The Cause of Heartworms is infected 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:
Heartworm & The Perfect Storm
The heartworm 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 make up the life-cycle of the heartworm. Only one cycle takes place in a mosquito and the other inside a dog.
The mosquito becomes infected 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 dog’s 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 is 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.
Natural Heartworm Prevention
Prevention is by far the most important part of true medicine. As you all know by now, I am convinced that having a very strong immune system is of the utmost importance to prevent illness or dis-ease in our companion animals. I believe that a strong healthy animal 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 nutrient dense diet, a raw, species appropriate diet first and foremost.
At the very least a dehydrated or freeze dried, raw diet that does not contain any grains or vegetables along with species specific supplementation and general remedies for a period of time to strengthen and balance their immune system.
If your dog has been diagnosed with heartworm, it is imperative that you improve his or her immune system and don’t cheat your dog out of perfect, thriving wellness.
As an animal naturopath I believe in the importance of addressing and caring for the dog (the whole dog), not just the heartworm. “The objective being: NOT to focus on the heartworm, but attending to and addressing the wellness and balance of the whole dog… Mind, Body and Spirit. The fact is that heartworms have been around forever and dogs and heartworms have been coexisting for countless generations. 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 heartworm 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.
I maintain that, allopathic/conventional medicine (both human and animal) 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 so-called – 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 other things.
It needs to be understood that dis-ease/imbalance and symptoms of dis-ease come from within the body. A relatively healthy animal will not be susceptible to these things. So the ultimate answer is not really to prevent heartworm (or Distemper or Parvo virus or whatever), by some artificial means that compromise or weaken the immune system, but rather to work on improving and maintaining wellness/a strong, balanced immune system. To the degree that you can improve your dog’s level of health, then dis-ease of any kind becomes less threatening.
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…) should be suffering far greater exposure to heartworm-carrying mosquitoes then our domestic pets do; however, they succumb in far lesser numbers than our domestic dogs! Interesting point, don’t you think?
So why do you think that our domesticated dogs are falling prey to heartworms? Surely they are healthier than their wild canine cousins, right? After all, we are feeding our domesticated, companions “scientifically balanced”, processed foods and vaccinating them to “prevent” them from getting all the nasty and sometimes fatal viruses and diseases right? … WRONG!
We are vaccinating our dogs way too much and way too often, (this is a whole different can of worms here) we are feeding them poor to no true 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 own immunity is the only thing that can save them, let alone make them thrive.
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.
“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. Jeffery Levy
Please, understand here and now that it is not the heartworms that cause disease, but the other factors that damaged the dog’s 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 or ill effects from just a few of them. 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.”
The first step toward heartworm prevention (and treatment IF necessary) is that 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 heart-worm-carrying mosquitoes but succumb from the parasites in far, far lesser numbers than domestic dogs. Think about that.
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!
Rx Heartworm Medication
As stated above, the best prevention is a healthy lifestyle with the elimination of over vaccinating and chemicals as well as raw meat, organ and 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 meantime while they are working on getting their dog (and/or cat) on a healthier 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 preventative. 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 preventives 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 truly naturopathic minded or holistic veterinarians are open to natural, safe and effective alternatives. This handful of truly holistic veterinarians 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.
Heartworm – Natural Prevention
Prevention is actually pretty simple – Build a strong, balanced immune system.
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.
Best Ways of Building a Strong, Balanced Immune System:
Species Specific Nutrition
Again, I stress that prevention of any dis-ease comes from a healthy balanced immune system created and maintained that way with proper, species appropriate nutrition, exercise, pure water, proper rest, time in the sunshine, fresh air and trust.
With proper carnivore nutrition, dogs 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 than 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 meantime.
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 essential oils and/or a botanical preventative approach which are best used with the support and supervision of an animal naturopath or certified natural animal health coach.
Since the best way to prevent heartworms is clearly having the dog’s immune system in tip-top shape, I do want to share a few products that work to improve and balance the immune system:
Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils
Essential Oils, when in their pure, therapeutic form will work to balance and enhance the immune system by raising the electrical/vibrational frequencies in the body.
The normally harmonious coherent frequencies of the body can easily go out of “tune” or balance when ever our companion animals (or ourselves) experience physical or emotional stress. A blockage of the flow of life energy – characterized by inflammation, irritation and/or illness – can then result. When dis-ease or illness is present, it may manifest as chemical imbalances. However, underlying this is an electromagnetic imbalance that has altered the specific vibrational frequencies of molecules, cells, tissues and organs within the body.
Properly “retuning” the body to its original frequency brings it into balance and restores its natural harmonic resonance.
A substance with a higher frequency can raise a lower frequency due to the principle of entrainment – the tendency for two oscillating bodies to lock into phase so that they vibrate in harmony. When the immune system and the organs that house it are weak and/or compromised, it is going to have a lower energy/vibrational frequency than a strong, vital immune system normally vibrates at.
Clinical research shows that essential oils have the highest electrical/energetic frequency of any natural substance known to man and when used in conjunction with the laws of health/nature, they have the ability to create an environment in which dis-ease, cannot thrive.
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.
Humic extracts, specifically Fulvic/Humic Acids
Fulvic Acids are 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 sensitized 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.
Observing the laws of health
Simple laws of health are:
Nutrition – species specific and raw
Exercise – appropriate exercise daily (just playing fetch may get their heart rate up and may even make them tired but be sure to combine it with walking and mental exercise)
Water – fresh, clean, filtered water (not tap water or from the hose)
Sunshine – outdoors, while “grounding” or exercising. The sun gives off different spectrums of light that boost the immune system and raise the vibrational frequencies of the body.
Temperance – moderation in ALL things
Air – FRESH air as best as possible and outside. If weather is not permitting – indoor air can be purified with air filters that have ionizers and PURE, therapeutic grade essential oils can oxygenate and purify the air naturally as well
Rest – proper rest where there is dark, quiet and no electronic interference if at all possible
Trust – Trust in Natures laws of health, trust in divine power. Faith that going the natural way WILL work.
PLEASE Remember, the key is to build and keep your dog’s immune system strong and healthy; not to rely on herbs or homeopathy or other modalities while still feeding junk food, vaccinating and using chemicals on your pets. In a nutshell, keeping your dog healthy enough to be parasite free, requires raw, whole nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.