The aim of an holistic approach to parasite control is to ensure our pets are protected against any parasites or diseases they are likely to come into contact with that may prove detrimental to their health, whilst minimising the chemical load your pet has to deal with.

To understand how to prevent parasites it is important to first understand the parasite life cycle. Heartworm larvae, called microfilaria, live in the blood of an infected dog who is hosting both a male and female heartworm.  The larvae are sucked up by feeding mosquitoes, develop inside the mosquito, and can then be transmitted to another dog through a mosquito bite.

Heartworm larval development inside a mosquito requires ambient temperatures above 14C, day and night, for at least 8 days.  If the temperature drops below the critical level, larval development will be arrested. The lifespan of the larvae is 30 days, so if temperatures haven’t been high enough over this period they die.  This is how some pet guardians manage to safely give their pets a break from heartworm preventatives over the winter months.

It is difficult to obtain data on heartworm infection rates, but infection rates are higher in warm, coastal areas where mosquitoes proliferate, and Queensland has the highest rates of infection within Australia.  Wildlife such as foxes can act as a reservoir for infection, ensuring heartworm disease remains endemic in some areas.  The risk of a dog contracting heartworm infection is directly related to geographical location, meaning if you live in a warm, humid, coastal area, with temperatures over 18C most of the year, and lots of mosquitoes, it is likely that your pet will be exposed to heartworm at some stage in their life.  On the Sunshine Coast with our climate and mosquito population, this means that our pets are potentially at risk of contracting heartworm.

Heartworm preventatives are essentially insecticides that circulate in your dog’s blood, preventing any heartworm larvae that are injected by a mosquito from developing into adult worms.  In a location such as the Sunshine Coast, or other high-risk mosquito-infested areas, the use of pharmaceutical heartworm preventatives is well justified as they are the only proven method of prevention.

Reliance on chemical preventatives for parasite control can pose a risk to your animal’s health, however, and this risk is increased if your animal has any chronic disease that interferes with their ability to detoxify chemicals, such as liver or kidney disease, or is battling cancer.  If you choose to protect your pet against heartworm disease using chemical preventatives, in our experience both Interceptor and Sentinel have excellent safety profiles and cause very few adverse reactions. The low dose of ivermectin in Valueheart, which is currently the only available oral product that treats heartworm only, is also a very safe option.  Pharmaceutical heartworm preventatives are the most effective form of protection currently available. There are numerous ways you can minimise their use and still effectively protect your dog against heartworm.  If you would like to learn more about how to reduce your reliance on chemical preventatives for disease control, visit us soon at The Natural Vets.