Heartworm - Are we Overmedicating?
Before you read on, allow me to be perfectly clear. We are not Veterinarians. We are not telling you what to do. The point of this post is to pose a question and allow you to make the best possible decision for your dog.
Now that we got the disclaimer out of the way, let's get right to it:
We only give Dexter his monthly heartworm medication once every 2 months. Our close friends who brought this idea to our attention, only medicate their dogs once every 3 months. All dogs involved are happy and healthy. Now hold on just a second before you think we are abusing Dexter. Consider the following facts:
- The heartworm medication scene is a multi-billion, yes multi-billion dollar industry. Drug companies, labs, online sellers, and even vets definitely have some skin in the game when it comes to pushing heartworm medication. And believe me they push it hard.
- The American Heartworm Society's website lists their sponsors, and - surprise surprise - they are chiefly drug companies. Doesn't this seem like a conflict of interest? I'm sure these drug companies are very concerned about their bottom lines.
- Heartworm medication is not a preventative. You are giving your dog a poison that kills heartworm larvae.
- Holistic vets have expressed concern over the long term risks of heartworm medication. Some believe the toxicity of the medication could be more damaging than the heartworms themselves.
- The lifecycle of heartworms takes a little while to pan out. Usually 5 1/2 to 8 months for the microfilaria to mature into an adult worm.
Heartworm is without a doubt a serious condition that shouldn't be ignored. Your dog should absolutely, 100% be on a good medication. Please don't misunderstand the purpose of this post. However, just consider how often you are putting a poison into your dog's body. It would seem there are heartworm ridden mosquitos roaming the skies all over the United States, but check out the perfect storm that has to happen for your dog to be infected:
Step 1: To infect your dog, you need mosquitoes (so you need warm temperatures and standing water). More specifically, you need a hungry female mosquito of an appropriate species. Female mosquitoes act as airborne incubators for premature baby heartworms (called microfilariae). Without the proper mosquito, dogs can’t get heartworms. Period.
That means dogs can’t “catch” heartworms from other dogs or mammals or from dog park lawns. Puppies can’t “catch” heartworms from their mothers and moms can’t pass heartworm immunity to pups.
Step 2: Our hungry mosquito needs access to a dog already infected with sexually mature male and female heartworms that have produced babies.
Step 3: The heartworm babies must be at the L1 stage of development when the mosquito bites the dog and withdraws blood.
Step 4: Ten to fourteen days later — if the temperature is right –the microfilariae mature inside the mosquito to the infective L3 stage, then migrate to the mosquito’s mouth. (Yum!)
Step 5: Madame mosquito transmits the L3’s to your dog’s skin with a bite. Then, if all conditions are right, the L3’s develop in the skin for three to four months (to the L5 stage) before making their way into your dog’s blood. But your dog still isn’t doomed.
Step 6: Only if the dog’s immune system doesn’t rid the dog of these worms do the heartworms develop to adulthood.
Step 7: It takes approximately six months for the surviving larvae to achieve maturity. At this point, the adult heartworms may produce babies if there are both males and females, but the kiddies will die unless a mosquito carrying L3’s intervenes. Otherwise, the adults will live several years then die.
Lastly, consider the weather here in the northeast. It's winter, and we don't need to be worried about mosquito bites. So why continue to poison our dogs? The Washington State University vet school reports that maturation of the worms requires “the equivalent of a steady 24-hour daily temperature in excess of 64°F for approximately one month.” They add, that at 80° F, 10 to 14 days are required for development of microfilariae to the infective stage.”
All of this information can be found in the links below, so please decide for yourself. By reducing Dexter's heartworm medication, we're minimizing the amount of poison entering his body, and extending his 6 month supply out to 1 year. Hey, that's a few more bucks in our pocket, which is always nice. Decide however you may.