|Proper drugs to treat the risk of dog exposure to heartworms|
You may have just received a postcard or email from your veterinarian clinic saying that heartworm season is approaching and it is high time to take action before putting your dog at risk of contracting this unwanted parasite. In a panic, you then make an appointment at the clinic to have a test and then leave relieved with the medication to give your dog for the season. But have you ever wondered what your dog's chances of getting this parasite and even more importantly how this medication supposed to prevent heartworms works?
In our dog's life (as in ours), we often act out of habit, because everyone does it and without question...because it is the norm. That's why I will try today to make you better understand a subject on which we are quick to give medication... but without ever really knowing the cause, other than what the vet tells us.
Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes.
Treatments for heartworms are spread by fear.
The first thing to know is that the product you are sold as a preventive treatment...is not a preventive treatment in the sense that it does not prevent the transmission of the parasite. Your dog will still get bitten by the mosquito and infect. The medication you give your dog (which is actually classified as a pesticide) is, therefore, a treatment...period, whether your dog is infected or not. To draw a parallel, would you find it logical to take a morphine pill every morning...in case you have severe pain during the day? Yet that's what you do to your dog...you treat him before you even have confirmation that he has it.
But let's talk about it:
What does it take for a dog to be infected with the heartworm parasite?
A long series of specific steps must be followed if a dog is to be infected with heartworm.
To infect a dog... it takes mosquitoes first of all (so a hot temperature and/or stagnant pools of water). More specifically, you need a female mosquito that is the right species (because not all kinds of mosquitoes can carry the parasite). The female mosquito serves as an incubator for the reproduction of babies to the heart, called microfilaria. If your dog is bitten by a male mosquito...it's impossible for him to get infected! In addition, it is impossible for your dog to become infected with any animal other than a mosquito.
The female mosquito that will bite your dog must have previously bitten an infected dog with sexually mature male AND female heartworms that have produced microfilaria.
Babies with heart-worm (microfilaria) will absolutely have to be in the L1 stage of development by the time the mosquito has bitten the dog to remove blood. In all, there are 5 stages of development: L1 to L5.
10 to 14 days later, if the temperature is ideal*, the microfilaria will develop inside the mosquito until it reaches stage L3, the first (dangerous) infectious stage.
Mrs. Mosquito will then have to bite your dog while the parasite will be in stage L3 (not before). Then, if all conditions are met, the parasite develops just under the dog's skin for 3 to 4 months, up to stage L5. It is only at the end of this period that the parasite will enter your dog's blood. But even at this point, the battle is far from lost.
Only if your dog does not have a strong enough immune system will the worms develop into adults.
It takes about 6 months for the larvae to develop to the adult stage. If adult males and females are present, then they can produce babies (inside your dog). However, these babies will die unless a mosquito carrying stage L3 is involved. Otherwise, adult worms will live several years before dying naturally.
In summary: a female mosquito of a particular species must bite a dog infected with babies towards the heart in the L1 stage, must keep these babies until the L3 stage and THERE it must bite your dog at that very precise moment. Adult worms and their babies will eventually die unless they are stung again!
Ah, and most importantly: All this must happen while it is 14 degrees Celsius and above, day AND night. If during all these steps the temperature drops below 14 degrees Celsius even if only for one night... the whole process has to be repeated!
As you can see, the stars really need to be aligned for your dog to have a chance of getting infected. That being said, I'm not saying that infection is impossible. What I'm saying is that it's much harder to get than the veterinary community would have us believe. But after all, are they there to inform you objectively or sell your products? Probably a little bit of both, but in what proportion? I would bet (in a purely subjective way and in no way factual) on 70% selling the product and 30% informing you. If it wasn't the case, I wouldn't have just taught you the cycle of heartworm transmission, your vet would have done it!
Is "preventive" medication safe?
No medication is completely risk-free and there are obviously no long-term studies on the dangers of pest control medication. Such a study would be very time-consuming and, let's face it, pharmaceutical companies have no interest in uncovering any risks associated with their products. Knowing that, who would want to finance a long-term study?
I invite you to look at the packaging of your product. You will see warnings such as:
Call a doctor immediately if ingested
Keep out of reach of children
Wash your hands immediately after use
How can this type of medication be safe for your dog but so dangerous for us that we must absolutely wash our hands after touching it? If I don't dare to put it on my skin, why would I agree to put it on my dog's skin?
In fact, this type of medication has two main effects on the dog's body:
Weakened the immune system
Forces the organs (kidneys and liver) to work harder to eliminate toxins from her blood
Ideally, your veterinarian should have warned you about the risks of side effects following the use of the product he recommends. Otherwise, the package will certainly contain the product monograph that I strongly recommend you read. You should also know that most products have received a study of only 2 weeks to list the side effects. With 2 weeks of studies done by pharmaceutical companies, we are unfortunately completely missing out on the long-term effects.
In addition, I have also provided you with the number of cases of side effects reported to the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration). The important word here is "reported" since, as you can probably imagine, the majority of cases are not. After all, it takes time to bring the problem back to the manufacturer and the veterinarian does not take anything out of it and that is IF the link is made between the symptoms and taking this medication.
Here are the three main products sold in Quebec and their side effects followed by the number of cases reported to the FDA.
Revolution (selamectin): ineffectiveness (the dog on treatment was infected the same way) (5902), vomiting (1788), depression/lethargy (1759), diarrhea (1056), anorexia (1015), convulsions (642), tremor (442), ataxia (355) and death (236).
Multi Advantage (imidacloprid): depression/lethargy (366), vomiting (313), anorexia (155), hyperactivity (144), diarrhea (126), inefficiency (112), tremor (106), ataxia (93) and anaphylaxis (80).
Heartguard (ivermectin): ineffectiveness (15,161), vomiting (2457), diarrhea (1366), depression/lethargy (1309), anorexia (701), convulsions (586), ataxia (315) and death (264).
In addition, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 48% of deaths from drug interactions are due to antiparasitic treatments. Also, 65% of all drug reactions are related to the same products.
Now, I'm not telling you to stop treating your dogs. What I am saying, however, is to think before proceeding with your eyes closed, now that you are better informed about:
The conditions are necessary for an infection to occur.
Side effects of the different products.
How can we stop using these drugs while protecting our dog?
As I told you earlier, medication does not prevent heartworms in any way. What medication does is kill the larvae (if) in your dog before they develop to the adult stage.
IMPORTANT: It is very dangerous to use this type of medication if your dog is carrying ADULT heartworms. For this reason, your veterinarian performs a test before any treatment begins. He wants to make sure your dog does not have adult worms, otherwise, another type of treatment would be necessary.
The secret to getting rid of this type of medication: test more often!
We have learned that medication should be used to kill baby larvae (microfilaria) but never to treat adult worms. We have also learned that it takes at least 5 months for baby larvae to develop into adults. Knowing this, then why give medication every month when it would be enough to do tests at the right time? By performing a test every 4 months...no larvae will ever reach the adult stage! This option not only removes chemicals from your dog's body but also saves you money.
The medication will cost about $150 per year, depending on the product used and the size of your dog. Knowing that a test costs around $30, even if you do 4 a year (which is far too much in Quebec since we don't have mosquitoes all year round), you are still cheaper than with medication! It is, therefore, a less expensive option but above all, better for your dog's health!
All the more reason to stop the medication?
Heartworms are becoming more and more resistant to medication. Every year, more and more dogs are infected with MALGRATE whether they are on medication or not. It happened to 15,161 dogs on Heartguard, 5902 dogs on Revolution and 112 dogs on Advantage Multi. And again, that's only the number of cases reported...
Ironically, the American Heartworm Society responds by saying that more medication is needed! It is not really surprising to hear this answer when you look at the companies that sponsor this association:
Nowadays, 50% of dogs die of cancer. Don't you think that this kind of chemical has something to do with it?
I believe it is our duty to our dog to question why the veterinarian wants us to give this product. If someone tries to make you feel bad, here is my list of reasons that may be useful to you:
Worms become resistant to medication and more and more treated dogs still become infected.
Medications contain many toxic ingredients (think about handling rules)
Tests exist to know if the dog has worms or not
Testing is less expensive than treating (although personally, the cost is not a reason...but my dog's health is)!
Are there natural alternatives to medication?
The first thing to do would be to control mosquitoes. No mosquitoes, no heartworms! Do your best to avoid stagnant water sources that are conducive to mosquito breeding.
Then I choose a natural (raw) diet for my dog. A dog that eats raw is less interesting for mosquitoes, its blood not being full of sugar as is a dog that eats croquettes (where 40-60% of the croquette is made of carbohydrates that are transformed into sugars by the dog's body). In the wild, coyotes, foxes and wolves have been identified as having high resistance to heartworm infections. Why? Why? They eat food that is biologically appropriate for their species. As the dog is a carnivore, the most biologically appropriate food is (raw) meat! Think about it: if you go to the zoo, look at what tigers, lions and other carnivores eat. Fresh meat... and not croquettes!
In addition, I do everything in my power to ensure that my dog has a strong immune system. This means reducing vaccination to only what is necessary and avoiding chemical (pharmaceutical) products as much as possible, especially antibiotics when they are optional.
Another way to improve your dog's immune system is to incorporate fresh ingredients such as:
apple cider vinegar
pre and probiotics
a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids
In conclusion, the purpose of this article is to give you a better understanding of the reproductive cycle of heartworms (and the multitude of factors necessary for their transmission) and the possible side effects of associated drugs, which are too often misrepresented to you as a "preventive" treatment.
The health of our dogs is important to all of us and I hope that this reading will help you make more informed choices for your dog, whether or not you choose to continue this type of medication.