A colleague of mine recently pointed out an article put out by an online publication called Dog Naturally Magazine about the “dangers” of heartworm prevention in dogs and the big secret that they have that we veterinarians in league with Big Pharma hide from the dog owning public, that removes the necessity for the use of heartworm preventives to for prevention of deadly heartworm infestation in dogs. My colleague actually subscribed to the publication to get the article who then kindly sent it to me. As a veterinarian in the state of Florida that is the heartworm capital of the United States (my small 2 doctor practice diagnoses 2-3 new cases of heartworm per month), I felt my blood pressure rising with every sentence I wrote.
On the plus side, the timing of this article could not be better, as I recently posted a clarification of what it really means to be a holistic veterinarian in response to some flack I caught at my Dr. Roger Holistic Vet blog over my endorsement of the Canine Influenza vaccine in response to the recent dog flu outbreak in Florida. I will not reiterate the contents of that article and leave to anyone interested to read it below:
It is nonsense like that spouted by Dog Naturally that prompted me to start a holistic blog in the first place. Holistic veterinary medicine does not mean abandoning good sense and western medicine, but using an integrative approach to treatment that best serves the patient.
With regard to heartworm prevention, Dog Naturally begins their article with scaring the dickens out of the reader by “exposing” all of the dangerous side effects of heartworm preventives. What they leave out is how exceedingly rare these side effects are. The FDA requires all possible side effects to be listed for a given product regardless of how rare they may be. Look up the side effects of the common over the counter pain and fever reliever ibuprofen some time and it may terrify you to ever take one ever again: blurred vision, stomach bleed, liver failure, kidney failure, ringing of the ears, severe skin rash, dizziness and sudden death! Realistically, I know a lot of people that take ibuprofen for various reasons, myself included, and I have never seen any of these things happen. However, I am certain that on the analogous human side of the Dog Naturally coin, there are inevitably certain that there are people of this ilk sensationalizing these devastating but virtually unheard of side effects.
They then proceed to advise the dog owner that instead of treating with a heartworm preventive, they should instead just test the dog with with a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test given its high sensitivity to the presence of heartworm in the body, every 4 months. If at any time the dog comes up positive, they can simply call their vet and request a dose of preventive which will supposedly stop the infection in its tracks.
First of all, once a dog owner sees the very high cost of a PCR test (most veterinarian’s standard yearly screening is a much more affordable antigen test), they may take issue with testing every 4 months for the life of the dog. Secondly, they cannot be more wrong that a single dose of preventive in a dog found to be positive will necessary get cleared by preventive if infected within a 4 month period. If the writer had the slightest clue about the parasite’s life cycle, medicine and pharmacology, he would know why.
Heartworm preventives do not work by remaining in the body and killing the infective larval units that are transmitted by mosquito bites. Heartworm preventives kill any infective larvae that may have made it into the dog’s system in the past 30 days. Beyond this time, the infective larvae begins to progress into subsequent stages of development that the heartworm preventive cannot kill. As such, I have diagnosed cases of heartworm in dogs whose owners diligently administered monthly heartworm preventive but simply lapsed by being as little as 2 weeks late on a dose. Certainly by 4 months, unless infection occurred within the past 30-50 days of the test, it would be too late and the owner would now bear the high cost and greater risk of treatment relative to the virtual risk free treatment with monthly preventive), while the poor dog must endure it.
I would encourage the readers of this opinion and general veterinary medicine blog to also subscribe to my Dr. Roger Holistic Vet blog to receive information about proven, natural, and side effect free approaches to veterinary health care that often reduce dependence on medications or invasive procedures that may come with unwanted side effects. In doing so, we manage the “whole” pet, not just the disease, hence the term “hol-istic,” while not abandoning common sense and science to do so.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and well regarded media personality throughout a number of subjects and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.