Heartworm Pills for Pooches

My vet pushes me to give my dog heartworm pills each spring. Are the drugs really necessary?

“That’s a tricky question,” says Shannon Hudzik, VMD, at Carmel Holistic Veterinary Clinic in California. The good news is you don’t have to worry about heartworm-infected mosquitoes biting your dog until the temperature has remained above 57 degrees for two weeks. If you live in colder and more arid climates (like Colorado and New Mexico), you have a significantly lower risk and may decide preventative drugs are more trouble than they’re worth. However, if you’re living in 90 percent humidity where temps rarely dip below 32 degrees (think Texas and Florida) or love to spend your summers outdoors, you may want to consider the pills. Many people avoid meds because of potential side effects like lethargy, vomiting, and even seizures. “In the end it’s a personal decision based on what you and your vet consider to be an acceptable risk,” Hudzik says. If you do keep Fido drug-free, you should have him tested every six months and at least yearly if you go the heartworm-medicine route.

In addition, a strong immune system will help your dog fight off infection and protect him from potentially serious heart and lung complications. “Feed him a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, and minimize vaccinations, as they distract and weaken the immune system,” advises Hudzik. Omega-3 fatty acids and probiotics help keep immunity strong. Hudzik also recommends microlactin, a natural anti-inflammatory that can reduce chronic inflammation and the stress it places on the body. Talk to your vet before using essential oils or other natural remedies on your dog’s coat to repel mosquitoes, warns Hudzik, as these can be irritating and even toxic. To see a map of heartworm cases in your area, go to www.heartwormsociety.org.