This post may contain affiliate links.
This post was originally published in March 2015. It has been updated with new information and republished.
Two common things I see in the raw community is (1) a person claiming that they know how to treat heartworm naturally and (2) raw fed dogs need to be tested regularly for parasites. I'm not convinced that either claim is tru. So I decided to do a little research of my own.
What is Heartworm?
“Heartworm is a serious, potentially fatal disease that damages dogs’ hearts and lungs. The disease is spread when infected mosquitos bite pets. Monthly chewable tablets or topical medications can help prevent heartworm. […] The very best thing a pet owner can do to protect their pet and stay abreast of the latest findings in pet care is to visit their vet regularly. Veterinary experts recommend pet well-visits at least annually.”~ Dr. Melissa Beall, DVM and PhD
Can We Naturally Treat Heartworm for Dogs?
I don't think we can, but I'm not 100% sure. When I did some research on natural heartworm treatments, I found the following solutions.
- Black Walnut Hull works to cleanse a dog's system, including the digestive system and bloodstream. It kills the heartworm parasite before it has time to grow to maturity.
- HWF (formerly Heartworm Free) is a liquid supplement that helps to strengthen a dog's immune system to help them overcome heartworm naturally.
- Garlic (a minced bulb) added to a dog's meal works to prevent heartworm from maturing; you can also use garlic granules from Springtime supplements..
- Guinness Beer has been said to both prevent and treat heartworm. It has to be a specific beer.
What I learned is that some of the natural treatments/preventatives are toxic and I'm not referring to the garlic. So, I say tread carefully.
Other Parasites that Infect Dogs
Raw Fed Dogs and Routine Parasite Screenings
Back in 2015, I learned that many raw feeders take their dogs in for routine parasite screenings. I wondered if this is something I should do – we don't feed wild game, we feed premade and DIY raw and the meat is sourced from local farmers. But does that mean our dogs are safe from parasites?
“As any dog owner knows, all dogs can eat or drink all kinds of things! That’s why it’s critically important for all pet owners to have their pets screened for parasites regularly. According to a published study, about 34 percent of shelter dogs and 12 percent of pet dogs in the U.S. have some form of intestinal parasite, with hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms being some of the most frequent offenders.”~Dr. Melissa Beall, DVM and PhD
Intestinal Parasites and Dogs
We live in a rural area with creeks, ponds, and lakes from which our dogs happily quench their thirst, which means our dogs are not safe from intestinal parasites.
“Intestinal parasites are prevalent. Shelter dogs that may not have received routine care from a veterinarian throughout their lives have a higher likelihood of intestinal parasite infections than dogs that are in a forever home, but even cared for pets are burdened with these infections far too frequently. Some, including roundworms, are zoonotic, meaning they can be passed between pets and humans. Complicating the issue, dogs with intestinal parasites may not show any signs of disease.”~Dr. Melissa Beall, DVM and PhD
Dr. Beall isn't a proponent of raw feeding and the information she shared in no way singled out raw fed dogs as common victims of intestinal parasites. And our dogs have never tested positive for intestinal parasites despite living in a rural area where we often see wild animals (and their poop) and we have ponds on our property that our dogs swim in and drink from daily.
Can We Naturally Treat Intestinal Parasites for Dogs?
I think it's possible to treat intestinal parasites, but I still think a veterinarian should be consulted.
In the raw feeding community, I've seen home remedies to treat parasites, however, I don't know how effective they are for our dogs. For instance, I read that diatomaceous earth is often used to treat intestinal parasites in dogs and I even used it once when my dogs killed and ate wild rabbit, however, I've since learned that diatomaceous earth is a risky supplement to add to a dog's diet or use on a dog's coat to kill fleas. Check out my post on food grade diatomaceous earth to get the full story on this “supplement.”
When using a natural treatment, the time it takes for it to work depends on the health of the dog. Because the worms pass through a dog's stool, if a dog is constipated, then it'll take longer for the treatments to work. This is why maintaining a healthy gut is important. I regularly add raw goat's milk and fermented fish stock to my dogs' diet.
Constipation Treatments for Dogs
- Fish oil or coconut oil – temporarily increase the daily dosage of fish oil or add coconut oil to a dog's diet to help loosen things up.
- Green Tripe – works to loosen up my dogs' stool; a different amount works for each dog. For instance, a 1/4 cup of green tripe works for a couple of my boys and a full meal of green tripe doesn't do much for my girls.
- Add more organ meat to a meal – a very quick solution for constipation is to add more organ meat to the dish. I keep heart and liver on the freeze along with the organ blend that I get from the raw food co-op because I like that they add more nutrients to my dogs' diet. They also serve to treat constipation quickly. A little more will go a long way with my dogs.
- 100% pure and natural, canned pumpkin – this natural source of fiber helps with both diarrhea and constipation.
- Animal fur – this is also a natural source of fiber and while you can feed pelt to animals, I prefer dehydrated rabbit feet (and sometimes ears). Warning, if you do add fur to your dog's diet, you'll notice that his or her poop is kind of furry/hairy. The fur isn't digested, it serves to clear the intestinal walls and is expelled with their poop.
- Extra and/or longer walks – walks always helps keep my dogs' bowels moving and healthy. We go for walks several times a week, the other time we play games on the property.
Intestinal Parasite Remedies for Dogs
Natural Flea, Tick, and Mosquito Repellents
It's not enough to treat our dogs for intestinal parasites; we also need to prevent them from re-occurring by removing the cause. We discourage our dogs from eating wildlife (mice, moles, birds, etc.) and we treat our dogs daily with a natural flea, tick and mosquito repellent.
- Wondercide Natural and Organic Flea, Tick and Mosquito repellents (spray, shampoo bar)
In 2020, I purchased repellent products offered by Kin+Kind and Animaleo (essential oils) to try after receiving so many positive recommendations..
Another surprising repellent for fleas is coconut oil. Every week, I massage each of my dogs' coats with a conservative amount of coconut oil. The lauric acid in coconut oil kills fleas and coconut oil is a natural anti-bacterial and reduces doggy smell between baths. Read 22 Uses of Coconut Oil by Dog Moms to learn more.
Loop in Your Veterinarian
If you're not sure if your dog has parasites, take a stool sample to your vet to have it tested. This is a preferred step that I missed when my dogs ate the rabbit because I panicked. If I had taken a stool sample to their vet, I might have learned that all of them were perfectly fine. For heartworm, a blood test is required for detection.
Read More About Dog Health
- Why I Decided to Medicate My Dog for the Fourth of July
- 22 Uses of Coconut Oil by Dog Moms
- Can Dog Owners Treat Heartworm and Other Parasites Naturally?
- Keeping My Dogs Fit & Healthy When Stuck at Home
- Are Mushrooms Toxic to Dogs?