I dropped my 7-pound poodle off with a cardiologist today. Yes, I’m a vet and a vet who’s very comfortable with cardiology. But this is my child, my furry child, and when I think about life and death for him, I’m no longer his vet. I’m his momma. Three and a half years ago, I saw his picture on the Gaston Animal Control website and felt compelled to adopt him. He was pretty mangled-looking, and I knew that I had the time and resources to give him what he needed for a chance at his best life. At the time, he was so sick I figured I might only have a few months with him, but now 3 1/2 years later, I’m not ready to think about him leaving me any time soon.

He was bald, had rotten teeth and a jaw that was so rotten it would later break in half, hepatitis, and heartworms in his little undernourished 5-pound body. He was too sick to safely neuter, let alone treat for heartworm, so it took me quite a while to get him back to good health. He earned the name Skippy within an hour of us adopting him as also his little kneecaps weren’t formed right, and he walks with a consistent skip to his step. If he were in pain, it would be rather sad. Because he’s not, it just adds to his character.

He’s always been strong, though, going on very long hikes and even running alongside me for miles at a time. This last month, however, his occasional allergic cough was no longer responding to allergy medication. Something was different. And although he never developed a murmur, his heart had been enlarging over time as a consequence of having a worm live in his heart for who knows how long. It seems his heart muscle has been weakening.

This isn’t really surprising. What is surprising to me is how many of my clients are against heartworm prevention. It’s a sad state we’ve put ourselves in as veterinarians that we’ve lost the trust of our people. As a holistic veterinarian, people expect me to be extremely conscious about what I choose to put into their animals’ bodies. They are also surprised sometimes that I recommend monthly heartworm prevention for all of my canine patients. We have a lot of sayings in our practice that may be different than a traditional veterinary practice. One of these is “Holistic does not mean do nothing. “ Holistic means thinking of the Whole Pet, all of the options, all of the benefits and consequences, weighing risk versus reward wisely. Unfortunately, most veterinarians are traditionally taught to do many vaccines in one day, utilize nutritional ingredients that contribute to inflammation and disease, and aren’t aware of the consequences to the more toxic parasite preventions. Pet parents are becoming wise to the problems with these practices sooner than our industry is. Unfortunately, all of this has led to tremendous distrust in our recommendations. Holistic-minded clients are just choosing to do nothing. No heartworm prevention at all.

To make matters worse, there is a lot of information circulating the Internet from non-veterinarians suggesting an alternative of doing no prevention in favor of testing for heartworms more frequently. I can’t make sense of this! Testing for heartworms only tells you sooner that your dog already has this terrible disease and would require toxic medication to get rid of it. I’m not sure how that helps you or your dog. To me, the biggest problem here is that they’re comparing a very toxic, aggressive treatment for adult heartworm to a very non-toxic treatment for microfilaria or the tiny baby worms that develop into adult heartworms later. Speaking as a holistic or integrative veterinarian who embraces traditional and herbal medicine, there is no comparison between the two. Suggesting people skip out on safe preventatives in favor of waiting for their pets to need a very unsafe treatment makes no sense to me.

Again, I find it very sad for my profession that we found ourselves in this place – a place where people on the Internet make more sense than doctors. I guess that’s why people trust me. I’m a doctor, and I also make sense. How those two things can sometimes be so far apart, I’m not sure. What I can tell you is that my 7-pound poodle gets what I consider to be a safe heartworm prevention pill every month, and I don’t even bat an eye at it because I know what is safe and what is not as safe. I know which preventions I’ve had to detoxify out of several patients. All I can do is share that information and urge you to consider monthly prevention for your dogs.

Skippy didn’t deserve any of this. I’m confident I’ll find a way to keep him with me longer, but I wish the whole thing had just been prevented in the first place. I’d be failing you as a veterinarian if I let you make the same mistakes that were made by his first family. Please pray for my little guy. He is so dear to me, and selfishly I want to keep him here longer.


Nicole Sheehan, DVM, CVA, CVCH, CVFT, MATP