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The Health-Conscious Pet Parent's Guide to Preventing and Treating Heartworm

Heartworm disease can be a sobering diagnosis for any pet parent. This chronic condition can require your pet to undergo a month’s-long treatment that prevents him or her from exercising and playing like normal. And ignoring or brushing off the signs and symptoms of heartworm disease can result in a drastically shortened lifespan for an otherwise healthy pet.

If you're a health-conscious pet parent, you're always thinking of the side effects and long-term health consequences of any medication regimen your pet is prescribed. Read on to learn more about the healthiest and most effective ways to prevent and treat heartworm for your fur babies.

Causes and Symptoms of Heartworm Disease

Heartworm disease is transmitted through mosquito saliva, and even a single bite from an infected mosquito can be enough to insert heartworm eggs into your dog or cat's bloodstream. Over the next few months, these eggs will develop into thin, spaghetti-like worms that clog the blood vessels around your dog's heart and lungs, preventing blood flow and causing a host of other pulmonary issues.

This can cause severe fatigue, swelling, fluid retention, and other pulmonary issues. In some cases, especially when heartworms have reached the lungs, your pup may have nosebleeds, fainting spells, or even seizures.

Here are some other common signs of heartworm infection:

  • Wheezing or a soft, raspy cough
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Noseleeds, seizures, or fainting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Weight loss combined with a swollen chest

    Is Heartworm Prevention Needed?

    Some of the most common preventative medication your vet may recommend are ivermectin (Heartgard®), milbemycin (Interceptor®) and selamectin (Revolution®). However, if you're a label reader, you'll note that this "preventive" medication doesn't really prevent your pet from contracting heartworms, but only prevents heartworm larvae from multiplying once they're already in your pet's system.

    These medications are generally considered safe with some exceptions. Dogs with the MDR1 (also called ABCB1) gene mutation, also known as the 'white-footed gene' cannot tolerate chemical preventives. Herding dogs such as Collies (all types), Australian Shepherds, Shetland Sheepdogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Corgis are the most affected breeds; though many other breeds may have this gene. A blood sample or cheek swab can be taken by your vet to determine whether your fur baby has this gene.

    If your pup cannot take these medications or if you are a pet parent who believes in holistic and more natural approaches, there are a few options on the market that are more herbal based.

    The Only Natural Pet HW Protect Herbal Formula is one of such natural products intended for use as a preventative to be used during mosquito season. It uses extracts of herbs well known for their mosquito repelling properties and for their anti-parasitic properties to achieve 2 objectives: to reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites and lower your pet's risk of becoming infected, and to help eliminate existing larvae-stage parasites in the bloodstream.

    Treating Heartworm Disease in Your Pet

    Heartworm treatment can take a few different forms. It's important to kill the heartworms without unleashing them into the bloodstream, where they can act as blood clots and cause stroke, paralysis, or even death. 

    Like preventative methods, health-conscious pet parents also have some options in terms of conventional and holistic approaches when it comes to heartworm treatments. 

    Herbal heartworm treatments - these herbal mixes can take some time to fully clear heartworms from the system. but don't require the restricted activity often mandated by commercial heartworm remedies. Although they can be effective, they're not usually recommended by veterinarians and you may face some pushback if you seek this treatment. Work with your holistic vet to administer this treatment in a way that's healthy for your pet.

    Medication like melarsomine - most veterinarian-recommended heartworm treatment regimens including this medication, which must be injected and is usually used in combination with several other heartworm-killing medications. Although melarsomine can immediately reduce the concentration of heartworm larvae in the system, it has some serious and potentially irreversible side effects.

    For health conscious pet parents, it may be a good idea to talk to vets practicing both conventional and holistic medicines. This allows you to understand a fuller spectrum of options for heartworm prevention and treatment - because finding the approach that is right for your pup specifically gives him/her the best chance to live a long and happy life.


    Disclaimer: Waggit is not a medical professional. Please consult your veterinarian for specific prevention and treatment plans.