The cause of heartworms is mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes carry these parasites that enter the bloodstream as larvae and migrate to the heart. Six months after reaching the heart, the larvae turn into adults, and that's
when problems begin. Full-grown heartworms may eventually fill the heart, blocking flow of blood to the lungs and doing damage
to the heart. Often, by the time you see symptoms, they've already done some damage to the heart.
What the average pet owner is not aware of, is just how perfect the conditions have to be for a dog to get heartworms in the first place:
has 5 separate larval stages referred to simply as L1, L2, L3, and so on. It also has two separate cycles which have to be combined to makeup the lifecycle of the heartworm. Only one cycle takes place in a mosquito and the other inside a dog.
The mosquito becomes infested when it bites a dog which is already harboring L1 (MICROFILARIAE). *This can only happen if the dog is also harboring the L5, which is the adult, male and female heartworm as the Microfilariae are their offspring. These Microfilariae can live for up two years in the dogs blood but must be taken up by a mosquito in order to develop any further. If they are not taken up by a mosquito to further develop, they will simply die of old age.
Once the mosquito is infested, the larva must then go through two stages of development or molts L2, and L3, before they can infect another dog. This, mosquito, stage takes anywhere from two weeks to several months depending on the weather. The warmer the weather the faster the development.
The importance of temperature:
While the larva are developing within the mosquito, the temperature MUST remain above 57 degrees Fahrenheit at all times, day and night. If at any time during the mosquito stage the temperature drops below 57 degrees F, the development is halted and it must start all over again. It is only the L3 larva which are capable of infesting your dog.
So, now let's say that a mosquito has bitten an infested dog and the temperature has remained above 57 F for a minimum of 14 days since that bite and the mosquito bites your dog. Still your dog is not infested because the L3 larva are deposited in a tiny droplet of mosquito saliva adjacent to the bite not actually injected into your dog as many would have us believe.
Providing the humidity and temperature are such that the droplet does not evaporate, the L3 larva must then swim through the droplet of saliva and into the mosquito bite, thereby entering your dogs system. Once inside your dog the L3 larva must spend the next two weeks or so developing into the L4 larva. During this period of time the larva is living in the skin, not the blood of the newly infested dog. The L4 will continue to live and develop in the skin for the next three or four months where it will finally develop into the L5 stage.
Once it makes this development into the L5 it then leaves the skin and enters the circulatory system. The L5 or young adult then migrates to the heart and pulmonary arteries. Once there it will mate approximately 5 to 7 months after entering the dog's body. That is of course assuming that the dog has been infested with both male and female larva. This mating produces the Microfilariae.
is by far the most important part of medicine. As you all know by now, I am convinced that having a very strong immune system is of the utmost importance to your dog. I believe that a strong healthy dog will throw off parasites and illness all on its own.
With that said, dogs that are not at their peak of health should be first started with a good diet, I recommend a raw, species appropriate diet first and foremost. At the very least a home cooked diet, supplementation and general remedies for a period of time to strengthen their immune system. Then, the wonderful, natural treatment effects will kick in!
If your dog has been diagnosed with heartworm, it is imperative that you improve his or her immune system as stated above and don't cheat your dog out of perfect health.
Dr Jeffery Levy, feels as I do about the importance of treating the dog, not the heartworm.(emphasis is mine)
"The objective of treating a dog with heartworm should NOT be to get rid of the heartworm. You're not treating the heartworm, you're treating the dog... It makes a lot more sense to measure the treatment by looking at the dog's quality of life. So, he is positive for heartworm. The fact is, heartworms have been around forever and dogs and heartworms have been coexisting for all eternity. It's actually a relatively recent phenomenon that dogs are dying from heartworm. Heartworm is not, by any means, the death penalty it's made out to be. The dogs that die from heartwom are the dogs that are being vaccinated, fed processed pet food and are being treated with suppressive drugs for every little thing that comes along"."
Did you catch that? This is so vitally important to note. Please re-read that last sentence above again.
I (as well as other veterinary naturopaths and many holistic vets) maintain that, "Allopathic medicine is based on fear - fear of disease, fear of pathogens, fear of death. It's fear-based medicine. Allopathic/fear based medicine has been the approach that's been used to get people to use heartworm preventives. It is not to say that heartworms don't exist, obviously, they do. The very same fear-based approach is used as the main basis of vaccinations and for a lot of things.
Disease, illness and symptoms come from within. A relatively healthy animal will not be susceptible to those things. So the ultimate answer is not to prevent heartworm (or distemper or parvo or whatever), by some artificial means, but rather to work on improving and maintaining good health. To the degree that you can improve your dog's level of health, disease of any kind becomes less threatening."
(See my articles on the immune system)Here
NOW, realize this, a dog must be essentially healthy in order to resist succumbing to heartworm (or its treatments). This statement is more than just an idle observation, it is the principle that ensures the survival of wild canines, who (think about this now...) suffer far greater exposure to heartworm-carrying mosquitoes then our domestic pets; however, they succumb in far lesser numbers than our domestic dogs!
Dr. William Falconer, a veterinarian with a homeopathic practice in Austin, Texas states: "The heartworm has been out there forever as far as we know, but we don't read reports of wolves and coyotes being wiped out by heartworm, and yet domestic dogs are falling prey to it."
Interesting point, don't you think?
So why are our pets/domesticated dogs falling prey to heartworms? Surely they are healthier then the wild canines, with all our feeding of "scientifically balanced", processed foods and vaccinating them to prevent them from getting all the nasty and sometimes fatal diseases right? ... WRONG!
We are vaccinating our dogs way too much and way too often, we are feeding them poor nutrition to say the least, and we are using chemical pesticides to kill their fleas, ticks and any internal parasites they may have. All of these things combine to weaken their immune systems, and their immunity is the only thing that can save them.
On the other hand, foxes, coyotes, and wolves go un-vaccinated, eat only raw meat, bones, and a very few herbs and/or berries when there is no meat available. These wild canines are never exposed to the dozens of toxic chemicals we use to kill fleas, ticks and even heartworm on our dogs and in our homes. Interesting that some coyotes and foxes have been found through research, to be able to "fight off" heartworm infestations and some others become host to the parasite however, in small enough numbers that the heartworms don't threaten their hosts' lives.
Dr Jeffery Levy again thinks as I do and states: "Thanks in large part to the scare tactics of many veterinarians in promoting (so called) preventive drugs, many people believe that contracting heartworms is the equivalent of a death sentence for their dogs. This is not true."
Dr Levy concluded as I and many other have from this; that it is not the heartworms that caused disease, but the other factors that damaged the dogs' health/immune system to the point that they could no longer compensate for an otherwise tolerable parasite load. "It is not really that different from the common intestinal roundworms, in that most dogs do not show any symptoms. Only a dog whose health is compromised is unable to tolerate a few worms. Furthermore, a truly healthy dog would not be susceptible to either type of worm in the first place. It seems to me that the real problem is that allopathic attitudes have instilled in many of us a fear of disease, fear of pathogens and parasites, fear of rabies, as if these are evil and malicious entities just waiting to lay waste to a naive and unprotected public."
Whichever end of the scale holistic veterinarians and veterinary naturopaths, place themselves on, we all agree about the first step toward heartworm prevention and treatment: A dog must be essentially healthy in order to resist succumbing to heartworm (or its treatments). This is more than an idle observation, it is the principle that ensures the survival of wild canines, who suffer far greater exposure to heartworm-carrying mosquitoes but succumb from the parasites in far lesser numbers than domestic dogs.
Parasites were never intended to kill their hosts. It and when they do, then you can be assured that something is very out of balance. A parasite's whole evolutionary thrust is to continue to live/survive its life cycle; if it kills its host, then there is a dead end. The fact that our dogs are dying of this disease in greater and greater numbers indicates loudly that something is way out of whack!
Given the wild canine's innate efficiency in dealing with heartworm, virtually all veterinary naturopaths and holistic practitioners, recommend utilizing as many aspects of the wild canine's lifestyle as is practical for domestic dogs, including, most importantly, a natural diet of raw meat and bones, minimal vaccination, and severely
curtailed exposure to flea/tick -killing pesticides. Just STOP using them! There are many alternative, healthy ways of preventing and even killing pests but again, a healthy immune system is the key.
Animals with healthy, balanced immune systems are not in need of any specific preventives because their very lifestyle is their preventative!
As stated above, the best prevention is a healthy lifestyle with the elimination of over vaccinating and chemicals as well as raw meaty bone diet.
I get emails and questions from people quite often, wanting to know if they only give one heartgard chew every few months instead of monthly if that would be safer... Or, if there is a "safe" heartworm pesticide they can give their dog in the mean time while they are working on getting their dog (and/or cat) on a more healthy way of life. The following is for you:
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 65% of adverse drug reactions and 48% of all reported deaths
resulting from drug reactions are caused by heartworm preventatives. The potential side effects of Ivermectin (the
active ingredient in Heartgard) include liver problems, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, depression, lethargy,
skin eruptions, seizures, tremors, paralysis, autoimmune disorders, thyroid problems, fever, weakness, dizziness, coughing,
nose bleeds, difficulty breathing, pneumonia, irritability, sudden aggressive behavior, nerve damage, fertility problems,
and sudden death. Other chemical heartworm preventatives have many of the same side effects.
These drugs weaken your pet's immune system which recognizes the chemicals as poison. The body works hard to eliminate the
toxins and major organs, like the liver and kidneys, are taxed. For this reason, the pet's body is not able to handle
contact with the normal bacterial or viral substances in our world, so it gets sick more easily.
Part of the veterinary industry has acknowledged these dangers. These "alternative vets" are open to natural, safe
and effective alternatives. Many of these vets believe that the long-term use of heartworm prevention drugs are a link in
the chain of diseases such as arthritis, liver and kidney diseases, skin allergies, and many types of cancers.
Please, understand, when your dog is on Heartworm pills or chews (all pesticides), mosquitoes will still be attracted to your dog and will still bite them. The key is to get the blood of your pet in a healthy enough condition that the mosquitoes won't want it. Healthy dogs actually have a bitter tasting blood to parasites. Un-healthy dog's blood is more attractive them and may taste sweet to them.
For those of you just changing your pet over to a natural lifestyle and are looking for a natural prevention in addition to nutrition and minimal vaccinating, there are some Natural Heartworm Prevention Programs
Mosquitoes are a parasite. Many herbs and essential oils have anti-parasitic properties that will discourage not only mosquitoes, but fleas and ticks as well.
Herbs such as Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), Clove Flower Buds (Eugenia
caryophyllata), Garlic (Allium sativum),Spearmint Herb (Mentha spicata), Turmeric Root (Curcuma longa), Black Walnut
(Juglans nigra), and Wormwood (Artemisia annua) are examples of what can be used to formulate an effective preventative and are used by some as part of a treatment program for pets already heavily infested.
Were you aware that dogs and cats have their own way of protecting themselves from mosquitoes? They
instinctively will avoid the hot, muggy places where mosquitoes congregate and spend time in the cool, dry areas. You may also notice them roll in the dust or even mud to remove moisture from the skin and change their scent to be less attractive to mosquitoes.
Again, I stress, prevention of any dis-ease comes from proper, species appropriate nutrition. With proper carnivore nutrition, they will develop and maintain a strong immune system. It is pretty rare for worms to kill dogs. They will die eventually when their environment is not conducive to their own life and perpetuation. However, remember if your dog has a low
immune system, the parasites they may be host to are more likely to reproduce and take over with infestation.
Proper nutrition is the foundation for thriving health. Proper nutrition for a carnivore is raw meat, bones and organs. While a home cooked diet is better then kibble or canned, processed foods, it is still lacking in the live enzymes, amino acids, etc. needed for perfect health. If you are interested in learning how to feed your dog a raw diet and just beginning your homework and research, please consider using a freeze dried or dehydrated raw diet in the mean time. At the very least, feed them a diet layered with dehydrated raw containg NO grains or potatoes so they are getting SOME live, vital nutrients.
There are several great Natural Preventative Programs out there. However, PLEASE Remember, the key is to keep your dogs healthy with a strong immune system; not to rely on herbs or other modalities while still feeding junk food, vaccinating and using chemicals on your pets.
If you live in a region with a large mosquito population and/or your dog has been on a not so perfect, kibble diet and regularly vaccinated until now, you may want to use an herbal/botanical approach which can be used with the support and supervision of a veterinary naturopath or qualified holistic veterinarian.
Since the best way to prevent heartworms is clearly having the dogs immune system in tip
top shape, I do want to share two products that science has proven work to improve the immune system:
Humic extracts, specifically Fulvic/Humic Acids.
Medical/Therapeutic grade essential oils (Young Living)
Medicinal mushrooms work together to boost the body's immune response to viruses, bacteria and many harmful pathogens. The formula Dr. Jeannie uses and recommends - K9 Adaptogen Myco Formula, delivers the health benefits of over 200 naturally occurring mushroom molecules now known to optimize overall immune system performance.
Fulvic Acidsare an ultramicroscopic substance that has a most unique messaging relay system that is activated when it comes into contact
with living organisms. Fulvic/Humic Acid sensitizes cells, passing on unique information related to
immunity. It also has been shown to assist in activating protection and defense mechanisms that are able to be passed on and remain with the organism for life, even with just one contact.
Pure Humicin which is a Humic Acid/Fulvic Acid product.
There are Essential Oils that when in their pure, therapeutic form (such as Young Living Essential Oils) that are wonderful mosquito deterrents for both pets and people!
I personally make up and use a mist/spray made of 1 cup of distilled water with 10 drops
of geranium OR 4 drops each of lemongrass, grapefruit and peppermint. Shake before spraying. I use this on myself as well as the dogs as a great mosquito and bug repellant when I am out in the garden in the evening. Nice and safe with no worries of toxic chemicals on the skin.
Another great mosquito repellant spray made with essential oils is as follows:
20 drops of each of the following oils per 14oz of witch hazel or distilled water:
Lavender - 12 drops
Citronella - 15 drops
Lemongrass - 15 drops
Mix them with 14 oz of witch hazel in a glass bottle, shake well and spray the pet down every time it goes outside. If it stays outside all the time, then it is suggested using Purification "neat" along the spine and on the tips of the ears 2 - 3 times a day. (This will also help deter flies)
There a many essential oils that make very effective and safe insect deterrents. You may want to try some different combinations for yourself to see what works best for you and your dogs.
Again, PLEASE NOTE! ONLY Young Living Essential Oils are recommended or used by the Whole Dog as we know these oils to be 100% pure, organic and therapeutic grade.
So in a nutshell, keeping your pet parasite free, whether it's heartworms or other parasites, requires good whole nutrition which means a raw or home cooked diet or at the very least and natural source supplements.
If you haven't read *what's in pet food*, please do.
I do not recommend people take their dogs off their
heartworm medications unless they agree to do so with their holistic vet or veterinary naturopath's supervision.
Find a veterinary naturopath or
or holistic veterinarian to work with you through a consultation
Copyright 2013 This article is the sole property of Jeanette (Jeannie) Thomason and The Whole Dog. It cannot be reproduced in any form whatsoever without the expressed written consent of the author.