"Parasite Control" versus "Deworming"

by Judy Sinner ©2007, as published in Issue 7 of The Horse's Hoof Magazine (2002)

Every spring, many horse owners bring the vet out for a yearly, thorough health check-up. This is a good practice. However, often the focus turns to certain traditional procedures that are sometimes performed without individual consideration.

The parasite issue for our horses, dogs and other animals is one of the most charged subjects in animal management. Positions range from “I must administer a dewormer either daily, monthly or semi-monthly or my animals are at great risk” to the opposite paradigm, “I am not going to give my animals a toxic chemical, I will just use herbs or other natural substances.” I would like to address the subject of BALANCE and offer information that will assist animal caretakers to make informed decisions. Remember that many animals are alive and healthy today because chemical wormers came on the scene, while many horses and dogs do better on herbal products, and that “wholistic” treatment can mean all-encompassing, using both allopathic methods and complementary methods when appropriate.

Consider that a chemical dewormer is by nature and design a toxic substance, designed to kill or disable parasites, and hopefully not cause too much damage to the host animal in the process. The trick is to find the dose and frequency that works in each situation, and that may or may not be a “one size fits all” prescription. Worming more often than necessary can contribute to liver toxicity which stresses the animal unnecessarily, actually weakening the body and making it more of a target for parasite infestation. Remember, after all, parasites, insects and disease are “Nature’s Garbage Collectors,” designed by the Grand Scheme of Things to stress and eliminate the weak and unhealthy animal or plant, recycle it back to the earth and start over, thus sparing resources for the healthy and viable.

Consider the possibility that animals have parasite overloads because they are unhealthy, not that the worms are the first cause of the health problem! Donna Starita, DVM says, “Chemical wormers are accumulated and processed in the liver. When the liver becomes overwhelmed, it moves out of first stage storage and detox and into second stage, the byproducts of which are metabolites which are toxic to the cells. Now the animal is coping with the parasite, the toxic effects of the wormer, the health issues which precipitated the original health crisis which allowed the parasite to overgrow in the first place, plus the second stage liver metabolites. The overall result is a progressively downward spiral into increased toxicity, increased numbers of parasites, and increasingly more serious health problems. (EPM?).”

In dogs, this same liver toxicity problem manifested in an experience that one dog handler had with clients who run racing Greyhounds. The animals were winning consistently, and then each month when they got their heartworm medication (required by the track) they would pathetically lose their races that week, before regaining performance. So Ray had them give the dogs an SOD supplement to support the liver and the immune system just before and for 3 days after the worming, and the performance dip stopped - they just won right on through the month!

In my own horses, I have noted one family in particular, descended from a wonderful old Arab/ Saddlebred mare, who would “just go to Hell in a handcart” when they got a dose of a popular deworming product. Weight loss, hair coats dulling and growing long even in the summer, colic episodes, just general decline. So many years ago, (10!) I quit using that particular dewormer on her descendants, and they do just fine. Pay attention to your animals, they will tell you.

This quote from The Rest of the Story About Agriculture Today expresses an eloquent viewpoint: “Just as good health and vigor protects plants from their pests and diseases, so also are animals (and humans) protected from parasites and diseases. Are infectious diseases caused by germs? Well, yes, but …we are surrounded by disease germs daily, but as long as we are in good health - get plenty of sleep and eat a good diet - we don’t get sick. Usually, it is only when an animal is under stress - in poor health - that disease pathogens can get a foothold. Healthy animals have various defenses against parasites and diseases, including antibodies and white blood cells. It is well known among animal breeders and geneticists that the offspring of certain crossings are resistant to insects and diseases (J. Blakely & D.H. Blade, The Science of Animal Husbandry, 1976, p. 129.)

“Organic farmers often report that their livestock are not bothered by flies. Veterinarian Dr. John Whittaker, writing in Acres USA, (Dec. 1975, March & April 1975), states that B vitamins, vitamin C, and other nutritional factors play an important role in protecting animals from parasites and diseases; for example, an imbalance of dietary calcium and phosphorus or a magnesium deficiency increases parasitic worm infestations, while a high carbohydrate diet increases the infection of Balantidium, a protozoan intestinal parasite. He notes that too much soluble nitrogen (non-protein nitrogen) or urea in feed causes high blood urea or ammonia levels, leading to reduced resistance to bacterial infections. Resistance to parasites and diseases can also be lowered by vaccinations and antibiotics (these can kill rumen microbes, leading to toxic mold infections), worming medicines, moldy feeds (through mold-produced toxins, including aflatoxin), and stresses (weather, noise, moving, and diet changes).

“The basic approach of the experts to weeds, insects and diseases is to identify the pest involved and zap it with the recommended poison. But actually, pest attack is a symptom of plant and animal deficiencies and malnutrition, not the cause of the illness.”

Donna Starita, DVM, echoes a similar sentiment. She states that she sees more cases of colic and verminous arteritis in her practice in horses that are wormed daily or semi-monthly than in horses that are not wormed as frequently.

Research veterinarian L. Phillips Brown speaks of the coming of “functional medicine,” where treatments and dosages are based on individual needs. Wholesale worming by the calendar may not be the answer for many animals.

So how do we know “how much is too much” or when to deworm or how to control the parasite load at an acceptable level? Fecal samples, muscle testing, parasite point reflex testing, general observation and consideration of exposure to reinfestation—all can be reliable indicators. Obviously, an animal living in a scrupulously clean stall or kennel is not at the same risk as an animal cavorting in open fields where many other animals defecate.

An interesting little aside here: under the category of “observation” comes this comment from the researchers at Albion laboratories, that animals with copper deficiency are more prone to parasite infestation. Since copper is one of the main trace minerals that powers the production of the immune-stimulating enzyme, superoxide dismutase, this makes total sense. In fact, it supports the observation of many old time cattlemen and horsemen who recognized parasite infested animals by the “fading” of the coat color intensity, which is another sign of copper deficiency (in people as well!). Bays and chestnuts will be “washy” and lighter-colored than normal, and the blacks will have a definite reddish cast. Angus cattle will look redder, and Herefords will be yellowish. Usually the hair will “fishhook” as well, sort of curling up at the ends. Dogs will show similar coat fading, especially noticeable in breeds like Dobies and Rotts. An Acres USA article stated that animals with darker coat pigment require more copper than animals with lighter hair coat color! In my experience, black or dark horses will not even sunbleach if there is adequate available copper in the diet.

Copper is also a major nutrient support for blood vessel strength and integrity, along with vitamin C. So does it follow that animals deficient in these nutrients might be more at risk for parasite-induced aneurysm? Which comes first, the deficient animal or the parasite damage to the tissues? My fervent hope is that parasitologists will become more interested in studying the effect that the immune system and diet plays in parasite infestation or resistance. “Why does the animal become infested?” might be a more appropriate question than “How do we kill the worms?”

So, what to do? There is a plethora of products on the market for which anti-parasite properties are claimed: diatomaceous earth, garlic, MSM, clays, etc. In my experience and observation, these herbal assists have their place in parasite control in a healthy animal with a healthy immune system, or as an adjunct to chemicals in an animal who is currently not healthy enough to withstand a chemical deworming. There are times when a chemical dewormer is needed, when the parasites have overgrown to a dangerous level or the herbal approach is not working. It is sheer folly to keep using herbal products when the horse is obviously in need of a good deworming. To me, that is just as unbalanced an approach as is the other extreme of blasting the whole barn with chemical dewormer just because it is June 1st, or daily worming just because “everyone else is doing it.” I feel that many allopathic veterinarians fail to even consider complementary methods because they have seen animals in real trouble when a misguided owner fails to wake up and smell the Cappucino, and acknowledge that the “natural” approach may need a chemical assist in some cases.

Here are some thoughts to help you formulate your own game plan:

• Horses who are on an optimal program of mineral support and balanced diet (sane protein level of 12% overall, preservative free, low sugars) and in great health probably do not need to be dewormed frequently. Do fecal checks at random, consider exposure, get input from your practitioner. These are horses that can benefit from herbal support for parasite control, and chemical deworming perhaps concentrated in the spring and early summer when parasite infestation is at a peak. Dogs likewise.

• If you choose to use chemical dewormers, do not use them in conjunction with other stresses, such as vaccinations or teeth floating–especially with tranquilization, not within a week before or after hauling or competing, don’t ride that day, or subject to any other type of emotional or physical stress. Obviously, you would not chemically deworm an animal running a fever or exhibiting acute or chronic disease processes such as heaves, hives, laminitis, etc. until the crisis is over or the acute situation is resolved.

• In terms of reported deaths and toxic reactions, Moxidectin leads the pack by a wide margin, followed by Ivermectin, then the Oxibendazole class, next the Pyrantel class, then Fenbendazole, and no reported deaths from Piperazine, Thiabendazole and Oxfendazole classes. These are listed in descending order, from the most dangerous to the safest, per The Horse Journal in October 2001.

• Support after chemical deworming with a probiotic for several days to help re-establish the beneficial gut bacteria, and consider using a pH balancer and detoxifier for a few days. Sometimes boarding stable or kennel rules or insurance companies dictate frequent worming, so these are some things you can do to support the horse in more quickly throwing off the toxic effects.

• If you choose to use daily wormer, consider giving the horse a break from the product during the winter months, when parasite activity and reinfestation chance is lower.

• Think carefully before deworming a particularly debilitated horse or dog. Many rescue cases go bad because of the rescuer’s frenzy to immediately deworm and vaccinate an animal that is already on its lips. A crisis may be avoided by waiting a few weeks until the animal has started to rally with proper diet and supplement support.

• If you are on a daily or semi-monthly deworming program and are seeing any of these side effects of liver toxicity, you may wish to back off on the chemicals and work on building up the animal:

1. Recurrent colics (especially right after deworming) or digestive distress, loose stools.
2. Weight loss, topline loss or muscle wasting.
3. Hypothyroidism as evidenced by weight loss or gain, crumbling hooves, laminitis, dry hair coat, frizzed hair coat, reproductive problems.
4. Hoof abscesses or white line disease.
5. Crabby attitude or lack of desire to work or play.
6. Muscle soreness, tying up or white, foamy sweat.

Any deworming or parasite control works best on a full moon! If you choose to do 28 days of an herbal or natural product you will automatically cover this. If you chemically deworm, do it at the full moon when the fluid pressure in the cells is at a peak, and you will get a better kill.

As a closing thought, remember that YOU have responsibility for the animals that have been given into your care. Research all possible angles, and don’t do anything out of fear or “because everyone is doing it.” Your veterinarian is your ally and (hopefully) friend, and you will find him/her supportive if you supply information and discuss these options that he/she may not know exist. Even the centuries-old herbal approach is new stuff to allopathically-trained practitioners. YOU are in charge of your health and that of your animals. See them as healthy and perfect, and consider all approaches before you make your own informed decisions! Twang some paradigms, if you have to…honor your instincts, listen to your animals.

Judy Sinner, Gold Director with Dynamite Marketing, Inc: dynamitemarketing.com - www.dynamiteonline.com

Judy Sinner ©2007, as published in Issue 7 of The Horse's Hoof Magazine (2002)

©2007 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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