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Questions for Dr. Shawn - Heartworms

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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"Do cats really need heartworm preventive medicine? My doctor recommends that my cat Binky take heartworm preventive, even though she never goes outside. What are your thoughts?"

Answer:
”I would agree with your doctor’s recommendations for the following reasons. Studies have shown the even indoor pets that spend little or no time outside can contract heartworms. Here in Texas, many people leave windows open at various times of the year. It only takes 1 mosquito getting into the house and biting your pet in order for heartworms to develop. Second, the oral once-a-month medication used to prevent heartworms in pets is very safe, and only lasts in your pet’s body for a few days each month (the topical flea and heartworm combination products lasts forever, so I prefer not to use them.) Third, it’s very hard to diagnose heartworms in cats when compared to dogs; often the first sign of heartworm disease in cats or dogs is sudden death!

Finally, if your cat contracts heartworms and is diagnosed before illness or sudden death, there are no safe approved medications to treat the disease. All of the research I’ve done has not revealed a safe and consistent natural product to prevent heartworms in pets. For all of these reasons, I think you should strongly consider using the monthly oral preventive recommended by your veterinarian."


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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"I read in a book on natural pet care that Tabasco sauce can be used to prevent and treat heartworms. I prefer to use natural therapies for my pets, and they actually seem to like a few drops of Tabasco mixed in their food. Is it true that Tabasco can be used for heartworm prevention or treatment?"

Answer:
”If it was true that’s what doctors would be using against this serious problem. In all of the research I’ve done for my books, I’ve never discovered a PROVEN, safe, consistent natural therapy for heartworm disease. I have seen many interesting recommendations for “natural” therapies however, although the Tabasco suggestion is a new one for me. While capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper, is helpful for mild musculoskeletal problems, it does not help against parasites such as heartworms. Here are some important points to keep in mind when reading “natural” books or articles (even ones I’ve written.)

  • Who is the source? Is the author a well-respected veterinarian, or simply a layman writing
    his opinion?
  • Regarding heartworms, how was this diagnosed? Not every heartworm test is valid, and whenever I hear outrageous claims for cure I want to make sure the pet actually had the disorder (by the way, did the writer claim to treat heartworm infection or heartworm disease,
    as there is a big difference)?
  • How do we know the treatment actually worked? What followup testing was done to verify
    the pets no longer had heartworms (if they ever actually did?) Do we have any data we can analyze to verify claims of cure?

In other words, be skeptical of every claim for a cure and ask these questions. Anyone can make outrageous claims, but proof is necessary before we can take something as scientifically valid. Simply because someone prefers natural therapies does not relieve that person of proving any claims that are made. Since monthly administration of heartworm preventive medications is very safe for most pets, I would save the Tabasco sauce for your own favorite foods and not rely upon this unusual suggestion to provide any protection for your pet.”


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"Dear Dr. Shawn:
"Should my dog take heartworm preventive medication all year long?"

Answer:
”Because mosquitoes can transmit heartworm's most of the year, it's important for pets to take monthly heartworm preventive medication on a regular basis. Having said this, I would also check with your veterinarian as pet owners in certain parts of the country may be able to avoid administration of the medication during the winter months.

I'm often asked if there is anything natural pet owners can give their pets to prevent heartworm infection. While I’ve done a lot of research in this area, and have heard anecdotal reports of various herbs and homeopathics helping to prevent and even treat heartworms, I have not seen any controlled studies comparing the effectiveness of the natural approach to the conventional monthly pills used to prevent heartworm infection. Therefor at this time I still recommend regular administration of monthly heartworm medication.

The good news is that the dose of medicine in the monthly pill is extremely low. Even if your dog were to ingest several pills at a time it is unlikely there would be any harm or toxicity from the medication. Also, the monthly oral heartworm medication does not last in your pet's body the entire month! The medication only last for a few days following administration. However, if you give the medication on a monthly basis, any infective heartworm larvae that may have developed since the prior month’s administration will be killed. If you are using topical heartworm preventive medication that is also combined with chemicals to kill fleas and ticks, this is not the case. These medications are very potent and can last in your pet’s body for a long period of time, which is why I prefer oral medication.”

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