By Dr. Larry Siegler
The most common internal parasite problems in companion animals are
intestinal worms (roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm and whipworm) and heartworm.
Many dogs and cats can have a mild parasite infestation and show no symptoms. A
healthy animal may fight off an infestation without their guardian ever knowing
of it. Dogs and cats with stressed or weakened immune systems, however, will
succumb to a more severe infestation if left unchecked.
It seems that new pets often arrive with worms. Most puppies and kittens will
have intestinal worms from birth. The worms are passed on from the mother, and the
undeveloped immune systems and gastrointestinal systems of very young animals cannot
keep the parasite population in check. Rescued animals should also be checked for
parasite infestations as stress and crowded conditions contribute to the animal’s
vulnerability to parasites.
Animals can become infested by eating feces, ingesting fleas, hunting rodents,
coming into contact with dead animals or eating contaminated food. Common symptoms
If you are seeing small worms in your dog or cats’ stools, fur or bedding, then
you are likely seeing tapeworms. Tapeworms look like flattened grains of
rice, and are usually found on your companion’s bedding and/or the fur around the anus,
or sometimes in the stools. They often do not show up in a fecal exam by a veterinarian,
so watching your pet’s bedding and fur are the best ways to detect them. Tapeworms
come with flea infestations, as they are carried by fleas. Before treating
for tapeworm, you must first eradicate any fleas in the environment (home and yard)
or your pet will likely become re-infested with tapeworm after the de-worming
treatment. (See our article,
The Natural Approach to Flea Control for more information on dealing with
fleas). Consuming rodents with tapeworms or fleas
may also cause infestation, so again if your companion likes to hunt, regularly
check for tapeworm.
If you suspect your companion may have worms, it is very important to have a
stool analysis performed by a veterinarian to determine the type of worm for which
treatment is needed.
Prevention and Treatment
A healthy animal with a strong immune system eating a high-quality, raw food
diet is not only less susceptible to worms and parasites of all kinds, she also
will be more able to eliminate any infestation that does occur without intervention.
Cleaning litter boxes regularly or “scooping” the yard on a regular basis is also
In treating puppies and kittens I generally recommend using prescription de-wormers.
The newer prescription worm medications available to veterinarians are very effective
and relatively safe and gentle. I do not recommend over-the-counter worm medications
– many are harder on the animal’s system and less effective. As worm medications
only kill the worms in the animal’s intestines, a fecal analysis should be done
approximately 3 weeks after the initial de-worming to ensure that no migrating worms
were able to re-infest the animal’s intestines.
Herbal worm remedies have been used successfully for many years. They
are particularly effective for less severe infestations and are safer and gentler
than over-the-counter medications. There are no rigorous tests of the natural de-worming
remedies available since there is no money to be made there, but these remedies
have been used for many years for humans and animals.
Only Natural Pet Para-Gone is an herbal complex with herbs that both help expel
worms and strengthen and heal the digestive tract. Consistent dosing 3 times
per day for 10 days is required for greatest effectiveness.
HomeoPet Wrm Clear is a
homeopathic combination remedy. Again, this requires
consistent dosing 3 times per day for 14 days. Wrm Clear can be given to puppies
and kittens as young as 6 weeks old. A course of Wrm Clear can be given
following a course of Only Natural Pet Para-Gone, or it can be given along with
conventional medication to aid recovery of the digestive tract and help prevent
When using either of these remedies, it can take 3 days or more for the worms
to begin to be eliminated, depending on the overall health of the animal and whether
or not the animal is constipated. The worms will pass out of the animal’s system
in their stools. If the animal is constipated, a laxative herb such as
Only Natural Pet Laxa-Herb is recommended to aid digestion and elimination since
constipation will hinder the de-worming process.
Digestive Enzymes and
Probiotics are also good companions to any de-worming program, conventional
or herbal, to help aid the digestive tract. Follow the de-worming process with a course of a herbal gastrointestinal supplement, like Only Natural Pet GI Health Herbal Formula or Only Natural Pet GI Support capsules, both of which support the intestinal
tract and make the animal less susceptible to further infestation.
The effectiveness of Para-Gone and Wrm Clear, as with ANY herbal or natural remedy,
varies with the health of the animal. A healthier animal being fed a high-quality
diet will respond better than an ailing animal on a poor quality diet, (see our
You Need to Know About Your Pet’s Food, for more information about diet). Para-Gone
and Wrm Clear will only eliminate the worms currently in the animal’s intestinal
tract, just like conventional medications. The SOURCE of the worms must be eliminated
also – i.e., fleas, eating feces, etc., or the animal will be continually re-infested.
Also, as with conventional medications, larvae that are migrating within the animal’s
body can re-infest the intestines within several weeks, so a repeat fecal analysis
is highly recommended.
Depending on where you live, choosing a method of heartworm control may be a
difficult decision. Residents of the Pacific Northwest are fortunate and do not have
a heartworm problem. Those living in the Southeastern states and on the Gulf
Coast, however, must deal
with the issue year-round. If you live in an area where the risk of heartworm infestation
is high, the decision of whether or not to use conventional heartworm medications
to prevent heartworm infestation is one that should be guided by careful research
and consultation with a holistic veterinarian.
Animals contract heartworm when they are bitten by a mosquito that has already
bitten another animal that was infected. The immature heartworm larvae (microfilaria)
must go through a period of development within the mosquito. The process of change
in the mosquito takes about 10 days in warm climates, but can take six weeks in
colder temperatures, although the average mosquito only lives 30 days. Development
of the larvae in the mosquito requires a temperature at or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit
for about two weeks. No larval development takes place in the mosquito below 57
The larvae are passed from the mosquito onto (not into) the dog, or less commonly,
the cat. The larva is deposited in a tiny drop of mosquito saliva adjacent to
the mosquito bite. For transmission to occur, there must be adequate humidity to
prevent evaporation of this fluid droplet before the larvae can swim through the
mosquito bite and into the new host. They live near the skin for a time, then
migrate to the heart and are mature in about 5-7 months after entering the dog’s
In light of this complicated life cycle in need of optimal conditions, some areas
of the country just do not see heartworm problems occur. Many veterinarians recommend
year-round treatment even though conditions are only conducive for heartworm during
the summer months in some areas. Again, become an informed guardian and do what
you feel is best for your companion. If it snows where you live, then year-round
heartworm protection is over-kill.
Overuse of insecticides for flea and heartworm control are believed, by most
holistic veterinarians, to contribute to the increasing prevalence of cancer and
chronic disease in our companion animals. The long-term health of the animal needs
to be weighed against the risks of chemical prevention. A recent article in the
Whole Dog Journal
discussed the benefits of using a more prudent dosing protocol with conventional
heartworm preventatives. This can be a viable option for those in high-risk
Herbal formulas are available, such as Only Natural Pet HW Protect. Chemical heartworm preventatives work by continual
administration of a low dose of insecticide to kill any developing microfilaria
in the animal’s bloodstream. Herbal preventatives work in a similar fashion,
only using herbs instead of pesticides, and they also make the animal less
appealing to mosquitoes in the first place. NEITHER method kills adult
heartworms, which is why regular testing for heartworm is absolutely necessary
regardless of what method you choose for prevention.
As with all herbal remedies and treatments, the healthier the animal overall,
the more effective the treatment will be. Providing your companion with the
best diet along with proper supplements for optimal health will go a long way to
preventing disease and making them less appealing and susceptible to parasites.
(Please see our articles,
What You Need to Know
About Your Pet’s Food, and
Supplements for Healthy Companions for more information.)
Heartworm disease (adult heartworm infestation in the heart and lungs) is a very
serious health concern and treatment for heartworm disease should ALWAYS be guided
by a veterinarian. There are some holistic veterinarians treating heartworm without
conventional insecticides, but this should never be attempted on your own. For information
on the diagnosis of heartworm disease, see
of Heartworm Disease by Wendy C. Brooks DVM, DABVP on the Veterinary Partner website.
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