Recently I’ve become obsessed with finding an herbal preventative for heartworms in dogs to replace the drugs we now use. For the last 10 years while I lived in Oregon, I haven’t had to even think about it because of its low incidence of the disease.
But now back in Delaware, it seems that the vets are gung-ho on year round prevention.
So, I’ve been spurred on to learn about the whole lifecycle of heartworms with its microfilaria and adult stages.
I found this video that is easier for me to wrap my head around how it all happens. Hope this is helpful for you as well.
I began with reviewing the traditional meds used such as Selemectin (brand name Revolution), Ivermectin (brand name Heartgard), and Milbemycin Oxime (brand name Interceptor): the one previously used by the herding breeds due to the MDR1 mutant gene issue.
Interesting to me was the fact that these meds killed intestinal worms as well as heartworms in dogs. This got me thinking that whatever herb I could come across that killed intestinal roundworms might have a decent chance of killing heartworm microfilaria.
My assumption then was; if it takes less to kill microfilaria than intestinal worms, all I would have to do was prove an natural alternative killed intestinal worms to be relatively assured of its effectiveness.
That assumption is the key for me, because it is pretty easy to verify if there are worms in the stool.
Everyone follow so far?
So I began my search of the internet for herbal intestinal roundworm remedies.
As I searched, I found a lot of repetition with the information. Same stuff regurgitated in site after site. Some seemed a little more reliable, reasonable and rationale than others.
Some were downright ludicrous. There were the sites that are just a little to “woo-woo” for me, if you catch my drift. You know, the kind that start off….
“I had a dream and in it, the THE FOREST FAIRY instructed me to…. BLAH, BLAH, BLAH…”
Gotta say that those types of sites didn’t instill any confidence in me when looking for the answer to heartworms in dogs.
As an RN (albeit and anti-drug, anti-vaccine RN), any of the natural heartworm remedies I find would need to be at least remotely grounded rationale thought in order for me to to accept it.
The info I found on the web about herbs posed a problem. How did anyone know what actually worked? And what would the doses for canines be? (Sometimes finding doses for humans was tough too).
I had to satisfy myself with anecdotal information or a few very small international studies. There really aren’t any double blind studies done.
After all, what drug company wants to prove herbs you can buy in the local grocery store will be effective for heartworms in dogs? It would take profit out of their pockets.
It was a matter of taking a leap of faith that what was claimed to be effective, actually was and begin my own testing.
While I am not fond of using my pups as guinea pigs (HA! Little joke there…. my pups are guinea pigs… OK, not so funny) but someone has to step up to the plate.
I slowly compiled a variety of herbs that appear to work on intestinal roundworms and therefore may be decent remedies for heartworms in dogs as well, though some more toxic than others.
Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it can’t kill you. You remember Socrates and hemlock, right?
Yes, this is an experiment.
It’s going to take time to see if what I think will work will actually do so. I’ll provide links to other sites so you can see what I found and you can decide for yourself what you may want to try. I would LOVE to hear from anyone willing to do some testing of their own.
Green Black Walnut Hull Extract.... Sounds like an oxymoron and quite a mouthful, eh?
This is an old time remedy made from Black Walnut hulls which were harvested while still green. (Now does the name make sense?) It was traditionally used for the removal of intestinal worms in people and is also used for canines.
It has a long history and you can find website after website talk about the effectiveness anecdotally.
Similar to the green black walnut hull extract for heartworm would be the long-used combination herbal remedy of Black Walnut Hull, Cloves and Wormwood.
This was originally recommended by a Dr Hulda Clarkia with a long standing reputation among her followers, but from what I read, she has a less than impressive background educationally and clinically.
You can find background easily on the ‘net. Her theory was that worms caused cancer and removing worms prevented or cured cancer. She stated the use of these three herbs would kill flukes, pinworms, threadworms, hookworms, round worms, tapeworms and treat Candidiasis. Which if it can do that, I figure it can probably kill heartworms in dogs too.
Treatment for humans was 3 times a day for 2 weeks with a 1 week break, then repeat the treatment 4 times. So that’s a 12 week course of herbs. YIKES!
I found dosing information on one website for dogs:
1 drop for every 10lbs daily, build up to the number of drops for every 10lbs as they can tolerate it. (a 20lb dog would get 2 drops, a 30lb dog would get 3 drops, etc.).
After a week on the Green Black Walnut Extract, add a small pinch of the Wormwood capsule to the dog's food daily.
After a week on the Green Black Walnut Extract and the Wormwood powder, add a pinch of the Cloves to the dog's food daily.
Apparently, you then keep this up daily forever.
This regimen for the Green Black Walnut Extract for heartworms in dogs seemed a little too labor intensive for someone like me.
Dr Clarkia felt the hull and wormwood together killed any kind of adult worm and the Cloves were necessary to kill the eggs of worms. I have yet to find results of any clinical trials she may have performed. All I find is the regurgitated info on the use of her extracts.
My main issue experimenting with this extract for heartworms in dogs is there are a few places that mention its toxic effects on the liver. For that reason I wanted to put it on the “back burner” and see if I could find something equally effective with less possible side effects.
After all, I am dealing with adult dogs, puppies, and bitches in whelp or nursing, so I want to err on the side of caution.
However, for those of you who feel it is an acceptable risk, dosing correctly should minimize any adverse affects.
Now, if my dogs already HAD heartworm, I'd be more inclined to give it a try. It can't be worse than the prescription medication course of treatment.
Could garlic, used by dog owners for many reasons, also be used for heartworm? It’s considered by many to be an effective flea, tick and mosquito repellent if put in a dog’s food regularly. It’s commonly included in commercial dog dietary supplements along with brewer’s yeast.
If for no other reason, less mosquito bites = less chance of heartworm.
Garlic has a good reputation for human use. It is anecdotally been used for eons to rid humans of intestinal worms, why not as treatment for heartworms in dogs? In “Trends in Parasitology” the effectiveness of garlic as an intestinal parasite treatment was demonstrated.
I have purchased brewer’s yeast with garlic from time to time and the Shelties seem to really like it and have no ill effects from it.
But after a while and a bunch of reading I gave it the thumbs down as a heartworm treatment, and stopped giving it to my dogs for any reason. Here’s why:
Garlic is in the onion family. The onion is toxic to dogs and causes the hemoglobin in red blood cells to clump together.
Those clumps, called Heinz bodies, reduce the ability of the blood to carry oxygen. It also causes a shortened lifespan of the red blood cell.
That means that more red blood cells will die than will be replaced by the body at regular intervals. That causes anemia.
While this isn’t the only way to cause Heinz bodies, it is the commonest. You can see the damaged blood cells under a microscope if new methylene blue dye is used.
How fast and how damaging the anemia, depends on how much was consumed.
The people who swear by garlic for their dogs will insist that it does them no harm. When I give the commercial supplements, I don’t see any adverse reactions in my dogs either.
However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t harming the dog’s health just because it isn’t clinically obvious yet.
One veterinary article states as little as 6 to 12 oz of onion can cause blood disorders in a dog the size of a typical sheltie (20 lbs). Garlic, being in the onion family could do the same. The poisoning can happen with a single large ingestion or small doses over time. That's what originally put the last nail in the coffin for me.
But then more recently I found articles refuting problems using garlic.
Historically, over 22 years and 900 million doses of garlic there have been only 2 adverse side effects reported. A safe dose for a 20lb dog would be one average sized FRESH clove, crushed or minced, daily.
Hmmmmm, much better track record than most medications prescribed by MDs to their human patients.
If you want to read more about what I know about the uses for garlic, click here.
I was able to dig up a small trial on ginger for heartworms in dogs that showed a ton of promise. Another trial done several years later also substantiated this effect of ginger on heartworm.
Now, granted it has not been replicated beyond these two studies far as I have found, but it is a start.
Considering the bias with regard to publishing trial results on drugs in general, I am going to remain cautiously optimistic.
With that being said, I am choosing to experiment with ginger for heartworm preventative.
So these two trials I mentioned were conducted using ginger as a heartworm preventative AS WELL AS a treatment for the actual pre-existing heartworms in dogs. The first used alcoholic extracts of the herb which was injected subcutaneously (100 mg/kg) in dogs naturally infected with heartworm. There were 12 injections total.
This reduced microfilarial concentrations in the blood by 98%. WOW!
The second trial, in 1990 used aquaeous extracts and also found it to have microfilaricidal effects on heartworm. I didn’t see specific percentages of efficacy in the abstract however.
In 1990, it was also found to kill Anisakis larvae in the lab environment. Anisakiasis is a common parasitic infection in Japan largely from widespread consumption of raw seafood.
I did not find any studies done on humans however.
I find it pretty impressive.
Now, I don’t plan to use injections with my dogs. I am going to use oral administration of ginger for heartworm preventative since it would be easier for me and most people willing to give it a try.
It's considered pretty harmless when it comes to side effects when used in humans at reasonable doses. It has been used safely for thousands of years.
Very high doses however can affect normal blood clotting factors, causing abnormal bleeding and it also may affect blood pressure or fetal development, so I won’t be using it during my bitches’ pregnancies.
One study shows an effect of ginger on rat fetuses where there was "increased embryonic loss" (smaller litter) and more advanced skeletal development with increased weight of female fetuses.
Another study on humans showed no ill effects on the pregnancy with the use of ginger.
I have found ginger as a remedy for motion sickness in dogs to be:
For raw grated product give 3 times a day:
• ¼ teaspoon for toy breeds
• ½ teaspoon for dogs under 35 lbs
• ¾ teaspoon for dogs over 35 lbs Ideally it is to be given three times a day.
For capsules, give three times a day:
100 mg for every 25 lbs. (total 300 mg per day)
The dosage used in the 1987 trial for heartworm was 100 mg per kg of weight which would amount to about 1200 mg for an average 25 lb sheltie. Considerably higher.
But that was for treatment, not preventative. And I have no idea how they came up with that dosage.
I figure I would use a lower dose orally (maybe around 400-500 mg per dose) and monitor intestinal worm activity. I figure it would be a good starting place for using ginger for heartworm preventative.
You can obviously find raw ginger root at the grocery store, but if you are looking for powder, I offer 1lb bags of organic ginger root powder.
I avoid getting any herbs from the cooking isle in the grocery stores because I feel they are not as fresh as buying from an herb store.
This is a total guess on my part. But if 12 injections can do the trick in the trials, I’m thinking either 2 weeks of oral supplement at the therapeutic dose, or a lower dose daily as a supplement.
So for me, maybe getting the powder and mixing it with applesauce and other mineral supplements I normally use would do the trick.
2016: Having done this for a while now, I've reduced the frequency of the 1/2 tsp of powdered ginger (mixed in my home made food supplement) to 3-5 times in a week year round. So far, lab results have been negative for heartworms in dogs, and fecals have been negative for intestinal worms. Only time will tell how this experiment will pan out in the long run.
2018: All heartworm and intestinal worm tests for my dogs are still negative.
2019: All heartworm and intestinal round worm tests for my dogs are still negative.