Pets: What To Do If My Dog Has Heartworms

dog owner

The last thing any dog owner wants to hear is that their pet has heartworms. This severe and potentially deadly parasitic infestation is serious business. If your dog somehow gets infected, the first piece of advice: Do not panic! The good news is that your dog can be successfully treated in most cases.   

What Are Heartworms?

Heartworms are parasitic worms called Dirofilaria Immitis. They are not contagious and can only pass to a dog via mosquito. Once in the dog’s bloodstream, heartworms take up residence in the pulmonary system.

From there, it takes 6 or 7 months for heartworms to mature. If theyre not treated, they will eventually kill their host over a 1 to 2 year period. But if it happens, here are the steps that will need to be taken to get a dog back to health.

Confirm The Diagnosis

A vet will draw blood and perform an initial antigen test for heartworms. Getting rid of them is time-consuming and expensive. Before treatment begins, the vet will perform a second test to accurately diagnose the issue. If that comes back positive, treatment can begin.

Care During Treatment

Its important to keep Fido healthy during the process once treatment has begun. That means no strenuous exercise. The more blood thats pumping the better it is for heartworms. As much as we all might love running with our pups, keep it to a leisurely walk during treatment.

Solving The Problem

This is where things can get difficult, because while heartworm infestation is treatable, its a long, costly, and potentially dangerous process.  Lets go through the treatment steps in order to know exactly what to expect.

Exercise Restriction

That might mean keeping your furriest family member in a crate for the duration of the treatment and only taking short, quick walks outside for potty breaks.

Get Ready For Treatment

A dog will have to be healthy enough to get treatment and if the heartworms have been around for some time that may mean an initial treatment of antibiotics to weaken them and make sure the dog is strong enough to make it through the cure.

Eliminate Heartworm Larvae

The vet will likely want to keep the dog overnight for the first treatment designed to kill any heartworm larvae swimming through the bloodstream. They do this in case the dog has a bad reaction to the medicine, which is strong stuff.

Kill Adult Heartworms

Starting a month later, this stage of treatment involves three deep muscle injections of a heartworm-killing drug (the vet will recommend the one they think is best). After the initial injection, the second dose is administered 30 days later, and the third, one day after the second.

Wait It Out

Keep your dog quiet and calm for about two months and hope for the best. Test for heartworms three months after treatment is finished and again after six to eight months. If the test comes back negative, your dog is healthy and ready to resume activities as normal.

The Cost

The bottom line: getting rid of heartworms wont be cheap or easy. There will be multiple trips to the vet, injections, medicines, and your constant engagement. All told, it might cost upwards of thousands of dollars but who can put a price on the life of their pet?

The Final Word

Once the parasite is gone, it’s easy to make sure they dont come back. Theres a long list of heartworm prevention medicines available, so either buy one over the counter or through your vet and stick to a routine to keep heartworms away.