One of the very common questions I am asked is about natural parasite control. The most common parasites we deal with are intestinal worms, topical fleas and ticks, and blood born parasites like heartworm. It is important to note that parasites, as a group, always tend to attack and populate the weakest and sickest animals, and are found in much smaller numbers in strong healthy animals. So the number one goal in managing all parasites is to keep your pet in the very best health, with a strong immune system to fight off parasites.
A natural raw food diet is the best way to optimize your pet’s health, and to minimize worms and fleas. Dr Pottenger’s feeding trial in cats, from back in the 1950’s, clearly demonstrated that cats fed on raw meat had far LESS gastrointestinal worms and fleas, than did the cats fed on cooked food. Adding a small amount of dried garlic to your pet food has also been a time honored method of limiting parasites, as has the use of sulphur. Please note that large amounts of raw garlic can be detrimental, and I advise using dried garlic at less than 0.25% volume.
It is also good to remember that dogs and cats do have natural defenses against parasites, and that it is OK to have a small number of them – recent studies actually demonstrated that having a small parasite burden actually reduced the symptoms of allergies (or conversely put, having no parasites can make an allergy worse).
I advise my clients to only worm about once every 6-12 months, based on lifestyle and diet (most worm tablets will advise every 6-12 weeks). For flea control, I only advise treatment if fleas are present, not as a 12 month of the year program. This advice may change relative to the flea season and climate. I also prefer to use a product that just treats fleas, not one that kills all parasites.
For ticks and heartworm disease, you do need to know your local area and get advice from your vet. In Castlemaine we have no heartworm or paralysis ticks, so it is not an issue, but many clients will travel into these areas on holiday, so you must take action. Ticks are very dangerous, and you must have a prevention protocol, which includes daily grooming and checking for ticks, and the use of an effective tick treatment. Heartworm is not that prevalent in Victoria, but it is around, and gets nastier as you go north.
Prevention is better here than taking chances, but again, you can choose to use a product that just prevents heartworm, rather than an all in one treatment (usually at a much higher drug dose rate than you need for heartworm prevention). We also have clients that will only treat their pets when they travel into dangerous areas, and will have their pets tested for heartworm each year to be sure. Mange mites are another nasty parasite (eg fox mange (sarcoptic mange), but here I don’t hesitate to use a conventional treatment like ivermectin. Mange is near impossible to treat naturally, and is intensely itchy for the dog.
There are some effective natural treatments for worms and fleas. For worms, I use an herbal extract of cloves, wormwood and black walnut (available from health food shops as “Triplex”). I dose at 1ml per 10kg bodyweight, and repeat again 7 days later. I also advise doing faecal egg counts to assess worm burdens, rather than just treating blindly. For topical fleas, neem oil can be quite effective, as can natural pyrethrum rinses. Be careful using anything topically on cats as they can be more sensitive, and will lick a lot more off their coats !!
As a summary, a good raw food diet, 6-12 monthly worming program, flea control only when and if necessary, and heartworm and tick control based on your local area requirements. Try and use products that only target the parasite you wish to remove, rather than blind monthly treatments with an all in one parasite control.
Dr Bruce Syme BVSc (Hons), Founder of Vets All Natural.
Dr Bruce Syme is a practicing vet and expert in natural pet nutrition, has spoken at the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference, and provides regular comment on TV and Radio.
Disclaimer: The entire contents of this article are based upon the opinions of Dr. Bruce Syme, unless otherwise noted. The information is not intended as medical advice, it simply shares the knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Bruce and his community. Pet health care decisions should be based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified pet health care professional.
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