protecting your dog from Heartworm

Protecting your dog from heartworm is a pretty hot topic. While many pet owners are ready to jump on the whole food and no/fewer vaccinations bandwagon, they quickly put on the brakes when it comes to packing it in on the heartworm meds. And why wouldn’t they – nobody wants their dog to die of a preventable disease.

But if we’re talking about what’s preventable, let’s talk hard facts.

Before I begin, I’d like to share a comment that was left by a vet on our 5 Steps To Prevent Cancer post:

“As a veterinarian, I can tell you that you are absolutely incorrect in your statement that “healthy dogs aren’t good hosts for parasites.” Healthy dogs are GREAT hosts for many parasites including fleas, ticks, and heartworms. I would like to see a scientific journal backing your claim that homeopathic vets have seen “great success” in treating heartworms naturally. Do you have any sort of medical training? Are you a veterinarian? Do you have an advanced science degree? If not, I don’t think that you should be presenting highly misleading (and incorrect) information regarding something in which you have no training. The fact of the matter is that parasiticides DO often have toxic chemicals in them, but the safety margin is so high that only a small percentage of pets get ill. For me, I always balance risk vs. benefit. For example, although heartworm is found in all 50 states, it is MUCH more prevalent in the south. I would absolutely recommend that all healthy dogs in this area take heartworm prevention, because the chance of catching this deadly disease (and it is deadly) is extremely high.”

Well, I do actually have an advanced degree in physiology, so thanks for that! No, I’m not a vet, but forgive me because I’m going to share my two cents worth anyway – because somebody without any ties to people who are making money off heartworm medications has to stand up and tell the truth – and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.

What Are You Protecting Your Dog From?

Here’s my favorite question for dog owners: if you’re giving your dog monthly heartworm preventives, what are you protecting him from? Well, heartworm, right?

But I would like for somebody to answer this question that I seem to be the only one asking:

Why is the risk of heartworm disease unacceptable while the risk of death and illness from heartworm preventives is widely accepted?

Read that question again. Now please tell me why you think that is.

Here’s my thoughts: it’s because the drug manufacturers have told us those side effects and adverse events are OK. They’ve also scared us into thinking that heartworm, especially in the southern states, is a larger problem than it is. So we risk the adverse events in exchange for the protection given by heartworm meds. Because unprotected dogs get heartworm, right?

Well, not exactly.

What About The Wild Dogs?

Now, the vet who left her comment, like most conventional vets, has urged everybody in the southern states to use heartworm preventives because the risk is “extremely high.” If that were true, wouldn’t the wild dog populations be decimated? Because heartworm really seems to like dogs as a host, those wolves and coyotes must be really hard hit, right?

Well here’s something that’s interesting. Researchers have looked at the effect that heartworm has had on the wolf and wild dog populations. If we really want to know the real risk of heartworm disease, we should look at those animals who are exposed to mosquitoes 24/7 without any protection whatsoever.

Let’s first look at  a study examining wolves in Wisconsin. They captured adult wolves and took some blood to see what diseases they were exposed to. From 19991 to 1996, only 2% of those captured wolves were found to have any trace of heartworm.

That’s a pretty small percentage.

Well, I guess you could argue that’s a northern state, where heartworm is less rampant. I’ll give you that, but suffice it to say that it might not be all that great an idea for people living in those areas to expose their dog to the risk of heartworm meds for such a slight chance of getting some heartworms.

Notice I said some heartworms, not heartworm infestation. There’s a difference but we’ll get to that later.

Now, some vets may argue that the risk of adverse events from heartworm “preventives” is pretty low – but there are already 700 dogs reported dead this year alone from just one product. Thousands of other dogs suffer from neurological complaints, cancer, hypothyroidism, blindness, skin disease and more from the use of heartworm products. And that’s because…

These Drugs Are Meant To Kill Things

Have you ever opened the safety data sheet from these seemingly harmless products? Open it up and here’s what you’ll find:

“In case of ingestion by humans, clients should be advised to contact a physician immediately. Physicians may contact a Poison Control Center for advice concerning cases of ingestion by humans.”

So wait a minute – it’s OK for a ten pound dog to take this, but if a 100 to 200 pound human takes it, we should call the Poison Control Center immediately?

See, this is where clever marketing and fear comes into play. You have this substance that, if ingested, is considered a poison and warrants a doctor’s appointment – immediately. But the manufacturers of this product scare the heck out of us – and our vets – with the threat of heartworm and somehow make us think that it’s a good idea to give our pets these drugs because the risk is worth the benefit.

[NOTE: YES, you can prevent heartworm without meds! Click Here and we’ll show you what simple test you can use to safely replace heartworm meds]

But here’s the question we have to ask if we’re going to fairly evaluate whether we should use these poisonous products on our pets:

Heartworm dogsHow Deadly Is Heartworm?

Now I know all you rescue people in the south are crying foul at the moment – I’ll get to you soon because I know you’re concerned about all those rescue dogs who are infected with heartworm.

So on one hand, we seem to have 700 dogs reportedly dead this year from one heartworm product alone. So what is the risk for those dogs who get heartworm? From the FDA website:

“Heartworms can kill a dog. More likely, though, heartworms will make dogs extremely sick. Dogs infected with heartworm can be successfully treated; however, such treatment may be inconvenient and emotionally stressful for the owner.”

So your dog, even if he’s carrying a heavy heartworm load, is unlikely to die. The treatment (at least the conventional treatment – for natural treatment options refer to the May 2013 issue of Dogs Naturally Magazine), is inconvenient and emotionally stressful for the owner. OK, got it. For me, that’s not a good enough reason to feed MY dogs that poison.

And the good news is that I don’t have to. Because my dogs have something in common with those wolves from the study: they aren’t taking heartworm preventives and they’re not getting heartworm.

But the conventional vets don’t understand this concept. They can’t see how this can happen. This is what they say:

“I can tell you that you are absolutely incorrect in your statement that “healthy dogs aren’t good hosts for parasites.” Healthy dogs are GREAT hosts for many parasites including fleas, ticks, and heart worms.”

Well, the nice vets at the Heartworm Society might disagree with you there. This might interest you:

“Single sex heartworm infections, host immune responses affecting the presence of circulating microfilariae and the administration of heartworm preventives can be factors which produce occult infections in dogs.”

An occult heartworm infection means that there is an infection of some sort but the microfilariae, or the heartworm offspring, aren’t found circulating around in the blood. So if all of the heartworms are of the same sex, or if the dog is taking preventives, then those little guys can’t reproduce and cause much of an issue.

While the vets and researchers may call this an occult infection, I might be inclined to call it a functioning immune system. Yes, that’s a novel concept for modern medicine.

Look at that quote again. If you go to the Heartworm Society, it’s easy to miss for all the talk about costly heartworm drugs. But there it is, nonetheless, shoved into a little corner and never mentioned again: Host immune responses affect the presence of circulating microfilariae.

In a nutshell, this means that dogs with functional immune systems aren’t good hosts for heartworms and other parasites. But the sad part is that few dogs these days have a strong immune system.

Canaries In A Coal Mine

Do you know what a canary in a coal mine is? Early coal miners didn’t have anything in the way of ventilation systems, so legend has it that miners would bring a caged canary into new coal seams. Canaries are especially sensitive to methane and carbon monoxide, which made them ideal for detecting any dangerous gas build-ups. As long as the bird kept singing, the miners knew their air supply was safe. A dead canary signaled an immediate evacuation. The phrase “living like a canary in a coal mine” often refers to serving as a warning to others.

Our dogs are canaries in a coal mine – but we don’t see it. We keep filling them with toxic chemicals like heartworm meds and, as long as they keep singing, we think they’re fine. But they’re not – something insidious is happening inside, while the toxins build up and, over either the short or long term, eventually kill or harm our dogs.

And the evidence has been right under our nose all along – you see, it’s the constant exposure to those heartworm drugs – the ones that should send humans to their doctors immediately – that makes dogs get heartworm!

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The Heartworm Society overlooks this fact, as do conventional vets, because they don’t understand what a healthy immune system – and hence a healthy dog – look like. As long as dogs are chronically exposed to heartworm poisons, flea and tick meds, processed foods, repeated vaccinations and drugs, they simply aren’t healthy – the immune system can’t possible keep up to that chemical onslaught.

So while the dog’s immune system is busy fighting off his last visit to the vet where he got flea and tick powder, vaccines, maybe some antibiotics, and even some nice, processed veterinary food, the microfilariae are free to take over because the defenses are taxed to the limit.

Is this just speculation? Maybe. But for those folks in the south, I’ve got something saved up that might give more credence to my thoughts.

What About The Southern States?

OK, here we are: the dreaded southern states! You probably noticed that the wolf study I mentioned was done in Wisconsin where the threat of heartworm is obviously lower than in the south. So what about the wolves who are living in the southern climate?

The Red Wolf was decimated and nearly extinct in 1980 but is being reintroduced throughout southeastern Texas, Florida and North Carolina – the states that are heartworm hotbeds.

The population has grown to 100 animals and they’re keeping very close tabs on them. Here’s something that’s interesting: most of the wolves are testing positive for heartworm – but the infestation hasn’t been shown to be a major source of mortality. (view the study here)

Now why do up to 45% of “unprotected” dogs living in the southern states suffer from heartworm while the wolves may have a couple of heartworms swimming around but rarely suffer from a life threatening infestation?

Why are our companion dogs so readily infected with heartworm?

Here’s an important thought from the late Dr Glen Dupree, a popular veterinary homeopath who resided in Louisiana and never treated or tested his dogs for heartworm:

“I operate under the assumption that all of my dogs have heartworms. But there’s a very big difference between having heartworms and heartworm disease.”

And that difference is a healthy immune system.

The constant flow of toxic chemicals gets in the way of good health. Common sense would tell you that it’s ridiculous to expose your dog to vaccines, neurotoxins, carcinogens and think that you’ve made him healthy.

How did giving poisonous products to healthy dogs to make them healthy become a viable treatment option? Where did it go so wrong?

I ask myself this question and when people say “I’ve put my dog on heartworm preventives,” I have to ask, “what exactly have you prevented?” And more importantly, “what is the cost?”

Why are we exposing 100% of our dogs to this poison when the reality of healthy dogs actually getting a heartworm infestation is about the same as those wolves who aren’t exposed to the same constant chemical onslaught?

We don’t know what a healthy dog is any longer. They are few and far between. But I assure you, they exist and they are living and thriving in the southern states without heartworm preventives.

So to answer the final question from that vet who challenged my thoughts: am I a vet? No, I’m not a vet. I’m just holding them accountable for the demise of healthy dogs.