Many people are looking for ways to live a more natural lifestyle—and pet parents want to include their pets in this natural lifestyle as well.
While your veterinarian will wholeheartedly support some of your efforts—by helping you pick out an all-natural, nutritionally complete and balanced dog food, for example—they will put their foot down when it comes to more serious health concerns.
One natural approach they definitely won’t support is “natural” heartworm prevention. While you can find a myriad of online articles about common home remedies for heartworms, at the end of the day, prescription medication is the only effective option.
Are There Natural Heartworm Prevention Options?
While there are natural ways to slightly decrease the likelihood that your dog will develop heartworm disease, none are effective enough to make skipping prescription heartworm preventatives a wise or safe decision.
Since dogs contract heartworms through the bite of infected mosquitos, many common home remedies for heartworms involve making dogs less attractive to mosquitos.
The problem is that while mosquito repellents may reduce the number of mosquito bites, they don’t completely eliminate all bites. Just think back to the last time you were slathered in mosquito repellent but still came home with a couple of itchy welts.
Since one mosquito bite is all it takes for your dog to develop heartworm disease, ensuring fewer mosquito bites is not enough protection to be considered an effective, natural heartworm treatment.
Other natural heartworm prevention methods focus on building up a dog’s immune system so that it’s better able to fight off a heartworm infection.
Some of these approaches involve dietary changes or making sure your dog gets plenty of exercise. Your veterinarian will absolutely support a healthier lifestyle for your pup; however, a good diet and exercise regime is not going to protect your dog from heartworms.
Just like with people, a stronger immune system can help reduce the chances of contracting illness, but individuals who “do everything right” still get sick every day. The same can be said about “heartworm prevention” methods that use vitamins or other supplements.
Why Veterinary-Prescribed Heartworm Prevention Is Worth It
Here are several compelling arguments for using conventional heartworm prevention.
Heartworm Prevention Side Effects Are Very Rare
Like any medication, prescription heartworm prevention isn’t completely without risk. Side effects are possible, but most are quite mild and infrequent.
A small number of dogs may experience diarrhea, vomiting or lethargy after conventional heartworm prevention is administered. Seizures or other neurological complications are also possible, as are allergic reactions. And while some serious reactions like these have occurred, they are very rare.
Certain dogs may be more sensitive to particular types of medications, like those with the MDR1 genetic mutation (also known as ABCB1), which is relatively common in herding breeds.
However, FDA-approved heartworm medications are still very safe for these animals at the recommended dosages.
Most adverse reactions to heartworm medications occur in cases of overdose. Therefore, keeping medications in a secure location and using them as instructed will likely prevent your pet from experiencing them.
Heartworm Prevention Is Often Naturally Derived
Many pet owners who seek out natural heartworm prevention for dogs do so because they’re trying to avoid exposing their pets to synthetic chemicals. But many of the active ingredients in conventional heartworm preventatives are derived from natural sources.
Ivermectin (Heartgard, for example), milbemycin (Interceptor, for example) and moxidectin (Advantage Multi, for example) are compounds that come from the fermentation processes of organisms that live in dirt.
The doses of the medications used in heartworm preventatives are also very small. For example, the dosage of ivermectin used for heartworm prevention is 0.0006 mg/kg, while up to 0.4 mg/kg can be used for the treatment of other parasitic diseases in dogs.
Heartworm Prevention is Much Less Risky than Heartworm Disease Treatment
The risks of conventional heartworm prevention are much smaller than those associated with leaving your dog open to developing a potentially fatal case of heartworm disease.
Heartworm treatment is possible, but it is very expensive and involves the use of arsenical medications, which are far more dangerous than prescription heartworm preventatives.
Talk to your veterinarian if you’re concerned about overmedicating your dog. They can help you develop a preventative heartworm plan that is safe for your pet.
By: Jennifer Coates, DVM
Featured Image: iStock.com/TJ_Kloster
Related: 4 Myths About Heartworms