Q. I'm relocating from the West coast and have never given my healthy (very!) 6 1/2 y o labradoodle heart worm medicine - is it necessary and if so, what's the least toxic, I hate for a preventitive treatment to harm him in other ways
A. This is an important topic, and is especially relevant in these warm months; when mosquitos are prevalent in many areas.
Heartworm disease is a very real disease in dogs and cats; and can lead to potentially life threatening complications. It is true that this disease is more common in certain parts of the country; as it is transmitted by mosquitos. In Tucson we very rarely see heartworm disease; and cases are usually attributed to the animal having travelled to another location where mosquitos are more common. Unfortunately in my practice in DC and during my time in Georgia and Florida, I diagnosed a few heartworm positive dogs; and the available western treatments were harsh.
In general in my practice I tend to favor a more "natural" approach over western medicine if I have a choice. Unfortunately, with heartworm disease, there is not much research regarding the prevention and treatment of this scary disease with herbal, homeopathic or dietary appraches; and there is a large amount of research supporting the efficacy and relative safety of western medications. That being said; I can tell you a bit about holistic approaches to this disease; and what I do with my own pets; and let you make the best decision for your family.
It is interesting to me that many non- domesticated animals (such as coyotes) seem resistant to heartworm disease (as in this study). While we could argue there are many differences between a coyote and a dog; one of the main ones is lifestyle: a "whole foods" diet and exercise.
To mimic the diet of a dog in it's natural habitat; and to help your pet build a strong immune system I would suggest a minimally processed, balanced diet. There are a few books with recipes for balanced "homemade diets"; or you can look at products such as The Honest Kitchen and Natures Variety Instinct raw. In my practice I evaluate a pets' overall health and particular imbalances as well as the medicinal properties of various foods when choosing the best diet for them. I also like to add probiotics and digestive enzymes (especially if your dog is on a raw food) to their food.
There are a few western herbs that are commonly used in the treatment and prevention of heartworm disease; however safety and efficacy studies have not been done. Please consult with your pet's veterinarian before trying these (for example, some herbs such as garlic and ginger can interfere with medications); and note that they should be discontinued with any adverse reactions such as diarrhea.
- Black Walnut: 1 capsule of ground herb/ day. This is often used to treat gastro intestinal parasites as well.
- Tincture formula: 14 ml Ginger, 9ml Wormwood, 4 ml Garlic, 14 ml Thyme, 9 ml Cinnamon. Give 0.1 ml ml of tincture per 5 lb of body weight; divide this into twice daily doses.
- Bromelein: to be given with above tincture formula to prevent potential complications from sudden worm "die-offs." Starting dose is 30 mg/ pound body weight devided into twice daily doses.
It is hard to say what the "safest" prescription product would be for your particular pet. In my practice I tend to favor the Ivermectin formulas (which have been around longer) over some of the newer formulas that aim to prevent many types of parasites at once. It should be noted that Ivermectin should never be used in certain breeds such as herding dogs; so check with your vet about your particular pet, though a labradoodle should be fine. For families with children; I would err on the side of caution and use a product (such as Ivermectin with Pyrantel) that also addresses gastro-intestinal worms; which can migrate into various parts of the human body and cause damage.
I hope this gives you some information and resources to help your decision making process for your pet. This is an important topic that all pet owners in areas with a humid, warm climate need to take seriously.
Gator enjoying the great outdoors :)