Heartworm Medicine for Dogs

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.

How can you not love that face?

How can you not love that face?

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.

Evil monster.

Evil monster.

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 dynamic duo

The dynamic duo


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?


Raw Milk versus That Store Stuff

Can I start off by saying that I really have missed writing? A lot. In my defense, I got married a month ago and you would think that all the stress and stress-related symptoms would disappear when the wedding is over, but that is just not true. Your body takes a beating when it is stressed and sleep deprived, and it takes real time to heal and get back to normal. And for me at least, while feeling that way, the urge and the ability to write is pretty much nonexistent. On the positive side, my wedding was completely amazing, the honeymoon was perfect, and I am back to putting my blog as a priority. And yes, for those of you who are into that sort of thing, there will be a wedding post with lots of pictures coming soon but today’s topic is about the benefits and risks of choosing raw milk over pasteurized store bought milk.


Let’s first start off by explaining what makes milk raw milk. It is simply milk that has not been pasteurized, or heated up until it kills the pathogens in the milk. Raw milk can be a carrier of dangerous bacteria including salmonella and E. coli, which can not only be dangerous but also deadly. Hence why the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and CDC (Center for Disease control) believe that it is necessary to pasteurize milk before the consumer can buy it. It is actually illegal to buy or sell raw milk in quite a few states. In my own home state of Michigan, it is illegal to sell raw milk, however, you can join a herd share and receive milk that way. The logic of the herd share is that you own part of the cow and pay for its room and board so you therefore have a right to what it produces. And there genuinely is a risk when choosing to consume raw milk instead of the pasteurized milk. Chris Kresser does a fantastic job of breaking down the actual statistical risks that CDC found and reported about raw milk and other foods that cause food borne illnesses. The findings basically come down to saying that there is a larger risk drinking unpasteurized milk than drinking pasteurized milk. However, it is only 9.4 times more likely to cause illness, and is actually last on the list of most common foods causing illnesses.  Bear in mind that these “illnesses” we are referring to are not necessarily just E coli and salmonella. This can refer to any illness like an upset stomach or diarrhea, and although food poisoning seems horrible while one is suffering from it, it is not necessarily life threatening. Personally, when I think about what foods are dangerous to eat and cause illnesses, my first thought is actually peanut butter or spinach. Now given the rate that peanut butter is consumed compared to raw milk is exponentially higher but it also proves that pretty much anything can have risks, and shouldn’t our concern be the source of the food, not the food itself? When pasteurization first became a requirement in America, there had been a huge TB breakout in New York. The tuberculosis was thought to be spread by milk, and most likely rightfully so. This was also during a time that doctors were just starting to finally accept that there lack of hand washing was what was killing newborns and their mothers. It’s hard to compare the knowledge of germs and sanitary conditions of the 1930’s to now. And again, source is so important. The more mass produced something is, the higher the risks for contamination. Mass produced milk has to be pasteurized.

So we agree that raw milk does carry a greater risk of illnesses and the CDC says that drinking pasteurized milk loses no nutritional value. So why drink raw milk? To start off, there are believed to be many health benefits, however, none completely proven, albeit more because of a lack of studies. Raw milk contains fats, good bacteria, and enzymes helpful to digestion. Because of it’s helpfulness in digestion its thought not only to help your immune system but also to even cure allergies. This sounds a little far fetched but as science continues to grow and develop about food allergens, we are more and more coming to understand that much of it comes down to gut health. Raw milk also contains lactase, which is the enzyme that helps to digest lactose. Those of us who are lactose intolerant can greatly benefit from the bacteria that creates those enzymes. I, myself, am one of those who does not have the certain broken gene that allows me to digest lactose well. I quit drinking milk in high school because of serious digestive issues and in an attempt to get my eczema under control, and it worked well for me. However, give me a glass of raw milk and I can drink it down with no negative side effects. I’ve actually seen an improvement in my ability to digest other foods but that is of course, only anecdotal evidence. And fat. Oh fat. The macro nutrient that has been vilified for so long. Fat is good for you. It’s good for brain development. Its satiating in ways that carbohydrates can almost never be. Breast milk is almost entirely made from fat and most people and experts agree that it is incredibly important to breast feed children. Even Dr. Oz is coming down in favor of “good fats“. I need to make the disclaimer that I definitely do not agree with everything that Dr. Oz points out in that video as good for you but getting the message out that fat can help with weight loss, wrinkles, and bone health is a definite improvement.

So we have anecdotal evidence of improved immune system, easier digestion, and healthy fats that help with overall health. But I believe that there is a moral responsibility in not supporting milk producers that use industrial raised cows. The milk that I drink comes from local, grass fed cows. Whereas these industrial raised cows are fed grains. Cows cannot digest grains well. As many people know, cows do that lovely thing where they chew grass, and chew and chew and chew grass until the grass becomes cud and then they swallow. The cud enters the first compartment of the stomach and is often regurgitated and chewed some more until the cow is able to digest it. Cows are not able to do this with grains. Their inability to do so can actually cause bloat and kill a cow rather quickly. Yes, we feed an animal something that can kill it and then expect it’s meat and milk to be good for us. So because of this, the cows are given antibiotics to help keep them alive. As well as animal byproducts and arsenic (at least for chickens but how long before its cows as well). They are kept in unclean conditions, spending a large part of their lives in their own filth, and then when ready to slaughter are shipped to more containment, mistreated, and slaughtered in unclean conditions. And dairy cows are not above this treatment. They, too, are given antibiotics to treat all the illnesses that inflict confined animals, to levels that are high enough to actually violate the FDA’s laws and leading to arrests in both Ohio and Idaho. These animals are genuinely sick and mistreated and we expect their products to be good for us. And not to get all hippy dippy on you, readers, but I just can’t believe that eating animals that have been treated that way is going to come back to you in a good way. God said that we shall have dominion over the land and the animals but we were meant to be caretakers of this world, and the mistreatment of animals does not fall under the role of caretaker.


I’m sure many of you can see that I come down on the side of raw milk. The farm that I get my milk from cares about their animals. They are well treated and the owners are open and honest. Visit their farm anytime, check out their equipment, and feel free to ask questions. They explain honestly that they do not regularly give any of their animal antibiotics, however, if one of their cows became sick, they would give them the necessary medicine to make them better. The cows have pasture upon pasture to eat and are happy, bright eyed animals. And I’ll be honest, I like the family. The husband and wife owners are genuine and interesting, and the children are gorgeous and active. It’s a small farm but I feel completely safe getting my milk, yogurt, and cheese from them. And it has, I believe, genuinely helped me. I feel better when I have it. I feel more satiated for longer. I have a better digestion. My overall skin health is also improved, which goes along with better digestion, less eczema.

Am I advocating that every person drink raw milk? Nope. I believe that if you think it is dangerous then you absolutely have the right to choose to not take the risk. I also believe that I should have the right to drink whatever milk I choose to drink. Our health, our food choices should be our own. Allowing the government to dictate the milk we drink is in a lot of ways opening the door for other things. We are all right with raw milk being banned because most people believe it’s  dangerous. How long before consuming the eggs that come from our own chickens becomes a food borne illness risk in the government’s eyes? Is buying organic produce from a local farmer going to be health risk at some point? It sounds a little paranoid, but we always have to think about the consequences of every law and how far reaching they can be. I’m so glad the federal government is doing raids in order to protect me from the dangerous Amish like this (sarcasm alert!). Raw milk or pasteurized milk, it should come down to our right to choose.

How about you? Do you drink raw milk? Would you? Do you believe that we should allow no one to assume the risks or should it be a personal choice?