If you’re a pet owner, you’ve likely already come across the term ‘Heartgard’.
For those unaware, Heartgard is a medicine for pets that is commonly used on dogs to prevent heartworm infections. Due to the topic involving a pet’s health, new pet owners will likely conduct heartworm disease research.
Unfortunately, there is a ton of misleading information on the Internet when it comes to heartworm medicine. Recently, debates have run rampant regarding heartworm treatment. This controversy stems from Heartgard’s several side effects and complications.
Heartworms are not something to be taken lightly. Properly protecting our furry friends from harm always takes precedence over anything else.
However, we must at the same time exercise caution and discern the safest path- which means looking at all possible options to protect your dog. Luckily, several readily available alternatives to Heartgard that do not cause such hefty adverse reactions have peaked in popularity recently.
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- Understanding Heartworm Disease
- How Heartgard Is Used to Treat Heartworm Disease
- The Growing Development of Alternatives to Heartgard
- The Use of Natural Ingredients
- Legalities of Natural Products and Heartworm Prevention Claims
- Testing Does Matter
- A Summary: Is A Heartgard Alternative Right For Your Pet?
Heartworm infection is a potentially deadly disease. The name is quite telling and may render readers uneasy.
Essentially, tiny worms set up camp within the heart of a dog and cause several complications. The process with which this occurs is quite complicated, so bear with me.
Dirofilaria immitis, or heartworms, are tiny worms that are transmitted to dogs via mosquito bites.
The mosquito must be carrying tiny larvae called microfilaria. Once transmitted through a mosquito bite, these larvae use the infected dog as their host. The tiny larvae grow and mature into adult worms.
Weather directly influences the process of growth. Warm temperatures accelerate the development of these tiny pests.
Larvae grow if an outdoor temperature of over 57 degrees Fahrenheit occurs for over eight days. If the temperature is above 57 degrees, the larvae develop at an even faster rate.
That is why heartworm is most prevalent in warm climates– but more on that later. Not only do the larvae mature, but they also produce offspring while inside a living animal.
These parasitic worms are merciless.
Once fully grown, these worms occupy many vital organs within the host. Adult worms live in the lungs and heart. These worms can also infiltrate blood vessels, which leads to severe complications.
The disease is a serious one. It can cause heart failure, organ damage, and collapsed lungs. These results lead to the eventual death of the dog or cat that is bitten by a disease-carrying mosquito.
As previously mentioned, the weather is a huge factor. Ultimately heartworm runs rampant across the country.
However, it is more common in warm areas such as along the East coast, starting from Mexico’s Gulf. Interestingly enough, if the temperature dips below 57 degrees Fahrenheit, the worm growth will cease.
That isn’t entirely good news as the larvae continue to live within the host. The development will begin again at the same stage it had stopped once the temperature begins to rise.
Now that we know a bit about heartworm disease, we can analyze how vets administer Heartgard. The Heartgard brand claims that they offer the number one vet-recommended heartworm medication on the planet.
Vets administer Heartgard in many forms, including liquid or tablet, to dogs both young and old.
Heartgard takes a few hours to digest and it will remain in your dog’s system for several days.
Preventative medicine kills larvae stages of heartworms. This strategy consists of eliminating the larvae before they develop into full-grown worms. Unfortunately, as with any drug, Heartgard has its drawbacks.
Traditional Heartgard medicine is administered once every 30 days, year-round.
One of the most common issues with a product that must be administered once a month is absent-mindedness. Vets have several clients who report that they forgot about administering the required dose (or even administered too much!). Heartgard is considered effective only if the recommended dosage guidelines are followed. Missing doses will severely weaken the drugs’ potency.
For this reason, once a year, alternatives have risen in popularity in recent times.
Although not a true alternative to the drugs found in Heartgard, it does present a dosage alternative.
Opting for an annual dose administered at your local clinic will alleviate the need to remember the once a month necessity constantly. However, this doesn’t alleviate the major concern pet owners have regarding the drugs found in Heartgard.
Many pet owners are wary of Heartgard and similar vaccines that prevent heartworms, due to the potency of certain ingredients.
Dog anatomy is not as sturdy as human anatomy. While many humans pay very little attention to what enters their body, dogs and other pets are frail and caution must always be taken.
Certain vaccines are known to contain mercury, aluminum, and MSG. These, as you might guess, are highly toxic to dogs.
The vaccines are designed to protect from heartworms; however, we cannot consider them effective solutions if they cause other diseases such as cancer.
For example, aluminum increases the toxicity of mercury from a safe amount to a severely damaging one. It is the combination of these ingredients that can be harmful.
Another reason behind the controversial use of Heartgard is over-vaccination.
Over-vaccination is quite self-explanatory. Due to the frequency of each dose, Heartgard can weaken your dog’s immune system. Many studies have shown that dogs with strong immune systems can kill invading larvae without drugs.
The over-vaccination trend has led to a reduction in the strength of dogs’ immune systems. Most people are unaware that a healthy immune system protects the body from foreign invaders. That is not a foolproof solution, though.
I must play devil’s advocate and state that preventative measures are often more effective than not taking any measures. With that said, there may be healthier alternatives to Heartgard.
Pet owners have the right to be concerned about administering Heartgard.
The product works by killing and poisoning parasitic worms. If the medicine is potent enough to kill larvae, it is also true that it may be harmful enough to hurt your dog. Why give your dog poison? The side effects do not stop there.
Heartgard contains a drug called ivermectin. This drug’s known side effects are depression, vomiting, and convulsions, among other things.
I have to believe no dog owner would willingly subject a pet to these symptoms. At the end of the day, it may seem like choosing between two evils. However, it does not have to be that way.
I must state that this area could benefit from conclusive studies in the near future. Most of the alternatives to Heartgard are natural techniques that implement some form of trial and error.
Nonetheless, many alternatives seem attractive in comparison to the poison that Heartgard can prove to be.
Once again, we must discuss the immune system.
If you do not wish to rely on vaccines, a healthy immune system is a necessity. The reliance on a healthy immune system instead of drugs is proven to work.
The American Heartworm Society states that the host response directly affects the larvae and their growth. That means a strong immune system can effectively eliminate parasites.
This statement’s proof can be put to the test thanks to the relationship between heartworms and wild animals such as wolves and coyotes.
You would think animals that constantly live outdoors are more susceptible to mosquito-transmitted diseases. However, this is not the case. Domestic animals partake in actions that actively weaken their immune system.
These actions include poor nutrition, over-vaccination, and exposure to toxins. We’ve already touched on the dangers of over-vaccination; however, making sure your dog eats well is another fantastic preventative measure.
If the disease is transmitted through mosquito bites, then effectively preventing these bites can limit heartworm disease chances.
There are several dog safe mosquito repellant sprays and products. In addition to protecting from heartworm, these sprays can protect from ticks and fleas. They are truly a must-own for dog owners.
Applying natural sprays is a great idea if your dog is constantly outdoors. Applying a spray or two before going for a walk is also a great idea. In addition to sprays, oils can also get the job done. Applying these specific oil blends can keep bugs at bay. However, it is important to note that your dog may not appreciate the smell of these oils. Keep this in mind.
Fortunately, there are some great natural heartworm prevention products.
Products such as Natural Pet HW utilize natural ingredients to create an effective heartworm prevention program. The use of specialized herbs is a vital component of this natural product. These herbs are renowned for their mosquito repelling properties.
The product has two objectives.
The first is to reduce the chances of being bitten by mosquitos. That is an essential first step to eliminating the chance of contracting heartworm disease.
The second objective is to eliminate any existing larvae in the bloodstream. This product is more than just a preemptive measure. It actively exists to eliminate larvae. It does so by using all-natural ingredients.
Those looking for an alternative to the toxic chemicals that harm both larvae and your dog owe it to themselves to try natural products.
If natural methods are just as effective in reducing the risk of heartworm disease, why not opt for them?
Although these are natural products, you must still monitor the dosage. Over exposing your dog to any products, whether natural or conventional, is a bad idea.
Several companies produce natural products.
However, finding these products concerning heartworm prevention may prove difficult. For legal reasons, these companies are not allowed to claim that their products prevent heartworm.
These products are known as holistic medicine. Holistic medicine attempts to treat your dog’s mind, spirit, and body.
Steve Marsden is a well-known vet who has developed a natural formula that treats heartworm.
What’s great for pet owners is that the ingredients are all listed on his website. There are no hidden toxic ingredients- you know exactly what your dog is receiving. His herbal heartworm formula contains natural ingredients such as ginger, garlic, cinnamon, and wormwood.
You can find holistic vets across the country. A quick search online will provide several options. It may be worth taking a look at for those looking to make the switch.
Natural products are certainly a step in the right direction. The field would benefit immensely from additional research and testing.
Not all owners are convinced of the effectiveness of natural products. If actual research were to be conducted, more and more dog owners would opt for non-harmful natural products.
Frequent testing is an alternative to Heartgard that does not concern itself with toxic or natural methods.
Testing is an effective preventative method due to the accuracy of results. Owners are encouraged to test their dogs for heartworm at least once a year. However, additional testing eliminates the need for harmful drugs.
There are two types of tests in particular that are proven to detect adult heartworms.
The Antigen Blood Test is the most common method of testing. This is the test that vets administer yearly. Blood samples are taken, and the test detects adult heartworms. Taking this test more than once a year can alleviate some heartworm concerns.
The second type of test is much more modern and utilizes advanced technology.
It is called DNA heartworm testing. The test is just as accurate as Antigen Blood testing, if not more. However, it differentiates itself as the superior test due to its ability to detect heartworms in larvae stages.
The fact that this test can detect larvae is groundbreaking as this then accelerates the elimination process.
Detecting heartworms in your dog at an earlier stage is an incredible accomplishment.
Unfortunately, the DNA heartworm test is rightfully exclusive. Due to its recent development, it is quite obscure. It may also cost quite a large sum. Ultimately this test is for those who wish to capitalize on this advanced technology at any cost.
Very few things are as important to pet owners as the state of their dog’s health.
Having a wealth of knowledge has never hurt anybody. Even if you’re not serious about switching from conventional heartworm medicine to natural, it may be worth your time to conduct some proper research.
The lack of studies on the topic will keep the traditional pet owner on the skeptical side, as previously mentioned.
However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t milder alternatives available that may still be able to keep heartworms at bay. Though not a complete replacement for Heartgard, products such as mosquito repellents and Natural Pet HW can be beneficial.
No matter how skeptical you may be, one thing remains true: The drugs found in Heartgard and other heartworm medicines can be harmful to your pets. If this makes you even slightly uncomfortable, why not give alternative methods a chance?
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.