Our Holistic Approach to Fleas, Ticks and Heartworm
Updated: Jan 29, 2021
I must preface this topic with two points:
I am not a vet, nor an entomologist or an epidemiologist.
This is my opinion, based on things I have personally experienced and research I have done. I am not giving advice, nor recommendations, I am just sharing what has and hasn't worked for us.
I shall start with facts (references numbered and listed below).
Yes, we all despise these little crawling creatures🤢.
Only certain ticks transmit Lyme disease (two types of blacklegged ticks, deer ticks being the species prevalent in Ontario). Yes, there are other tick borne diseases, and other tick species that carry them, but for the purpose of this article I am going to focus on Lyme's. Want to be able to prevent some panic and identify deer ticks? I have added a resource below (1).
Not every tick carries Lyme disease. Check out hot spot maps for your area to see if Lyme is even present.
Ticks have to latch for a minimum of 8 hours to transmit any disease. The CDC actually states "if you can remove a tick within 24 hours chances of getting Lyme disease are pretty low - in fact, in most cases, it takes 36 to 48 hours before the bacteria that causes Lyme disease can infect you" (2). SO check yourself, check your dog, prevent them from even getting to bite. Did you maybe miss one? Find one latched? DON'T PANIC - how engorged is it? There are guides that show how long a tick has been feeding based on its size. You can usually bring ticks in for analysis at your local public health unit to identify the species, sex (yes, sex - only females can transmit Lyme), and to get tested for any tick borne illness. You can also book an appointment with your vet for 6 weeks post bite for bloodwork to make sure your dog is gtg.
See why the chance of contracting Lyme is 1-3%? Have terrible luck and fall within that 1-3%? Good news is Lyme disease is a bacteria infection and it CAN be treated with antibiotics (3). Yay!
Ticks loveeeeee any temperature above zero, so don't let your guard down in the fall or if you have mild winters. I actually find them the worse in the spring and fall, they seem to thrive off of 0-15 degrees Celsius. I didn't stop any of my protocols until we had a few weeks below zero (and continue to watch the weather).
Not a single flea & tick medication from the vet prevents your dog from getting any tick borne diseases, they only aim to kill the tick before they can transmit the disease (4). Problem is - they are not 100% effective - yet people have this false sense of security and don't check their dog. "Oh they are on the meds, they are fine". So guess who's dog still may have gotten Lyme and has to go to the vet to get tested?
🤔.... so why am I going to make my dog ingest an insecticide (aka poison)? Or put something on her skin that I literally need to wear gloves for? When I can use natural alternatives and simply be proactive preventing incidence? ...
Last spring, summer, and fall, we used Wildly Blended Bug Off to keep those nasty little buggers from latching to Navi. It's natural, it's organic, it's safe and we heard nothing but good things so we figured we would give it a try. The previous summer we used Earth MD Flea & Tick - it did the trick, I guess, but we wanted to try something else as we did have a tick latch at one point (so also our bad). It contains garlic, and is only given one week every two months so I wasn't super sold (as opposed to Bug Off being added to food every day).
I really like Bug Off because it "not only repels insects, but provides support for healthy skin, coat, and heart function, boosts the immune system, and supports the liver and kidneys by ridding the body of toxins." It also "will slowly alter the scent of your pet, making it undesirable to insects, but unnoticeable to humans. A healthy immune system creates an inhospitable environment for insects and parasites, making it less likely for them to take up residence in and on your pet" (5).
It's a win win and I will definitely be using it again next season.
Any type of bug spray that is labelled safe to use for dogs. I have used the products listed below, sometimes in combination.
Legendary Canine Fur Freshener
K9 Kelp Conditioning Kelp Spritz
Citrobug Fly and Insect Repellent for Dogs and Horses to name a few!
Wildly Blended makes a Bug Off Spritz as well I just haven't had the chance to try it yet.
When using sprays, make sure you give it some time to sink into the coat before heading out on an adventure. I often spray Navi before we get into the car to go on a hike to ensure the oils make it down to the skin. I also massage it in to get as much coverage as possible!
If your dog is a swimmer (like mine), I often bring the spray in my backpack to reapply after swimming.
Keeping Navi (and myself) out of long grass and bushy areas - thats where ticks are picked up 99% of the time.
Planning a hike? Check the tick hotspot maps to see if you are heading into their territory (Ontario - https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/l/2020/lyme-disease-risk-area-map-2020.pdf).
Wear light coloured clothes so you can seem them on yourself.
Lint roll your dog before you go into the house - this can pick up the tiny little ones that are harder to see.
Check, check & re-check - including in their mouths, ears & in all the cracks (yes yours too)
Immune system, immune system, immune system.
Literally the number one way to prevent your dog from being infested with fleas is a strong immune system. Same thing goes for humans. They strive off of unfit hosts.
Support your dog with a good, balanced diet, and you shouldn't have flea issues.
If you happen to get a flea infestation, I have linked an article pertaining to natural remedies (6).
What about heartworm?🐛
Heartworm is an interesting one, just based off its lifecycle alone.
First, a female mosquito has to bite a dog (or cat) that is infected with heartworm. If that dog (or cat) has microfilariae circulating in their bloodstream, that mosquito ingests the microfilariae. Once inside the mosquito, it takes approximately two weeks for the microfilariae to develop into larvae (there are many factors in this process, including ideal temperatures and survival). That same mosquito then has to bite another dog transmitting the larvae to infect it. That dog now has larvae in their subcutaneous tissues from the bite. While in those tissues, the larvae are maturing (unless the dogs immune system attacks them, which has been shown to happen) (7). The mature larvae now travel through the bloodstream, and in 50-70 days are considered adolesscent adults. From there, they travel into the pulmonary artery where they become sexually mature. The earliest for this to occur is 70 days post infection. If untreated, the dog will then become a carrier for the microfilariae, and the cycle can continue if it is bit by a mosquito again (8).
Much like above, the easiest way to prevent heartworm is to prevent mosquitos from landing on your pet (easier said than done, I know). But also like above, heartworm medication does not prevent mosquitos from biting your dog. These medications just aim to kill the larvae once they are in the bloodstream, so until a potentially infected mosquito comes along, there is just a constant dose of insecticide circulating your dogs bloodstream.
Bug spray & bloodwork biannually, or at least annually to check for heartworm. This is the number one way to prevent heartworm disease (getting heartworm laevae doesn't equate to disease, it is often caught before it's a full blown disease).
I'm going to flat out say I have yet to try an internal natural heartworm preventative as heartworm is not super prevalent where we live so we just do annual bloodwork for it, and have yet to have a positive (as I knock-on wood) (9).
I have read a strong immune system goes a long way with heartworm, but there are also various natural health products on the market for the prevention of heartworm larvae to survive in the bloodstream (10). If you see a holistic integrative vet, they will likely have recommendations for you as to what products or tinctures to use (and proper dosages) for prevention.
Take your dogs health into your own hands.
Know what your are putting into your dogs body.
Weigh the risks.
Chemicals aren't always necessary.
Photo: Wildly Blended Bug Off powder. www.wildlyblended.com (NAVI10 to save)
(1) Tick disease transmission: https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/transmission/
(2) Tick Identification: https://tickencounter.org/tick_identification/tick_species
(3) Lyme's Treatment for dogs: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5980284/
(4) A review of the efficacy of systemically and cutaneously distributed ectoparasiticides against ticks and fleas on dogs https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4977707/
(5) Bug Off: https://wildlyblended.com/product/bug-off/
(6) Home remedies for fleas: https://www.dogsnaturallymagazine.com/best-home-remedies-fleas/
(7) Heartworm treatment & immune response: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/care/treating-heartworm-holistically/
(8) Heartworm lifecycle: https://capcvet.org/guidelines/heartworm/
(9) Heartworm (and other parasites) prevalence in Ontario & hot spot map: https://research-groups.usask.ca/cpep/parasitedata/ontario.php
(10) Black Walnut for Heartworm: https://mainstreetvetservices.ca/files/2015/04/Blackwalnut-wormwood-heartworm-study.pdf
Peer-reviewed resources pertaining to fleas & immune system:
Cases on dogs having adverse side effects to flea and tick medication: