Are heartworm preventives a scam?

Like many pets Reggie took Heartgard, a very common chewable, treat-like heartworm preventive. However, it is beef flavored and during his food trials it was learned he was extremely allergic to beef so he switched to the unflavored tablets. However, Heartgard took those off the market. So he switched again to Revolution, a liquid that is applied to the skin. Revolution happens to be combination product- heartworm and flea/tick preventive in one.

In talking with other people, I often hear discussions (ok debates) over the necessity of both heartworm and flea/tick preventive. I, like most pet owners, do it because my veterinarian recommends it and it’s the right thing to do…right?

Perhaps the simplest way to look at it is to put it in the vaccine category. Vaccines for your children are hotly debated, and many parents feel very strongly against vaccines because they feel the deadened viruses and preservatives could cause other health problems. Vaccines for your pet are no different. Heartworm preventives are toxins. That’s not an exaggeration- it’s the truth. What you are doing is administering small doses of poison to kill heartworm larvae that are (likely) not there on a monthly basis. There is actually no such thing as a preventive.

Wow. That was a real light bulb moment for me. Do I want to give that to my dog every month? How big of a deal is this? He takes enough medication I don’t want to put MORE chemicals into his body. Heartworm larvae are carried by mosquitoes and can be detected in the blood about six to seven months after the dog has been infected. Depending on where you live, mosquitoes can be a year round problem or a seasonal problem. And, because of the growth cycle of the larvae, this website recommends treating (depending on your location) only at certain times of the year- not every month.

On the other side, the American Heartworm Society notes that heartworm preventives aren’t strictly just for for heartworm infection but also for intestinal parasites which can also be passed to humans. A reason they cite year round administering is for compliance- for most people it is easier to remember to dose each month than to figure out a seasonal, locale-specific dosing schedule.

Any source I looked at confirms that the breed and activity level of the dog will add to the susceptibility of heartworm infection, also certain breeds show a sensitivity to some preventives. My coworker does not give her two large breed dogs any preventives. And one of them did get heartworm. Some of the sources here would indicate that this should be a rare occurrence- particularly in our cold climate. I could not find any hard numbers but my own informal survey of random US shelters turned up that approximately 3% of the dogs posted on the websites were heartworm positive.

For me, Reggie is a medical nightmare (but a lovable one at that). I will continue to give him preventives every month because Reggie’s Law says that if he didn’t get them, he would get heartworms. How do you handle your pet’s heartworm prevention?

One thought on “Are heartworm preventives a scam?

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