Worming Our Dogs – The Whole Dog Approach

Could We Be Over-Worming Our dogs?

By Dr. Jeannie Thomason
Let’s take a look at “the whole dog approach” to worming our dogs:

First of all, it should be recognized that pests and parasites have been around for as long as dogs have; proof positive that dogs have evolved to co-exist with parasites and are able keep them in healthy check.

For most dog breeders and owners have been taught that the “responsible” way to deal with canine pests and parasites is to routinely de-worm and/or use toxic chemicals on and in them to repel fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Indeed, one of the most common questions asked by a new puppy buyer is “when was it last wormed and has it been vaccinated?” The media has done a great job of keeping the veterinary industry in business by perpetuating the lies of the need for routine worming and vaccinating our dogs.

Routine de-worming is so ingrained in dog breeders, veterinarians and dog owners that most owners unthinkingly step right onto the relentless treadmill of chemical worming and using some form of toxic flea/tick product as well as  giving their new puppy a heartworm chew without ever even checking to see whether there is a problem with pests and parasites in the first place – it’s a precaution, just in case! This is the responsible thing to do, right?

To answer this question it’s important to understand where the thinking comes from for routine use of chemical products to keep our companion animals free of pests and parasites, “just in case”.

This mentality all goes back to Pasteur’s germ theory of disease, which has driven modern medicine down the road of a drug-based system of suppressing symptoms and attacking pathogens, rather than supporting the body to heal itself.
The conventional approach to pests and parasites is to attack them directly and frequently with toxic chemicals, sometimes even on a weekly or monthly basis and almost always without first checking to see if there is actually a parasite problem in the first place. Whereas a naturopathic/holistic approach sees that when a dog has, let’s say: a high worm load, it says more about the dog’s health, than it does about the parasite.

The most common early signs of a high worm load/intestinal parasites in puppies are poor growth (stunting), dull hair coat, scrawniness (thin), lack of playful energy and diarrhea. Many of these puppies are potbellied, big tummies. Many are anemic.
The most common signs in adult dogs are lack luster, brittle hair coat, boniness, listlessness and diarrhea. In adult dogs with parasite problems, multiple health issues are common. This is because the poor sanitation that leads to parasite overload also increases their risk of exposure to other diseases and because their parasite burden lessens their resistance to other diseases (and vice versa) by compromising their immune system.

Parasites are opportunists, ever looking for somewhere to thrive and complete all or part of their life cycle. Parasite infestations (whether of intestinal worms, heart worms or fleas and ticks) are a sign of an imbalance and a weakened or immature immune system that needs to be addressed in the whole picture of dealing with parasites. In other words, the balance or imbalance along with the activity of pests and parasites are dependent on the state of health of the host.
One of the pioneers of the Nature Cure movement, Henry Lindlahr cites many examples of patient cases in which the activity of the parasites was clearly a benefit to the host and in which the parasites disappeared as mysteriously as they had appeared when their work had been done. This would imply that parasites are much more than mere opportunists, they offer a clean-up service to a diseased host.

So let’s have a look at what we mean by pests and parasites. Might they actually have an important place in nature?
Everything in nature has role to play, it is a beautiful and dynamic interaction. “Life is not a war, it’s a dance. The word uni-verse means one song. All we have to do is to sing and dance along.” ~Mike Donkers.

The word parasite comes from the Greek word ‘parasitos’ which means ‘one who eats at the table of another’. There are millions of parasites in the world. They feed, breed and develop inside or on the bodies of another species which is known as the host, which may or may not suffer in the process. They enter the host through the mouth, eyes, skin, or via an insect bite and once inside often pass through several life-cycle stages before producing eggs or larvae which then pass out of the body having completed or still to complete its full life cycle and await the next host.

Scientists estimate that around 50% of all organisms are parasitic. “They are abundant, ubiquitous, diverse and important.” Andreas Gomez, ICF International.

Almost every species has some kind of parasite living in or on them and the immune system has evolved to cope with a certain amount of infections and infestations. Furthermore, this relationship can have a beneficial effect on the host’s immune system!
Although there are some parasites that can cause serious illness and even death, for the most part, hosts and parasites peacefully co-exist as long as the balance of both host and parasite is not disturbed too much.

Parasites have a crucial role in the ecosystem to cull populations and keep them in a balanced check. They help to break down bodies when they die and return them to the earth, a natural re-cycling in the dance of life. Parasites may also provide certain health benefits while they keep the immune system ‘on its toes’ so to speak.

Studies into the rapid rise of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease in highly developed countries suggest that the eradication of Helminth worms due to increased hygiene may alter the mucosal and systemic immunity.

The word ‘helminth’ is a general term meaning ‘worm’ more commonly known as parasitic worms -The following groups of worms are classed as helminths:
Hookworms and Whipworms
Helminths regulate the immunity of the host to ensure a mutually beneficial environment for the survival of both the parasite and host.

In other words, a happy balance of exposure to parasites is good for our dog’s health and attempting to eradicate them completely is not necessarily the best thing to do at all!

Puppies who are routinely given toxic de-wormers as early as two to three weeks of age don’t get the exposure to parasites which could help their immune systems to develop stronger. This has proven in many cases, to lead to earlier or even later immune system issues such as demodectic mange, where there is an overreaction to mites, naturally living on all dogs when the immune system cannot keep their numbers from getting out of control.

How can we best deal with pests and parasites?
We need to look at the whole picture and consider the life-cycle of worms, fleas, ticks, etc. to be able to best manage our dog’s health in this respect. The problem of pests and parasites is exacerbated by the fact that our dogs are domesticated animals who no longer live in a natural/wild environment which makes them more vulnerable to parasitic infestation due to being fed processed pet food, modern canine husbandry and the accumulative toxic load of vaccines and other medications, including chemical de-wormers weakening their immune system.

Something important I would like you to take note of is that it’s not possible or indeed natural to try to eliminate all parasites from either ourselves or our dog’s. It is part of the symbiosis of living organisms that we have parasites and that a healthy immune system keeps them in check.

Dogs can share a symbiotic relationship with several varieties of parasites. In small numbers, this relationship is both normal and healthy. The parasites gain a host that enables them to mature and perpetuate their life cycle, while the dog obtains a measure of resistance to further parasitic infection.

Looking at how to deal with pest and parasites, we need to question the routine de-worming with chemical de-wormers. It is a reductionist viewpoint, just focusing on the parasite or pest, looking at the harm it can do and then working out how to kill it. This paradigm isn’t achieving the intended results and we now have a growing resistance problem.

There can always be exceptional circumstances where a dog is highly compromised, weakened and sick where the trade off for using chemicals can give a quick result in dealing with the heavy worm burden. This buys time so to speak while the dog’s whole health can then be naturally supported and improved. However, please be aware that the chemical wormer can be toxic in and of itself.

What are the risks associated with conventional pest and parasite treatments? Chemical de-wormers are by design a toxic substance intended to kill or disable parasites and fingers crossed hopefully not cause too much damage to the dog in the process. However, all pharmaceutical drugs have negative consequences for health, especially in terms of liver toxicity.
Given that de-worming is now routine practice with most every breeder and pet owner without first doing a fecal worm test, most dogs are given harmful chemicals unnecessarily simply because it is that time of the year, month, week etc. Using wormers routinely as a precautionary measure is NOT good practice, not only do the wormers burdening the liver, they also have wider environmental impacts.

Chemicals stress the animal’s health and weaken the body’s immune system and intestinal system making them even more vulnerable to parasitic infestation and a vicious cycle results. Ironically, the issue of resistance has led to an increased use of de-wormers and the rotation of different products is simply making the problem worse. All dogs, all animals for that matter are exposed to worms often, and it is a misconception that all dogs have a problem with worms or have the same worm load. For many, the worm burden may be normal and minimal; actually strengthening the immune system and creating a healthy balance in the gut.

The practice of routine worming, the nonsensical ‘one size fits all’ mindset, and the fact that de-worming is done routinely rather than by actual need, has led to a huge problem of parasite resistance and weakened immune systems.
Let’s not forget too that an animal has a parasitic overload because they are unhealthy or otherwise vulnerable, such as newborns and old animals, not that the parasites are the cause of the health problems.

The most likely reason we see parasitic overloads are down to poor nutrition, lifestyle and not following the laws of health. Typically it is an ill animal that attracts parasites. Adding toxic chemicals to these animals isn’t helpful because the animal now has to cope with the toxic effects of the de-wormer as well as well as the underlying health issue that made it more vulnerable to parasites in the first place.

Veterinarians are taught that all animals have worms and need to be routinely de-wormed. Veterinary medicine is a lucrative business.

I hope to help you to say: goodbye to the current thinking about parasites, the misguided and excessive de-worming protocols and practices!

Looking to nature always gives us answers and when we study wild animals in their natural environment we can see that they do well despite the ubiquitous and potentially damaging nature of parasites. However, when an animal is weakened in some way by drought, famine, old age, wounds, or stress, the numbers of parasites will naturally flare up.

These observations further support the fact that it is the state of health of the host that dictates the parasitic load. In her book, Wild Health, How Animals Keep Themselves Well And What We Can Learn From Them, the author Cindy Engel lists countless examples of how animals self select plants, roots and tree barks to help them purge parasites and support their immune system. Most pet owners will have at some time observed their cat or dog eating grass as a self medication strategy to purge itself. It’s been observed that wolves eat grass to act as a scour for roundworms which are then expelled in their grassy droppings.

From the observation of wild animals we learn that they have strategies to minimize parasitical infestation and keep themselves healthy naturally. Isn’t it about time we begin implementing similar strategies for our domestic dogs?
The best defense against parasitic overload is a healthy immune system. This is where we need to focus our attention, in a whole dog approach, with its foundation in a species appropriate diet, providing as natural an environment as possible – practicing the 8 laws of health. Once we get these things right, our dogs can start to help themselves and better keep the healthy checks and balances with their pests and/or parasite load.

What are the main supportive approaches to help our dogs resist an infestation of worms?
Supporting our dog’s health is a multifaceted thing, not the ‘magic bullet’ approach of a chemical wormer or pesticide. As an animal naturopath, I don’t see disease in the same way as a veterinarian or someone schooled in conventional medicine, I look at the bigger picture. I ask why a dog would have a parasitic overload in the first place and then look to all the possible contributing factors, such as inappropriate diet, immune dysfunction from vaccinations or antibiotics, etc., stress and/or poor environment. Any dog with an extreme parasitic load has something else going on. Remember that parasites are opportunists and nature’s garbage clean-up crew, they’re just doing their job, but when a weak/sick animal becomes overwhelmed it can have serious health consequences.

When looking to prevent parasitic overload in our dogs or deal with an existing overload of parasites problem, we need to consider the following:

The immune system.
A strong immune system starts in the gut and when providing dogs with a raw species appropriate, balanced diet the natural, outcome will be a better resistance to an over-load of parasites.

Providing as natural an environment possible for the dog is part of the bigger picture of optimum health. This includes providing clean water and managing areas of stagnant water near by to reduce mosquito numbers. There are plenty predators that would love to feast on pests and parasites, such as birds and wasps. A healthy local eco-system will support helpful predator birds and insects. Allowing for plenty of age appropriate exercise in the fresh air and sunshine, time on the dirt and grass will help reduce stress and raise the immune system’s electrical frequiences.

Reducing toxins.
Avoid things which depress the dog’s immune system: vaccines, antibiotics, chemical de-wormers, household and/or lawn and garden chemicals, stress, meats that aren’t organically grown, processed foods, treats, etc.
Fecal egg count.

When you add a new puppy to your pack, it can be important to carry out regular fecal egg counts for the first 4 – 6 months to get a true picture of what any specific dog’s worm levels actually are. You can then best assess how to deal with a problem if there is a high count. Fecal egg counts determine the number of eggs per gram (EPG) in the feces and determine if the dog is carrying a low (under 250 EPG), moderate (250-650 EPG) or high (650+ EPG) worm burden. Each dog may be different and if carrying a high worm load, will most likely require a different treatment. Remember, just because one dog has a high count, it doesn’t mean the others do as well.

Using  only natural plant based remedies and ONLY WHEN NECESSARY.
Nature offers us many different plant based alternatives to chemical wormers which support the health of the dog. These include herbs such as sage, thyme and wormwood, tree barks, essential oils, homoeopathic remedies and diatomaceous earth. If your dog is indeed sick with a heavy worm load and you must worm them, many people recommend carrying out the worming treatments a few days leading up to a full moon. According to herbalist, Juliette De Bairacli Levy, all worm treatments are best given when the moon is waxing and near the full moon. She believed that the worms would then stirring, breeding and easier to dislodge.

Managing parasites and pests so that a healthy equilibrium between host and parasite is kept in place is a whole dog approach. We can’t simply give herbs, essential oils or DE once a month and expect the job to be done, this would essentially be little different to routinely using a chemical de-wormer; it is still an allopathic approach. We need to consider everything about the dog; their diet, lifestyle, environment, social aspects, exercise needs, etc. and get all of that into balance.

References / Sources:
Thomason, Jeannie, VND (2016) Natural Rearing: Breeding & Raising Dogs The Way Nature Intended
Lindlahr, H. MD. (1975). The Philosophy of Natural Therapeutics
Internet, https://www.sciencefocus.com/nature/the-thought-experiment-what-would-happen-if-all-earths-insects-vanished
Internet, https://www.sciencefocus.com/nature/the-thought-experiment-what-would-happen-if-all-earths-insects-vanished
Internet, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15959781/
Internet, https://hl.depaoloequineconcepts.com/?q=node/1
Engel, Cindy (2002) Wild Health, How animals keep themselves well and what we can learn from them
Gros, Michel (2009). In tune with the Moon,
De Bairacli Levy, Juliette (1991) The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable, p302
Internet, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/helminthic-therapy-mucus/