Those of you who know me also know that I have an unhealthy attachment to my Yorkie. Those of you who don’t know me should know that I have a Yorkie named Tobias and I love him more than most people. I also don’t have children so I’m one of “those people”. You know who I’m talking about. Those people who try to liken raising kids to raising their dog. They explain how consistent training and time outs are great ways to train both, and then ask you what kind of kennel you use for your toddler. Seriously, though, I love my dog.
I bring Tobias up because I recently got my little reminder in the mail that it was time for Tobias’ yearly heart worm test. Can I just throw it out there that every time that comes up, my chest hurts and all I can think about is “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, what if he has it? Then he’s going to die and I’ll be heartbroken and I will never love again!” Oh, yes, I am quite aware of how crazy I sound. Anyway, when the crazy stops and I calm down, I make the appointment, sit and feel sick the whole time we are waiting for the results and then Tobias is always fine and I can calm down, go home and cuddle with my Yorkie. Who has by then usually forgiven me for taking him somewhere where he got poked and prodded.
This year when the subject came up, I started thinking about the necessity of giving a dog heart worm prevention medicine every single month. Now I’m terrible about it, I’m the first to admit it. Part of it is because I don’t believe heart worm is actually a threat during the winter and also because I personally choose not to take medicine whenever I can help it. It makes me wonder if giving my dog medicine I know nothing about is really a good idea? So even though I’m told by everyone to give him the medicine every month on the day, for the last year I’ve been sort of lax about it. Am I really making the right decision for both my dogs health?
First off, let’s throw it out there that we have to always look at drug recommendations with a grain of salt. Who tells you that your dog has to take heartworm medicine every single month? The people who make a profit from the sale of heartworm medication. Take a look at the American Heartworm Society’s Sponsor page. It’s full of drug companies. Am I saying that we should then completely disregard AHS’s recommendations? Absolutely not. But we also need to be aware of where these helpful (and probably very profitable) hints come from.
The American Heartworm Society recommends giving dogs their heartworm medicine all year long in order to protect them from heartworm carrying mosquitoes. Now I live in Michigan. For those of you who do not live in Michigan, it’s important to point out that Michigan spends a good part of each year cold. Snow on the ground cold. As far as I’ve found, mosquitoes can live through winter, however usually in a protected place waiting for warmth so the little monsters can swarm you in the springtime. So your chances of being bitten by a mosquito in January in Michigan are probably pretty slim. So that seriously minimizes your dog’s risk of getting heartworm. On top of that, there is a life cycle the heart worm has to go through in order to actually become adult heartworms and infect your dog. And during that life cycle (a rough estimate of 45 days), the temperature can never go below 57 degrees. So even though, dogs in Michigan have about 6 months out of the year that they would be naturally protected from heartworm and the mosquito hosts, vets are still recommending all year long. I tried to find why exactly they recommend this and came up with “Pet owners are too stupid and irresponsible to give their dogs medicine so we dumb it down for them so they don’t forget”. All right, that’s not exactly what they said but it’s kind of the tone. It was hard to find any example of a legitimate reason for heartworm prevention all year long. The only health risk reason I could find is that some of the preventative brands (Sentinel, Trifexis, Revolution) protect against other kinds of infections like roundworms and hookworms.
Getting infected with heartworm is not exactly easy. There is a number of factors that have to fall in line in order for your dog to get infected. This article does a good job of explaining the life process as well as the natural ways to help prevent heartworm. Bear in mind, this article is definitely written from a biased point of view, the author definitely leans toward a more natural handling of dogs.
You might be asking yourself, “But, Primal Otter, if everyone recommends preventative medicine for dogs, why wouldn’t you?” Well, my first problem, of course, is those pesky side effects that are written in tiny little print on the packaging. Those side effects, which I had to find from the FDA website, are vomiting, loose stool or diarrhea with or without blood, anorexia, lethargy, salivation, tachypnea, and muscle tremors (for the topical brand) and vomiting, depression/lethargy, pruitus (itching), urticaria (hives), diarrhea, anorexia, skin congestion, ataxia, convulsions, hypersalivation and weakness (for the oral brand). The biggest side effect that I feared is the big C word. Cancer seems to take so many beloved pets, however, I was unable to find any legitimate studies or evidence of the linkage between preventative medicine and cancer. Although, I don’t think its impossible, the problem is who would pay for that study? Certainly not the drug companies. But there seems to be very little study and the best I could find was just anecdotal evidence.
I found this great article about the best ways to naturally prevent heartworm infection. And although, I realize that the information is more a matter of opinion than perfect science, I believe it’s really important to consider those “hippy dippy” ideas. As I firmly believe with humans, I also believe that a good diet is essential for a dog’s health and immune system. Lots of people recommend the raw diet. Let me tell you, I love this concept. However, my husband and I work full time and between our bills, our animals, and having to spend extra money on our own food sources, we have chosen to go with the more manageable grain free dog food. I personally like Taste of the Wild. My dogs seem to like it well enough, they don’t overeat, and they are both healthy and energetic dogs. Also, I believe that my German Shepard has an allergy or a sensitivity to wheat, and I’m pretty sure rice as well. Her skin tends to look the best when she eats totally grain free.
The all natural concept also mentions not over vaccinating as a way to help your dog’s immune system. I really wasn’t able to find a good source of what constitutes over vaccinating but it’s still some food for thought. Even though I am currently doing lots of research of human vaccination (I’m trying to learn all I can before kids so I can make an educated decision when that time comes), I have never really questioned the vaccination of dogs. Can you say “DOH”? When we vaccinated Tobias, our Yorkie, I never questioned all the stuff they wanted to give them. And guess what? He had a terrible and terrifying response. Yes, I know lots of dogs don’t feel great after shots but to have my one pound Yorkie throwing up, shaking, and sleeping twice as much as usual was incredibly upsetting. At his yearly check ups, they want to inject him with everything even though I explain to them that he has had bad reactions before and they usually just tell me to give him Benadryl and he’ll be fine. And I really have to ask myself, “Is injecting my dog on a yearly basis with something his body reacts badly to a good idea?”
So where do I come down? Well, call me a bad hippy but I think that I will continue to give my dogs heartworm preventative medicine. However, I will do it on my own terms. Even though, they recommend all year long, I will not be giving my dogs unnecessary medicine in January. In the summer, though, i will give them their medicine. There is a very large pond behind my property that was probably once used as an irrigation pond so the mosquitoes that live there are probably mutated from the pesticides. Ok, they’re probably not but we still have a pretty decent mosquito population. On top of that, my dogs are mostly house dogs but when we do go out, it’s for hikes in the middle of nowhere, or swimming in lakes and rivers, and for those times I don’t have them on a leash and they decide that drinking stagnant, mosquito infested water is a charming idea. So hopefully, I am making the right decision for my dogs. But either way at least, I am doing my best to make an informed decision.
What about you? Do you believe that the preventative medicine is necessary? Have you ever even heard of the negative side effects? And if you don’t use the heart worm medicine, do you use any other preventative methods?