Heartworm Dogs: Treatment Without Drugs

heartworm dogs can look and be quite healthy

You wouldn’t poison me to get the worms, right?

Part One

My 7 year old lab Tenchu is the love of my life and he is heartworm positive…His first injection is scheduled for Friday March 15th and I am scared to death!!!

This week I’m starting a multi-part post that will follow a new patient who’s been diagnosed with heartworm. Tenchu is a shiny, vital Labrador Retriever in the prime of life, though he’s got some hitchhikers in his heart. I saw him instead on March 15th, and will bring you along for the ride as I work to cure him of these worms, using only homeopathy and some nutritional support.

Heartworm dogs don’t scare me. I’ve cured probably a dozen over the years, never needing the toxic drugs so commonly used by conventional vets.

Tenchu wasn’t always such a shiny guy. He’d spent his first few years with Scherry’s son before coming to live with Scherry. Like so many dogs, he lived on grocery store kibble and, um, occasional bacon grease and fast food.

Three years ago, he ran into hard times.

Scherry’s own words:

I rarely use allopathic medicine myself, why would I think it appropriate for animals? So I started taking matters into my own hands three years ago when he started losing weight and vomiting for no apparent reason. Thousands of dollars and many funky meds later my dear friend was not much better. Some symptoms were gone, but then there were suddenly new symptoms to deal with. Hair loss, diarrhea, yeasty ears, itchy skin, a small tumor on his side, and gingivitis. Oh boy.

After some research, Tenchu was helped by a healthy diet change and a cessation of vaccinations. Since reading this blog over the past few months, Scherry made the switch to Wysong’s Epigen and shakes on AddLife for its enzymes and probiotics, and he gets raw food added to that, and raw meaty bones and purified water. Nice, right? Her goal is to eventually feed him 100% raw, balanced food, recognizing his ancestral digestive system’s needs.

Fear Rears its Ugly Head

Like many, Scherry got scared after the diagnosis. Worms? In his heart??!

They tell me that heartworm will kill dogs if left untreated. His bloodwork came back good, and x rays showed a little congestion in the heart/lung and his heart was very slightly enlarged. I feel like fear of the unknown and fear of heartworm being a fatal disease has kept me on this narrow and harrowing path with allopathy and I just wish that I knew for sure what is best for him right now.

He’d nearly finished a 30 day course of doxycycline and was facing his first injection with arsenic to kill the adult worms.

Who had him on this course? Another “holistic vet” in town, the second of two who used that term, and who Scherry had consulted with before me. Holistic. Hmmm. I’d love to hear the definition they use. Some far fetched ones I’ve heard in the past defined holistic as, “Anything that works!”

As you know if you’ve explored my take on being a holistic veterinarian, it takes more than using drugs sometimes and natural products or acupuncture sometimes. It takes looking at and treating the Whole Dog, and that’s what set me to asking lots of questions of Scherry, so I could treat Tenchu constitutionally with homeopathic medicine appropriate to him.


Here’s what I learned, from digging in his original vet records.

When he was 6 months old Tenchu had the usual “wham bam thank you ma’am,” steer-in-a-chute processing. He was brought in to be neutered, and that happened, but at the same time, likely while under anesthesia, he was vaccinated for the following:

  1. Distemper
  2. Hepatitis
  3. Lepto
  4. Parainfluenza
  5. Parvo
  6. Kennel cough (aka Bordetella)
  7. Rabies

On top of it all, he was sent home on ivermectin, to prevent heartworm.


That’s a load of vaccines, general anesthesia, and surgery, and he went home with a pesticide and a pain killer.

As you know, having read about the safety issues of being vaccinated, we’d expect the next shoe to drop in about a month, right? His doctor’s notes, on the same day he had all this done, said, “no reactions to vaccines or medications.” Yeah. Not yet.

Wait for it.

dog with treat on his nose


It took him a bit longer, perhaps, at least until he saw the vet again, with… (are you guessing with what complaint? hint: commonest of all)

Surprise, Surprise.

“Skin problems, losing hair.” Vet records 09-11-07. “Skin on rump area is very dry and flaky. Moderate (itchiness).”

He was suppressed with a sulphur/salicyclic acid shampoo (boo), but also received EFA’s (yay!).

A month later, “infected ears.” “Shaking head for 3 weeks. Right ear swollen.”

The blame was put on the organism they found in the ear: yeast.

[I see another blog post coming… The yeast was there secondary to the inflammation of the ears, brought on by allergies, brought on by the greatest detriment to a healthy immune system we know of: vaccinations. For another day. Sigh.]

Kill it! Suppress that Inflammation!!

Tenchu, like so many who end up in a conventional vet’s clinic, came out with suppressant drugs: a powerful steroid (betamethasone), a powerful antibiotic (gentamicin) and an anti-fungal (clotrimazole), all in combination in an ear ointment. And Revolution (groan: a kill-everything-on-or-inside-your-dog topical tube: kills fleas! heartworm! hookworms! roundworms! ticks! ear mites! You name it, we aim to kill it!).

I’ll put a bookmark in his history here. You can see the roots of his illness now. We’ll come back to his “holistic vet” treatment later.

Meeting My Patient

From spending about 90’ with him and his owner, I could see I had a vital animal to work with. Scherry, taking things in her own hands by feeding him a better diet and stopping the vaccines, had transformed him. He had heartworms, yes, but he was not sick, that was apparent.

Here’s what I gleaned for symptoms that he’d made so far. His symptom list tells me what he was capable of, and starts me on the path to finding remedies to cure him.

  1. Vomiting intermittently in past, long after eating; once vomited blood clots; now none.
  2. Ears waxy, yeasty odor, fine now.
  3. Skin itchy, 6-7 level (if 10 is non-stop), with feet licking now 9/10.
  4. Bare spot on his lower chest, long standing; thin hair in his arm pits.
  5. Bumps and lumps now, and one cancerous, removed from his left hip (oh oh, this may be more serious than his heartworm…).
  6. Stools good, but frequent: 3-4 daily.
  7. Sweet, excitable, friendly to me, but he’d attacked a couple of dogs, with no provocation, rushing them from a distance.
  8. Lots of noisy “dreams,” twitching, growling, moaning, more in the past 6 months.
  9. He did okay in heat, but really came alive in cold weather.

Well Begun

So, I had several things to work with. His skin bugged him, he was having wild dreams (Nightmares? Perhaps.), frequent BM’s, parasites in his heart, and, most importantly, he’d had a malignancy removed (gulp, the disease is still there, though the “fruit” of it was tossed in the trash).

But, to Scherry’s credit, here was a shiny, ebullient dog, who had a sweet smelling, shiny coat and hadn’t been bathed for 6 months! She’d turned around his vomiting and yeasty ears through a lot of careful dietary work (hint: yeast loves carbs, and they were taken out of his diet).

I felt he had a good vital force and a fighting chance to get back on his mid-life game.

He got a single dose of a vaccinosis remedy known for starting chronic disease treatment, itchy skin, suppressed disease, and loving coolness: Sulphur 10M, given by mouth, and Tenchu was released under Scherry’s close scrutiny to see what changes he’d show. We’ll check his response together next week, after 3 weeks of watching and keeping a diary.

I’ll let you know how he did after I learn of his progress. I have every confidence he will leave the class of “heartworm dogs” far behind, and without resorting to arsenic.

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  1. Stephen Bush on December 8, 2017 at 6:15 am

    The dog afflicted by the threatening heartworm- is mainly infested by the morphon- Dirofilaria immitis which is nothing but a bloodsucking nematode spread through the mosquito bite. Your pooch will definitely suffer from heartworm if he lives in the province where this Dirofilaria immitis is regional. As a dog owner, you must be aware of the symptoms of heartworm. Here, in this context, I would like to tell that dry cough, lethargy, breathing difficulty, bulging chest, blood cell destruction, collapse are the signs by which you can easily guess that your pup is suffered from the heartworm disease. My suggestion is, whenever you spot such signs in your dog’s behavior, you need to consult a well-known vet to save your dog’s life by giving him instant treatments.

  2. Gail Beaton on September 26, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Hi, Dr. Falconer,
    I have a black lab that is trained as my service dog. When we got her (a rescue from Georgia) we were told she had heartworm and that vet recommended the slow treatment. Fine. But then we transferred her services to a vet that is closer to our home. That vet – highly respected — told us about the more aggressive treatment and we agreed to that. So far she has had a month of antibiotics and dycylomine (sp) and next week is to go for the major treatment. After talking to some knowledgeable friends ( a rescuer handling over a thousand dogs a year, ) and doing a lot of reading, I have developed some major concerns about taking her in for the major treatment. Can we return to the less aggressive treatment without harm? I am very dependent on this dog – as well a love her dearly – what do you recommend as the wisest route to go to deal with her hearworm?????

  3. lise on December 24, 2015 at 10:21 am

    wonder what homeopath for yeast is given if dog loves heat… has started raw… does NOT like cold…yeast and bacteria together itching like crazy

  4. DJ on August 9, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    What happened to Tenchu?

    • Will Falconer, DVM on August 10, 2013 at 9:19 pm

      Hi DJ,
      Last report, Tenchu was doing quite well and his owner was busy with other challenges, moving her business and such, so hasn’t been able to set an appointment in some time now. He’s on my list to blog about, though, as soon as I hear more. Must be about time for a HW test, though he’s only had a few remedies.
      Stay tuned to the blog! I hope to see him soon.

  5. Dr on June 25, 2013 at 8:37 am

    I stopped giving meds about a year ago, no Vacs, titers, and on a raw diet of five years. I have heard that a certain beer, that carries a certain barly keeps the heartworm pest away. Have you heard this? and what is your opion if any for me and my four loved pets. I am worried about heartworms during this season.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on June 26, 2013 at 12:20 pm

      I’ve not heard of this beer deterrent, but would suspect that it’s a too simple approach. In my experience, heartworm prevention needs to address overall health and resistance to parasites of all kinds to be effective. That’s what I outline in my HW ebook, Vital Animals Don’t Get Heartworm.
      I think you’ll find the answers you seek there.
      You’ve been doing well over the last year! Keep it up!

  6. Claudia on April 17, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Our best of five lifetime English Springer’s came from Herford, TX–we’re in CA. I stopped taking him to the allopathic vet 4 years ago (he is now 8.). I have Lyme disease and have only seen a naturopathic Dr. for the past 5 years, in which time I have learned to care for my own health using multiple modalities. I am new to holistic veterinary care, and I was excited to come across Dog Naturally. Our dog is a healthy intact male, whose only problem has been hot spots in the past year and a half. I switched him to the best grain-free dog food I can afford, and I have recently been adding homemade chicken bone broth to his food, as well as occasional coconut oil. It seems to have eliminated his licking and scratching, and his groomer just commented on his healthier, shinier coat and undercoat. Am I on the right track?

    • Will Falconer, DVM on April 18, 2013 at 5:13 am

      Hi Claudia, and welcome!
      It sounds like you’re off to a great start, and already reaping the fruits of a good diet switch. Dig in and see what else might help your Springer. Hint: most important decision in his life starts with “V.” And, maybe the second, as I’ve been recently acutely aware, are the monthly heartworm pills that can wreak havoc with the immune system.
      I’m glad you’ve joined the discussions, and look forward to hearing more from your experiences.

  7. Nancy on March 26, 2013 at 9:40 am

    I know what you mean about “holistic vet” Dr. Falconer. I have a friend who was just told by a ‘holistic vet” that her 13 year old dog could not handle the raw diet because of digestive issues and to put him back on kibble. I have been trying to persuade my friend that is the worse thing she can do.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on March 26, 2013 at 11:13 am

      It could be, Nancy, I know. And yet, I actually have a couple of old patients whose “digestive fire” is pretty much out, so they need their food cooked, or they get diarrhea and have stools with undigested food in them.
      So, while kibble wouldn’t be my first choice, perhaps there’s some logic behind this recommendation. I’m not a “one size fits all” vet like I used to be…

      • Elle on March 26, 2013 at 11:36 am

        Sage advice, Dr. Falconer.

  8. Scherry Hodges on March 25, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    Thank you Dr. Falconer for being fearlessly MORAL. Thank you for taking this case. Friday March 15th could have been another giant step backwards on a perilous road. But no. I cancelled our appointment with the allopathic vet, and we met with you instead. Afterward I was finally able to exhale a sigh of relief after months of anxiety. I know for sure that Tenchu is happy with my choice! We are back to playing fetch daily and I bought him a new bag of beef bones yesterday. I swear he purred. Cheers to a healthy and happy life! Without fear.

    • Will Falconer, DVM on March 26, 2013 at 5:15 am

      And thanks to you, Scherry, for allowing us to learn from Tenchu as we go through getting him well, for all the world to see.

    • Melissa Miller on April 3, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Hello, I’m following this blog to watch the “magic” happen, as I know it is certain to unfold under the “Fantasia” with Wizard Will! He literally helped me save the life of my fearless Buddy, although it was ultimately his time to go and his decision to leave, all in the same day. I have no doubt Dr. Falconer has not only the resources, wisdom, education, experience and talent to guide you through this journey, but I believe it is a God-send. My only query is as to what is holding you back from the 100% raw diet? I can tell you from experience of over 3 years raw feeding 10 cats/dogs and starting my own journey from battling for my animals suffering from disease brought about BECAUSE I was the “perfect” owner, unknowingly poisoning my pets for years, that 100% raw was the single most important factor that is the foundation of health. Of course I don’t give any toxic meds or vax anyway now, either, and use Dr. Falconer when there is an issue, but I truly am confused why you haven’t adopted this fundamental yet? Thanks for your story, Melissa Miller

      • Scherry Hodges on April 22, 2013 at 8:35 pm

        Hi Melissa, good question. The only reasons are this; I had heard that transitioning to 100 percent raw should be gradual so I give him pure raw food twice daily with only a little Wysong kibble as a side dish. Another reason for the kibble is the cost of all raw all the time, and yet another which is kind of embarrassing is that on occasion I forget to thaw his meat the day before. : ( But you will be happy to know that I have just recently upgraded from Stella & Chewey’s raw diet to pure grass fed beef and liver from People’s Pharmacy here in Austin. Next on this lucky dog’s menu: grass fed bison. I really want to commit to feeding him the very best that I can and he has transitioned over beautifully. Cheers!

        • Rhonda on October 5, 2018 at 5:45 am

          I know it’s been years since this post. I hope your fur baby is still with you. My lab has heart worms. I can’t find the “recipe” on this site that killed them. I have pure essential oils I Can use. Can you help please? Tacos on advance! Rhonda (Houston, TX) cell: 832-607-4515

  9. Diane on March 25, 2013 at 9:26 pm

    I am looking forward to following this very fascinating story. Thank heavens we found you for Cosmo!

    • Will Falconer, DVM on March 25, 2013 at 9:32 pm

      Thanks, Diane, it should be an interesting journey. This dog, the more I dug into writing about him, I have come to see as a true teacher of prevention. He didn’t get heartworms from some thunderbolt. He started down a road of conventional “prevention” that had disastrous effects on his immune system. I can see him pointing back to how he got sick and how pet owners everywhere can “unfollow” his example if they are at that early stage themselves. He came very far before ever seeing me, thanks to Scherry and her studying up on natural health, too.

  10. Day Marie on March 25, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Great story. Looking forward to see how Tenchu has improved.

  11. Elle on March 25, 2013 at 7:25 pm

    Awesome post. Thanks so much!

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