Intestinal parasites are a fact of life with dogs. Nearly all puppies are born with them, and most adult dogs have small amounts of worms. As long as the numbers remain small, most healthy dogs will be completely asymptomatic.
It's only when a dog is not in good health or the parasitic infestation is moderate to severe (of course the latter can result in the former and vice versa) that symptoms such as butt scooting, diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, development of a pot belly (mainly in puppies), fatigue, weakness, and a dull coat begin to manifest.
Why Not Use Chemical Dewormers?
Some of the newer chemical prescription dewormers are quite safe, and most dogs will experience little or no negative side effects from a dose or two. The problem is that dogs are frequently reinfected within days of being dewormed. It's one thing to give your pit bull a chemical dewormer once or twice a year; it's another to use one every week.
Your vet will tell you that your dog will keep getting reinfected until you eliminate the source of the infection. Unfortunately that can be easier said than done.
How Do Dogs Get Infected?
While some common sources of parasitic infections can and should be eliminated, others may present a bit of a problem. Different parasites are transmitted in different ways. For instance, your dog may be infected by:
- Swallowing an infected flea.
- Eating or coming into contact with infected feces.
- Consuming rabbits, rodents, or other prey animals that are common carriers.
- Sharing toys, food or water bowls with an infected dog.
- Walking or lying down on infected soil.
- Swallowing infected dirt while digging.
- Eating contaminated food.
Of course fleas should be eliminated (see here for natural flea control options) and keeping your yard clean by always picking up after your dog is a good idea in any case, but convincing your pit bull not to hunt rodents or decontaminating a large outdoor area is not so easily accomplished. So what can you do?
What we need is a deworming method that is gentle and non-toxic enough to be used continually throughout the year. First, let's take a look at some of the most effective natural antiparasitics:
- Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) - Wormwood leaves can kill all types of intestinal worms and are also effective against Protozoa infections such as Giardia. Best used as part of a blend with other vermifuge herbs because large amounts of wormwood can be toxic. Can be given in powdered form, as a medicinal tea, or a tincture.
- Black Walnut Hull (Juglans nigra) - Made from the green hulls of the black walnut tree. The compound that is responsible for the herb's anthelmintic action is not water soluble, so Black Walnut Hulls are best used as a tincture or in powdered form.
- Male Fern Root (Dryopteris filix mas) - This root's oleoresin paralyzes the muscles of worms, thereby forcing them to detach from the intestinal wall. Well-known tapeworm remedy, but also effective against other intestinal parasites. Best used in tincture form.
- American Wormseed (Chenopodium anthelminticum) - Has been widely used as a dewormer for centuries, especially in Central America. Particularly effective against roundworms and hookworms. Best used as a strong decoction or tincture.
- Cloves (Caryophyllus aromaticus, Eugenia caryophyllata or Syzygium aromaticum) - Can kill intestinal parasites and their eggs. Best brewed into a strong medicinal tea or used in powdered form. The essential oil can also be used internally, but this should be done only under the supervision of an experienced veterinary herbalist.
- Papaya (Carica papaya) - Papaya fruit contains the proteolytic enzyme papain that breaks down proteins and can dissolve intestinal worms. Dried papaya leaf has far less papain, but it contains tannins not found in the fruit that protect against reinfection by preventing worms from attaching themselves to the wall of the intestine.
- Pumpkin Seed (Cucurbita pepo) - Coarsely chopped whole pumpkin seeds can immobilize and injure intestinal worms, making it easy for other herbs to finish the job.
- Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth - DE consists of the finely ground fossilized shells of single-celled plankton algae known as diatoms. The tiny, highly absorbant shell particles are sharp enough to cut and dehydrate intestinal worms, but DE won't harm your dog. On the contrary, it's a rich source of minerals that can safely be added to your dog's food on a regular basis. However, only food grade diatomaceous earth is safe (never use the treated DE intended for swimming pool filters; quality food grade DE contains less than 1% silica vs. 60-70% silica in the pool filter variety). Avoid inhaling the very fine dust or getting it into eyes.
Other herbs that are effective against intestinal parasites include sage, rue, neem leaf, garlic, butternut, and elecampane.
The Two-Pronged Approach to Natural Deworming
There are a number of natural worming protocols, but the one I'm about to describe is among the most effective. The idea is to first injure and weaken the worms with pumpkin seeds or DE, and then finish them off with a course of antiparasitic herbs.
Begin by combining food grade diatomaceous earth and/or very coarsely chopped pumpkin seeds with a little yogurt, cottage cheese, unsweetened apple sauce or canned pumpkin. Add about 1 teaspoon of DE or pumpkin seeds per 10 pounds of body weight. Feed this mixture first thing in the morning on an empty stomach.
Wait an hour, then give a dose of anthelmintic herbs. Using a combination of herbs tends to work best. You can make your own blend or purchase one of the many commercial herbal anti-parasite formulas. The most effective blends will contain at least two of the first five herbs listed above. Give a second dose about 5-6 hours after the first, and a third dose about 5-6 hours after the second.
In cases of heavy infestation or if your dog appears to be constipated, it's advisable to also give a gentle herbal laxative to expel the dead, injured, and paralyzed worms. Cascara sagrada bark works very well, and adding a little ginger root, fennel seed, and slippery elm bark will prevent cramps and ease irritation.
Most intestinal parasites will be gone within days, but you should continue this protocol for at least a week. Then start adding DE or pumpkin seeds to your pit bull's food on a regular basis to prevent reinfestation.
This information is not intended as medical advice. Its intent is solely educational.