Heartworms, officially known as Dirofilaria Immitis– are internal parasites that can infect small animals such as dogs, cats, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, ferrets, and wolves.
You don’t want to wait for your pet to show heartworm symptoms. Canine heartworm medicine is highly toxic and it’s best to use prevention….as the #1 line of defense.
Cases are reported in all 50 states….so no place in the US is completely safe year round.
Before buying heartworm medicine – these are the things to know to make a well-informed decisions.:
- How heartworm parasites are transmitted and how to break the life cycle
- The REAL risk to your pet based on your “mosquito season”
- Symptoms of heartworm disease
- Benefits and drawbacks of prescription heartworm prevention treatments
- Benefits and drawbacks of natural heartworm prevention treatment
- The #1 FREE thing to protect your pet.
How Your Dog Gets Infected – Heartworm Disease Transmission
Heartworm prevention is a necessary health consideration for pet parents. Get the facts to make an educated decision and help increase the odds of a happy healthy life for your pet.
This highly infectious disease is spread by mosquitoes which inject heartworm larvae when they bite your pet. This early stage of the parasite (microfalaria) moves through your dog’s blood system and finally settles into the heart tissue where they grow to adult worm form in the right chamber of your dog’s heart.
If both male and females worms are present they can reproduce. Full blown heartworm disease can show as many as 300 worms in the dog’s heart.
While your dog is infected with larvae in his system other mosquitoes can pick up the infected blood by biting your dog and then pass the disease on to other uninfected animals.
Heartworms can cause serious health problems including heart failure (and death). Recovery treatments can be painful for your dog and expensive. This is a deadly disease and will be fatal to your pet if left untreated. They key factor in the cycle of this disease is “the mosquito”. It takes about 6 months for the larvae to travel to the heart and develop to the adult stage (6 stages in the growth cycle).
Symptoms of Heartworm Disease in Dogs
- Lack of energy
- Loss of appetite
- weight loss
- respiratory problems
- no desire for exercise
Heartworm Prevention Treatments – Prescription vs Natural
Let’s be clear on heartworm prevention. Monthly medicine prescribed by your vet does NOT prevent this disease.
The heartworm prevention is a chemical poison (the monthly chews like Heartgard, Advantix, Sentinel, and Interceptor) that kills any heartworm larvae your dog may have been exposed to (by the bite from an infected mosquito).
You are killing the larvae (if present) – not preventing your dog from getting exposed to the disease carrying parasite.
Some form of preventative prescription treatments are “multipurpose” which treats for other forms of worms and parasites. Using these products will protect your dog from heartworm larvae but you are over medicating your dog by treating for these other parasites that your dog probably doesn’t have.
Personally I recommend only using a preventative medicine that targets heartworms only. Why subject your pet to other chemicals if it’s not necessary?
These are medications that your veterinarian must prescribe for you to be able to buy for your pet….whether buying them at your dog’s clinic or online it will require a prescription to make a purchase.
The good part is that these drugs will kill the heartworm larvae and it will be breaking the life cycle of the parasite. The downside of these meds is that they are slowly poisoning your pet.
I believe in opting for natural solutions for my pets but heartworm prevention is serious. There are herbal and natural remedies out there but they also come with concerns.
Many natural heartworm treatment options include “black walnut” and “garlic” as ingredients which the Pet Poison Hotline has listed as “toxic” items to dogs. But remember the conventional treatments (prescription meds are just as deadly). Black Walnut is viable herbal treatment but your will need to proceed with extreme caution.
Going with a natural treatment avoids the chemical exposure present with prescription drugs but they are possibly exposing your pet to other health risks. Before experimenting with any herbal or homeopathic treatment please be sure to consult a holistic veterinarian.
Know the current health of your pet – Test your dog!
The first step is get your dog tested for heartworm infection. NEVER give your dog any form of heartworm prevention (Rx or natural) before you get this test. Treating you dog with heartworm prevention medication while your dogs is infected. Your veterinarian typically will do a SNAP test which is a blood work screen testing for signs of diseases such as heartworm and Lyme disease. This is a convenient test because it requires only a small amount of blood and can be done in minutes.
Confirm the diagnosis before deciding on any form of treatment.
Heartworm Cures for your Dog
So really how dangerous is the heartworm disease to your dog? Well, in a word, it can be….fatal.
True story—We adopted a rescue dog who was carrying the disease when we welcomed her into our home. We did not find out she was infected until 4 months later. That’s when symptoms of the advanced stages showed up. Her subsequent treatments really took a toll on her system….resulting in her being permanently damaged from the disease and treatment.
Basically, once a dog is diagnosed with adult parasites in the heart…. they must undergo (Immiticide) injections (starting with lots of prep work) to kill the adult worms. This is not medicine- this is a pesticide that poisons the adult worms.
This deadly treatment is a dangerous chemical that your dog is exposed to…because of this there can be serious side effects…. and permanent health implications. Think of it as a form of chemotherapy.
After treatment, this will be a dangerous period for your dog. The drugs injected into your pet will destroy the parasites…. and break them up. Serious infections can also be a health risk.
Depending on the severity of your dog’s condition your vet may also prescribe antibiotics as part of the treatment.
After Treatment- What Next?
A recovery period of restricted movement for your pet is required…because you want to keep the dead worms from getting back into your dogs blood system. This means lots of crate time if your dog is an active pet- up to a month or two.
Eventually these “worms chunks” are absorbed into your dog’s body.
This absorption period can take weeks or months…. and your pet is at severe risk of additional health problems such as seizure, shock, diarrhea, and vomiting.
It’s important your pet is kept calm with complete rest immediately follow this treatment (your vet will advise on a proper recuperative period).
Long term health effects from the adult worm damage to your dogs heart and lungs as well as the poisonous treatment can leave your dog with chronic health challenges.
So, is it worth it to have heartworm prevention medicine? My answer is…YES…heartworm prevention costs around $5-$15 a month and the cost to treat a dog with heartworms will cost between $400 and $1,200 (plus the health cost to your pet and the stress and emotional capital for you).
Heartworm Risk for your Dog
Preventive care against this disease begins with reducing the exposure risks to your dog. This parasite needs the mosquito to spread and thrive. So mosquito control is one of the most important things you can do to break this cycle.
Even with strict heartworm preventative medicine treatment for your dog – you still need to do everything you can to limit her exposure to this disease.
The #1 FREE thing you can do for your dog in regard to Heartworm Prevention is to limit your pet’s exposure to mosquitoes.
What is your mosquito season? How this disease can be transmitted depends on your climate…. your mosquito season.
The parasite life cycle cannot be completed unless temperatures are at 57 degrees for at least 45 days. During this window – temps need to be above 80 degrees for at least two weeks.
So, if your climate hasn’t hit these marks then your pet is most likely safe without preventative medicine (at this time).
Most vets will recommend that your pet stays on monthly heartworm prevention year round…. but you can see this may not be needed.
So now you know the truth – and you can have that conversation with your vet.
Very few states would require year round prevention – deep south states including Texas and Florida probably are close to 12 month coverage.
Mosquito Protection for Your Dog
Limit peak mosquito hours – mosquitoes are most active during dusk and dawn hours. Avoid walking your dog during these high activity times. Never leave your dog outside for long periods during these times. NEVER use human mosquito spray on dogs.
Avoid having standing or stagnant water around your house – Mosquitoes need water to hatch and survive. There are lots of places water can collect around your property. Those area turn into mosquito breeding grounds.
Empty the bottoms of plant pots…. avoid anything that can collect water. Anything in your yard like a bottle cap….or a plastic bag can hold enough water to start a mosquito nursery. Grill and pool covers…water bowls…. and mud puddles are common collection points.
Limit the use of pesticides on your property– These poisons kill everything…. including the “good” insects you want around to eat mosquitoes. Dragonflies, spiders, and ants all eat mosquitoes.
The Heartworm Bottom Line
Heartworm disease is serious business. Don’t ignore it…it’s a real threat to your dog. Let’s recap:
- Get your pet tested. SNAP test as a screening test
- Discuss heartworm prevention options with your vet
- Discuss your mosquito season and the number of months that are a REAL threat of exposure
- Get rid of mosquito hatcheries around your house
- Take preventive measures on mosquito exposure with avoiding high mosquito times and using pet mosquito repellent
- Seek a second opinion when exploring holistic treatments
Time to BUG Out!
Quick reminder—the content of this website is not meant to replace veterinary advice.
Please consult with your pets veterinarian before administering any form of treatment (prescription or natural) to your dog. So if you would like to explore holistic or homeopathic treatment options, and your current vet does not make those types of recommendations, you can find a vet at the American Holisitic Veterinary Medical Association. Do not experiment with your dog.
If you have any questions please feel free to leave me a comment below.
Best of luck in your dogs continued good health.