Heartworm Disease and Treatment in Dogs

Heartworm disease in dogs in caused by a parasite called Dirofilaria immitis. The worms are spread from dog to dog by mosquitoes. Heartworms usually live in the dogs in two different life stages. Adult heartworms are approximately six inches long and live in the right side of the heart, the side of the heart that pumps the blood to the lungs to get oxygen. The adults produce microscopic babies called microfilaria that circulate in the bloodstream. At our hospital, the heartworm test checks for the adults and baby heartworms, as well as two other blood parasites. Since we have so many mosquitoes in the San Antonio area, heartworm disease is very common. Heartworm disease is totally preventable by giving prevention medication once a month. Dogs over six months of age need to be tested for heartworms before starting on the prevention. If left untreated, heartworm disease can cause sever lung damage and right sided heart failure that is often fatal. At Affordable Pet Care Northwest, we have a high success rate treating dogs with adult heartworms and use the safest protocol available. Our staff will provide an estimate for you before we begin treating your dog. Payments can be made as we complete each stage of the treatment. Pre-Treatment Evaluation If your dog has tested positive for heartworms, we must first do an evaluation to see if your dog is a good candidate for treatment. The evaluation consists of an examination with one of our doctors. Blood is drawn for basic lab work to ensure your dog's organs can safely tolerate the medication used to kill the heartworms. One of our doctors will call you in two to three days with the lab results. If your dog is having problems breathing or is coughing, we recommend taking x-rays of the chest to see if lung damage has already occured. We will prescribe an antibiotic called Doxycyline to kill bacteria called Wolbachia that lives inside of the adult heartworms. The antibiotic is given for 10 days. This weakens the heartworms and increases the effectiveness of the medicine we use to kill the adult heartworms. We will also dispense a special type of heartworm prevention that is given once a month. The prevention slowly kills the baby heartworms and also weakens the adult worms making the adult worms easier to kill. Stage One Treatment: After your dog has been on the heartworm prevention for two months, it is ready for stage one treatment. A single injection of a drug called Immiticide is given in the muscles of your dog's back. This is usually done in an exam room as a pre-scheduled, outpatient visit. The injection causes muscle pain so medication will be sent home to make your dog more comfortable. This single injection kills approximately 50% of the adult heartworms. The worms die quickly, however they become very brittle and break up slowly over a four week period. As they break up, the blood flow will naturally take pieces of dead heartworms to the lungs where they are ultimately dissolved. It is VERY important to keep your dog as calm as possible for at least four weeks following this first injection. If your dog is allowed to jump and play during this time, the worms can break up too quickly and block blood flow to the lungs. This can be very serious, and medical attention will be needed right away. Please monitor your dog closely during this time and call our hospital immediately if you notice any coughing or other signs of illness such as: lethargy, not eating, vomiting, etc. Sometimes tranquilizers are dispensed for excitable dogs to keep them calm during this four week period. Stage Two Treatment: One month after the first injection, your dog is ready for the final part of the heartworm treatment called "Stage Two." In this stage, you need to make an appointment to bring your dog in on two consecutive days or your dog can spend the night in the hospital. During this stage of treatment, two injections of Immiticide are given 24 hours apart. Again, the injections are given in the muscles of the back, so the pain medication will be dispensed to make the pet more comfortable. The combination of the two injections kill the remaining adult heartworms. As with Stage One Treatment, it is VERY important for your dog to remain as calm as possible for the four weeks after the injections. Please monitor your dog closely for coughing or any signs of illness and call the hospital immediately if they occur. Four weeks after receiving the injections, we want to see your dog for a complimentary examination. At this time, your dog has successfully completed the adult heartworm treatment. Even though this treatment protocol is 98% effective, we recommend re-testing for heartworms six months after the treatment is completed. By this time, most dogs should test negative. Of course, it is important to keep your dog on the heartworm prevention during every stage of heartworm treatment and for the duration of his/her life. It usually takes a total of four months to complete the treatment protocol from the time your dog is diagnosed. Heartworm disease in dogs is very common in our area and is totally preventable. If your dog has been diagnosed with adult heartworms, we believe we offer the safest and most effective treatment protocol available. Please speak to one of our hospital team members, if you have any questions about heartworm disease prevention, or treatment. As always, THANK YOU For the opportunity to care for your pets.

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