Pet Corner: Worms and Parasites

Use herbs to prevent, not cure, parasites

| July/August 1999

Time and again, I’m asked which herb is best for treating worms. Time and again, I give an answer that surprises many of my clients: If your pet has serious parasite problems and you’re serious about treating them, don’t use herbs. Use ­commercial drugs instead—they’re more ­effective.

This is not to say that herbs can’t help. After chemical deworming, an herbal program can enhance your pet’s ability to avoid worm infestations. In certain mild cases, I suggest no treatment at all, other than allowing the animal’s own healing abilities to take over, perhaps with an herbal boost to help. For example, a healthy puppy or kitty’s natural immune system will eliminate adult roundworms as the animal matures, and tapeworms are really more unsightly than they are a problem to your pet’s overall health.

I see dozens of different parasites in the animals I treat. The most common types are tapeworms, roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, heartworms, coccidia, and giardia. Each has its own life cycle, and how they are contracted and treated varies widely. Early infestations cause vague and nonspecific symptoms: general loss of vigor, lusterless fur, dull eyes, weight loss, and depression. Heavier loads of parasites can eventually kill the infected animal. To effectively diagnose the problem, your veterinarian will need to look at a fresh fecal sample and examine your pet’s blood.

Herbs: Not a cure-all

Over the years, I’ve tried several commercial herbal parasite remedies on pets in my practice. The problem is that they don’t meet the twin criteria that veterinarians use to evaluate any remedy: safety and efficacy. In almost all cases, these herbs cause side effects when used in doses strong enough to fight parasites. If you want to risk using them—and I recommend doing so only in mild cases—be alert for adverse reactions, especially in cats.

Although some herbal preparations are moderately effective against tapeworms and roundworms (the relatively mild guys), none are very effective against the more severe species of internal parasites such as heartworms or hookworms, which can be lethal even in small numbers.

• Garlic stimulates the immune system, kills many bacteria and fungi, and has some apparent effectiveness against parasites—especially roundworms. However, recent reports show that it may cause abnormal blood cells and result in anemia. Cats are more susceptible to the blood problems than dogs.

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