with heartworms … but they’re not making him sick.  

Here are the 4 stages of heartworm disease and symptoms.

Class 1: No symptoms, or mild symptoms like an occasional cough.

Class 2: Mild to moderate symptoms. Occasional cough or tiredness after moderate activity.

Class 3: More severe symptoms. Your dog may look unwell, cough persistently, and get tired easily. He could have trouble breathing or even signs of heart failure.  

Class 4: This is called caval syndrome. It means blood flowing back to the heart gets physically blocked by a large mass of worms. 

Many dogs with caval syndrome don’t survive, even with surgery. Not all dogs with heartworm disease develop caval syndrome. 

But even so, heartworm disease can progress and damage your dog’s heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. This organ damage will eventually cause death.

So if your dog gets heartworms, you do need to treat them. But there are some DIY heartworm treatments available.

How Vets Diagnose Heartworm

The regular test your vet does annually is an antigen test. It identifies adult, female heartworms … but not male heartworms. Most vets can do this test in-house.

If your dog’s heartworm antigen test is positive, your vet will likely order a microfilariae test. This tells them if the adult heartworms are breeding in your dog.

If there are no microfilariae, it usually means the heartworms are still at an immature stage. It might also mean your dog only has female heartworms. So they’re not making babies.

If your vet thinks the heartworm has advanced to class 2 or 3, they may do chest x-rays, ultrasound or an echocardiogram to assess heart or lung damage.

If your dog’s heartworm has reached class 4, with caval syndrome, your vet will recommend immediate surgery to remove the heartworms. Survival rates for dogs with caval syndrome are poor, even with surgery.

For class 1, 2 or 3 heartworm disease, you can expect your vet to urge you to start the conventional heartworm treatment right away. So let’s talk about what’s involved in that. 

Conventional Heartworm Treatment

This is a long, difficult, risky and expensive process. Here’s what happens if you choose conventional heartworm treatment. As you read this … remember you have other options that we’ll explain later.

Step 1: First they’ll start your dog on regular monthly “preventive” meds to kill immature heartworms and prevent new infections. This drug will continue throughout treatment.

Step 2: At the same time, they’ll give 30 days of the antibiotic doxycycline. This is an extra precaution in case there’s any Wolbachia bacteria. Wolbachia live in the heartworms and can affect the success of treatment … so they give the antibiotic first to avoid complications.

Step 3: At 60 days, 90 days and 91 days, your dog will get a series of intramuscular injections of the “adulticide” drug called Immiticide (melarsomine). This is the dangerous drug that kills adult heartworms. Your vet may want your dog to stay at the clinic for these injections in case of complications. 

See below to learn about Immiticide risks.

Step 4: Your vet may also prescribe the steroid drug prednisone for your dog. That’s to reduce side effects.

Step 5: At 120 days, the vet will examine your dog and test for microfilariae. This tells them if your dog’s ready to gradually start exercising again. If your dog still has microfilariae, they may give another drug and retest at day 150.

Step 6: One year after beginning treatment … your vet will re-test to make sure all stages of the heartworms have been eliminated.    

The Risks Of Immiticide

This adulticide drug is the dangerous part. Immiticide (melarsomine) contains arsenic. Arsenic is, of course, a poisonous mineral. This makes it very risky for your dog. It comes with a litany of warnings … and the manufacturer’s own literature says it has “a low margin of safety.”

Here are some of the adverse reactions from melarsomine treatment. These are from clinical field trials as well as adverse event reports to the FDA …

  • Vomiting
  • Injection site swelling or pain
  • Depression/lethargy
  • Anorexia/lack of appetite
  • Lung congestion
  • Polypnea (panting)
  • Fever
  • Death
  • Hypersalivation
  • Coughing/gagging

There’s a long list of more severe reactions that happened in less than 1.5% of dogs in Immiticide field trials. Here are just a few from that list.

  • Abdominal bleeding and pain
  • DIC (abnormal blood clotting)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Anemia
  • Seizures
  • Pneumonia

Immiticide Deaths

Dogs do die with melarsomine treatment. In Immiticide field trials, 5.2% of dogs with class 1 and 2 heartworm disease died. 18.2% of dogs with class 3 disease died. In another study of 15 dogs with class 3 disease, 5 dogs died following treatment.

So this is a very scary drug that you should avoid if you can.

Note: The slow-kill treatment method described below does not include Immiticide injections. So it’s worth exploring if you prefer a pharmaceutical option.

Side Effects To Watch For

During treatment, you’ll need to monitor your dog for any of the following symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive sluggishness
  • Respiratory distress
  • Coughing up blood

These last 3 are serious and you must tell the vet immediately.

Restricted Activity During Treatment

Your dog must be on strict crate rest for the entire treatment period, until 6-8 weeks after the last Immiticide injection at 90 days. So that means your dog is confined for up to 5 months. During that time your dog can only go out on leash, to restrict his activity level.

Here’s the dire warning the AHS gives about that …

“Because exercise increases blood flow to the lungs, it increases the likelihood that dead worms will block blood flow. This can result in severe complications and possibly death. The importance of restricting your dog’s activity cannot be overemphasized.”

But they’re not exaggerating. This is a real risk with conventional heartworm treatment.

Cost Of Conventional Heartworm Treatment

The cost estimates for this treatment vary widely. They’ll depend on any complications and whether your dog needs to be hospitalized during the process. But you can plan on spending at least $1000, probably more in some cities. Some dog owners report spending as much as $2,000.

What About Slow-Kill Heartworm Treatment?

There’s another type of conventional heartworm treatment. It’s known as the “slow-kill” method. Some dog owners choose this treatment. It involves giving heartworm preventive drugs for a year or longer, usually alongside doxycycline.

The slow-kill method doesn’t use Immiticide injections.

The AHS strongly discourages the slow-kill method. That means most vets probably will be reluctant too.

They say slow-kill is less effective … and that damage to your dog’s organs will continue during treatment. It could also mean a much longer period of confinement for your dog.

But in fact, there’s research showing that giving preventive drugs in conjunction with doxycycline can be effective. And the studies show it doesn’t take nearly as long as the AHS says.

So if your dog has heartworms and you prefer a more conventional treatment … the slow-kill method can be a good alternative.

But no matter which method you choose … conventional heartworm treatment is a difficult undertaking because of …

  • High risk of complications and side effects (including death)
  • Inconvenience
  • High cost
  • Poor quality of life for your dog, with 5 months or more confinement

Fortunately, there are some natural alternatives to the conventional treatment.

Natural Alternatives To Conventional Heartworm Treatment

Caution: Heartworm isn’t something to treat at home by yourself. It’s a good idea to get guidance from a holistic vet or herbalist.

You can find a holistic vet at ahvma.org or a homeopathic vet at theavh.org. Many will do phone consults, so they don’t have to be local.

Here are some of the options for your heartworm-positive dog.

Herbal Heartworm Formula

This formula is from Steve Marsden DVM, in the Manual of Natural Veterinary Medicine. Again, don’t use it on your own because you’ll need a holistic vet’s advice on dosing.

The tincture blend contains:

  • 14 ml ginger
  • 9 ml wormwood*
  • 4 ml garlic
  • 14 ml thyme
  • 9 ml cinnamon

Dosage: Ask your holistic vet or herbalist about the right dosage for your dog. Dr Marsden suggests a starting dose of 0.1 ml per 5 lbs of body weight, divided into 2 or 3 doses per day.

*Wormwood can cause gastrointestinal irritation. Giving the tincture separately in a gelatin capsule with meals can reduce the effect. Before using wormwood, read the additional comments under Black Walnut And Wormwood.

Add Bromelain

Dr Marsden has used the above herbal blend successfully in his practice. He gives it along with Bromelain.

Bromelain is an enzyme extracted from pineapples. It helps break down the dead worms. This can lower the chances of your dog getting a pulmonary embolism from worm die-off.

Bromelain is available at many health stores. You can also buy digestive enzymes for dogs that include bromelain. Dr Marsden recommends a starting dose of 30 mg per lb of body weight. Divide this into two or three daily doses and give it two hours away from meals.

Ready-Made Herbal Blends

There are some ready-made herbal remedies available to help your dog eliminate heartworms.

When you look for a remedy, you’ll find the company website usually won’t directly say their products kill heartworms. That’s because the FDA won’t let them make that claim for natural products. 

So they have to be subtle in the language they use to describe their product. They’ll say things like …

  • Supports normal heart function
  • Promotes healthy blood circulation
  • Helps detox foreign contaminates

This means you might have to call the company to find out if it really can get rid of heartworms. They’ll be more open on the phone.

These remedies may include ingredients like …

  • Hawthorn (a heart-strengthening herb that helps circulation)
  • Dandelion leaves (help with detox)
  • Garlic (anti-parasitic, immune support and insect repellent)
  • Neem (immune support, insect repellent)
  • Wormwood (antiparasitic)
  • Black Walnut (antiparasitic)
  • Black seed (antiparasitic)

Don’t hesitate to call the manufacturer to find out more. They should tell you by phone if their herbal blend can help your dog with heartworm disease.

Follow the manufacturer’s dosing directions.

Black Walnut And Wormwood

There are several products and protocols using these two powerful herbs. Some have found them effective. But there are risks of side effects.

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra): Strong tannins, volatile oils and alkaloid ingredients can cause vomiting and diarrhea.

Wormwood (Artemisa absinthum): The volatile oil thujone can harm the liver, kidneys and nervous system. Never use wormwood in dogs with liver or kidney problems or seizures.

Avoid both herbs with pregnant or lactating animals.

Again … it’s a good idea to get guidance about these herbs from your holistic vet or herbalist. They can be toxic if used incorrectly.

Some heartworm treatment products and protocols that include black walnut and wormwood are:

The Importance Of Diet And Environment

A great diet and minimal toxins are always the key to good health for your dog. And they’re even more vital if your dog has heartworm disease.

A strong immune system will support your dog’s body as it works to expel the parasites. Help him by following these guidelines … 

Manage Your Dog’s Activity

Even using natural remedies, your dog should only do light activities. Depending on his energy level, he may not need to be on full crate rest (as he would with conventional treatment). But he shouldn’t be too energetic.

Let him roam freely around the house or take him on short leash walks. But don’t let your dog play vigorously or get the zoomies around your house or yard.

When your dog runs or races around, his heartbeat goes up. This makes his blood flow faster. That can cause worms to detach and get into his blood stream.

I hope your dog never gets heartworms. But if he does, you have some options to avoid the very dangerous and expensive conventional treatment.

References

Knight DH, Lok JB. Seasonality of Heartworm Infection and implications for Chemoprophylaxls in the United States. Clinical Techniques In Small Animal Practice. Vol 13, No 2.May 1998

Nelson CT, Myrick ES, Nelson TA. Clinical benefits of incorporating doxycycline into a canine heartworm treatment protocol. Parasit Vectors. 2017 Nov 9;10(Suppl 2):515.

Kramer L et al. Wolbachia, doxycycline and macrocyclic lactones: New prospects in the treatment of canine heartworm disease. Vet Parasitol. 2018 Apr 30;254:95-97. 

Savadelis MD et al. Assessment of parasitological findings in heartworm-infected beagles treated with Advantage Multi® for dogs (10% imidacloprid + 2.5% moxidectin) and doxycycline. Parasit Vectors. 2017 May 19;10(1):245. 

Savadelis MD, et al. Efficacy and side effects of doxycycline versus minocycline in the three-dose melarsomine canine adulticidal heartworm treatment protocol. Parasit Vectors. 2018 Dec 27;11(1):671. 

Savadelis MD. Efficacy and side effects of doxycycline versus minocycline in the three-dose melarsomine canine adulticidal heartworm treatment protocol. Parasit Vectors. 2018 Dec 27;11(1):671. 

Adrian J Wooltenholme et al. The emergence of macrolycyclic lactone resistance in the canine heartworm, Dirofilaria immitis. 8 May 2015

Catherine Bourguinat et al. Macrocyclic lactone resistance in Dirofilaria immitis: Failure of heartworm preventives and investigation of genetic markers for resistance. Veterinary Parasitology, Volume 210, Issues 3–4, 2015, Pages 167-178.

Strickland KN. Canine and feline caval syndrome. Clin Tech Small Anim Pract. 1998 May;13(2):88-95. 

Christina M Boyé et al. Outcome of minimally invasive surgical treatment of heartworm caval syndrome in dogs: 42 cases (1999-2007). JAVMA 2010 236-2, 187-192.

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