The position of the American Heartworm Association is crystal clear: The group believes that a fast-kill approach using Immiticide is the only medically responsible action for treating the parasite.
Uncomfortable with the idea of using a toxic drug to kill off the heartworms – even the heartworm preventative ivermectin, used in the slow-kill approach described earlier – some owners have sought out an herbal approach to dealing with the infestation.
In 1990, Robin Sockness of Sharpsburg, Georgia, found out that the stray who had followed her home eight years before and became her heart dog, Bandit, was heartworm-positive. Sockness telt that the elderly (10-year-old) Tibetan Spaniel wasn’t a prime candidate for the conventional treatment (which, at that time, was Caparsolate, which caused more side effects than Immiticide).
After consulting with a friend who was a doctor of naturopathy, Sockness gave Bandit an herbal regimen that included two species of artemesia (wormwood and mugwort) and black walnut hull, which are all considered to be antiparasitic. To support his immune system, she administered the antioxidant Coq10, as well as an herbal combination called HSII that contains hawthorn berries, capsicum, and garlic to help boost circulation and cleanse the body. Finally, she gave yucca, an anti-inflammatory, as needed to help control his cough.
After a year on the protocol, Bandit was heartworm-free, Sockness says, and he lived to 17½ years old.
Sockness sells the herbs and supplements she used for Bandit’s recovery on her website, banditsbuddies.com, and says the length of time it takes for the herbs to kill off the worms varies widely. “Some dogs with severe cases tested negative in six months, and some mild cases took a year,” she says. “It seems to me that it’s really depends on the dog and his immune system.”
Conventional veterinary practitioners are dead-set against such a regimen, citing the well-documented dangers of heartworm disease – and the not-well-studied risks of using highly toxic herbs. Even many veterinarians who consider themselves “holistic” use a conventional approach with this disease, though others are comfortable taking an alternative approach to treating a heartworm infection. As with any method of treatment, owners need to do their research and be well informed about whatever course of treatment they opt to take.