This post is a little consideration on natural medicine as it applies to the health of the animals we keep, focused on parasites and regarding the theory behind the methods. In the future, there will be additional posts more specific to recipes and practice.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been using a natural and gentle deworming protocol in my horses and dogs, to a very favorable outcome. I most commonly rely on an herbal formula and along the way, I always encourage gut health with probiotics. To me, one of the greatest things about herbal deworming is that you’re making the host inhospitable or undesirable to live worms, while still fully supporting the immune system of your animal. This idea also relates to other dietary supplements like garlic and pumpkin seeds, which also limit and prevent parasites. For example, garlic, turmeric, pumpkin seeds, parsley, and cloves all have additional benefits to the overall health of your animal; they all contain varying degrees of antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, they are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, they fight inflammation, soothe the stomach, and help eliminate toxins. Whereas, anthelmintic drugs have one goal and one goal only—to eradicate the parasites. There is a benefit, perhaps, to the one-dose, no-hassle, routine of these drugs. But it is worth mentioning that the very easy and common access is strongly related to why we now have parasites building an immunity to them! In the case of Ivermectin, which was originally extracted from a soil fungus, it is generally accepted as safe in mammals because mammals do not have glutamate-gated chloride channels in their muscle cells, and binding to these glutamate-gated chloride channels is how the parasites are paralyzed (1). But some animals can go into a system shock when given Ivermectin, especially if their health is already compromised or stressed. The medication is strong and toxic reactions can be severe. Of course, this could be true for any supplement, but again, is there an added benefit to outweigh the risk? I just forced a very strong drug into my animal’s system and it did as intended, but did it support anything else in the body? In the case of anthelmintic drugs, I have not found any evidence to support an added benefit to the overall health of the animal, besides killing any parasites that were hosted. In 2008, a scientific study was done comparing the effectiveness of Ivermectin to garlic (2) . Garlic proved to be every bit as effective!
During this recent year I have been moving about the country and in doing so, unintentionally did my own experiment in the overall health of my animals by neglecting my herbal protocol and relying on conventional veterinary products to get us along during our travels. The results have been ghastly; dull and uneven growth in coats, noticeably diminished endurance, stomach upset, ear infections, disabling giardia, consistently battling parasitic infestations and in one of my horses, a robust return of Cutaneous Habronemiasis (summer sores). Do I attribute all of this to the use of anthelmintic drugs? Maybe not. But it is definitely worth my noting because none of these issues had ever stricken my animals before and/or never stricken them so severely. Though we were traveling, the only thing that really changed for any of them, was the switch from herbal deworming methods to the more common medications. I do not feel like I even had as strong of a handle on parasites, despite following recommended protocol, and I lost the additional health benefits of my herbs. It goes without saying, we are now settling in again and going back to our normal routine! It has only been a few months and I already see the benefits.
It’s also important to remember, that animals and humans are able to play host to a variety of parasites, within reason. We are never going to eliminate every parasite from their bodies or our own and we probably shouldn’t be trying. In the wild, I think it is safe to assume that animals are capable of seeking out the diversity in plants they may require in their diet, as they may require it. I’ve studied my own horses doing so, when they have been offered abundant native land with which to graze freely. I have witnessed their careful selections and I’ve noted the changing preferences throughout the seasons. I have seen my dogs do the same. If they could always roam a plentifully mixed territory, as they were designed, it might be safe to assume that I wouldn’t have to intervene in their health except in rare circumstances or as they became of great age and diminished strength.
So, why are so many responsible and diligent owners still set against a holistic angle when considering their animals’ health? Why is it still more common than not, to be met with a rolling eye when you offer advice on herbal deworming?
I have often listened to friends claim that they have tried herbal deworming, but it did not offer good results. Professionally, I’ve spoken to people referencing their clients who are experimenting with herbal formulas, but still bringing dogs or horses into the clinic with heavy parasitic loads. Because my own experience has been so entirely opposite, it can be frustrating to hear these stories. I think one of the reasons that some people do not have immediate and lasting success with herbal dewormers is due to lacking a full understanding of the approach; they are not thoroughly committed in a holistic view of their animals’ entire health and it’s also likely many are using incorrect dosages. I believe herbal deworming is more beneficial to the whole dog or horse, but it isn’t simpler. And what works today for this dog or horse, might not work next year. It also might not work identically for every dog or horse. They are individuals and their requirements are often unique.
Stay tuned for more on this subject!