Are You Considering Adopting A Heartworm Positive Dog?
Are you a little nervous or unsure about seeing a dog through treatment?
Heartworm disease can be successfully treated and the dog can go on to live an active, happy life.
98% of dogs treated will clear the infection and not require additional treatment.
What is Heartworm Disease?
Heartworm Disease is caused by a parasitic worm living in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels. Heartworm larvae are carried by mosquitoes and transferred to dogs via mosquito bites. While living inside the dog, they mature into adults, mate and produce offspring. If left untreated, the worms continue to multiply and can cause damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries. Heartworms can live 5-7 years and grow to be 10-12 inches long.
Is Heartworm Disease contagious?
Heartworm disease is not contagious, meaning that a person or dog cannot catch the disease from being near an infected dog.
What are the signs of Heartworm Disease?
In the early stages, there may be no outward signs at all. As the worms continue to grow and multiply, the symptoms will become evident and increase in severity. Symptoms may include a mild persistent cough, exercise intolerance, fatigue, decreased appetite, and weight loss. In severe cases, heart failure can occur resulting in an appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen.
What is the treatment for Heartworm Disease?
The treatment itself takes two to three months to complete.
Once the vet has determined a dog is stable and ready for treatment, they will recommend either a two or three injection protocol.
The first step of treatment is 30 days of Doxycycline plus a heartworm preventative. The vet may also prescribe a steroid, such as Prednisone.
The second step is started after the completion of the Doxycycline. Then a series of injections of Immiticide is administered. This could be either a series of two injections 24 hours apart OR a series of three injections given 30 days apart.
What can I expect after treatment?
The Immiticide is administered by deep intramuscular injections in the lumbar muscles. These injections can cause pain and soreness to spread throughout the lower back causing temporary difficulty getting up because of the muscle soreness. Some dogs experience nausea and are lethargic. These symptoms will usually ease over a couple of days. Though some dogs do not experience the muscle soreness, it is important not to pick up the dog or put any pressure on the back for 2‐4 days after the injections. Post treatment symptoms may also include a cough that may persist for a few days or weeks. It is extremely important during recovery to keep your dog calm. Most dogs that have been treated show renewed energy within the first few weeks after treatment. That being said, it is still important to restrict activity for 6 weeks.
How much activity can my dog have after treatment?
Rest and exercise restriction is extremely important after heartworm treatment in order to lessen the possibility of complications. Dogs should only go out for potty breaks while on a leash. There should be no physical activity for 6 weeks or until cleared by the veterinarian. No play, no running. Active dogs that have a hard time resting after treatment, may be prescribed calming meds during recovery. The recovery period is a great time to train the brain. Working on basic training is a great way to stimulate the dog without high activity.
Will there be follow up testing?
Approximately 6 months after treatment is completed, your vet will run a heartworm test to make sure the worms have been eliminated. Heartworm prevention MUST be given year-round for life to avoid the possibility of contracting heartworm disease again.
How can Heartworm Disease be prevented?
Prevention is key. Dogs should be given heartworm preventative year-round. There are a variety of preventatives such as chewables, topical or injections. It is best to discuss with your vet which option best fits your dog’s needs. Annual testing is necessary, even when preventatives are given year-round to ensure it is working properly. While heartworm prevention is highly effective, it’s not 100% effective and dogs can still become infected. Getting your dog tested each year, during their regular vet visit, can help diagnose infection early.
Buck’s Heartworm Story
We adopted our sweet Buck in October and were so elated to add a new family member. However, we were told Buck was heartworm positive and would require treatment. Naturally we were nervous and had questions about the condition as we had never dealt with a pup who had heartworms before. Our main concern, was determining if it contagious as we did have another dog in the family. After an internet search and call to our veterinarian, we learned it was not contagious and a very curable disease with proper treatment.
One of the most important aspects of treatment for heartworm disease is to keep the dog calm after the injections for at least 30 days or longer, depending on each dog's case. It sounds a little intimidating and you wonder, how are we going to do this? Labs are pretty active and our Buck was no exception. For us though, it actually turned out better than we expected. Any time Buck needed to go outside we put him on the leash and walked him out. We did have to put all his toys out of sight so he wouldn't be tempted to want to play and chase the ball, which is his absolute favorite thing to do. Buck was pretty accepting of the fact that he was on the leash and we frequently told him he wouldn't have to be on the leash very long and could play ball and chase squirrels again very soon. To keep Buck from being bored during this down time, we did a lot of basic training and bought Kong toys that kept him busy.
Thirty days after his injections, Buck got the all clear to be a normal dog again. He was so happy to play ball, chase squirrels and run around the yard again with his big brother. Even though we were nervous about the whole process at first, it really was not as bad as we thought. Buck was sore for the first three days after the injections but overcame that and was back to his happy self.
Buck now enjoys a normal life and can run, play, take long walks and lick you to death and you would never know he had to deal with heartworms and it's treatment.
Journey’s Heartworm Story
Journey came to Lab Rescue in April 2017. She was a stray from NC. She came to us pregnant, heartworm positive, and banged up a bit. My family lost our family beagle to cancer three days before we decided to foster Journey and her puppies. Journey had nine puppies on Good Friday, April 14th, 2017. We helped her care for her puppies for eight weeks until they were adopted. We were relieved to learn that being a heartworm positive dog would not affect her puppies. Heartworm treatment consisted of taking an antibiotic for 30 days, and then two injections, 24 hours apart. Protocol has changed, as the American Heartworm Society is continuously learning how to best treat this very treatable condition. The hardest part for Journey was the pain from the injection site. We were able to give her pain medication, and within 48 hours she was feeling much better. The most important part of the heartworm treatment is the first 30 days after the injections. We kept Journey as calm as we could, not encouraging play time. We just gave her lots of love and pets during this time. Also, it was important to keep Journey on a leash when she went outside to go to the bathroom so she wouldn't be tempted to run or play. After a month or so, we increased activity just a little bit. Six months after the treatment, Journey tested negative for heartworms. She is now a happy, healthy, very playful pooch. We do not know Journey's true age, but the vet thought, at the time of treatment, Journey was about 5 years old. She is now about 8 years old. We love Journey so much. Going through this time with her brought all of us closer, and we are certain Journey knows where she came from, and what she has now. Yesterday I took Journey to a nursing home to begin her career as a Therapy Dog. She was an absolute rock star, and everyone loved her. Heartworm treatment may seem scary, but it is a very treatable disease, and the outcome typically is a happy, healthy pooch, with many years of life ahead of them.
Bear’s Heartworm Story
Hi my name is Bear and I beat Heartworms.
Bear's story starts back in early 2018 when he wandered into our yard and our hearts. Literally, came right up to me and sat down next to me on my porch, as if he'd always known this place. Such a sweet boy, surely we thought someone was missing him somewhere nearby . But over the next few days/weeks and upon further inspection, it was more and more apparent that no one was in fact looking for poor ol'Bear . He had one completely blind eye, completely filthy, skinny(75lbs), and coughing up a storm . We contacted the Lab Rescue almost immediately, wanting to make sure he got the best possible chance.
After his first vet visit, we found out he was around 2 or 3 years old, his blind eye was part of an old injury and it turned out that cough was a telltale sign of a heartworm positive dog. His case was considered a pretty severe case, labeled a "strong positive". We were absolutely devastated to get such a diagnosis for this love bug . He didn't deserve this and us being ignorant to the whole heartworm treatment process, we automatically thought this was a death sentence for Bear (we have 2 other well cared for dogs that have never been through anything too serious). After talking with the vet and the Lab Rescue we were informed that heartworm is definitely not a death sentence. Sure, we would have to travel the road to recovery but so grateful that a full recovery was at the end of that road .
It was hard at first, he was tired and I had to convince him to eat, but Bear took the rest he needed and within a couple months he was a new dog! The coughing stopped and I was finally able to get some weight on him (110lbs)!
Today Bear is happy and healthy and doing all the things he loves to do!! We're so impressed with this big ol tub of love! He's so smart and has so much love to give. It amazes me how quick he is to learn new things. He learned his inside manners so fast for a pup that we suspect was an “outside dog”.
Nowadays, you can find him taking his morning nap with his big brothers in the sunny spot on the bed. Or in our daughter's room when she's playing barbies and drawing pictures together, he's such a good listener and is always there to comfort her. Or he's on a road trip waiting for his puppercino. Or geocaching in the park with us. Or walking amongst the chickens to give them a sniff. He's still unsure of our cat, professor Jingles..... he likes to keep his good eye on him and steers clear lol.
Bear is so very loved and such a testament to life after heartworms. He deserved a second chance at life. We failed at fostering and committed to making sure Bear also succeeds at never knowing hardship again. He made our family and our hearts complete.
Deacon’s Heartworm Story
Before fostering and later adopting our 10 year old Heartworm positive dog, Deacon, whenever I thought about a dog having Heartworms I always thought it meant a certain death. After a few tears of fear shed for him, I spent weeks researching this condition and talking to others who had been through the treatment process with their animals only to find nothing but positive stories which calmed my mind. Deacon went through two rounds of treatment shots with lots of daily antibiotics, steroids and pain meds while staying on bed rest throughout the process. Since then, our sweet old man has been on two trips, and each time he has gotten to walk through the woods which he loves. Deacon has also gotten to resume his favorite activity, playing fetch. Our boy goes crazy over a tennis ball. Sometimes I stop and think to myself that he can't be the same dog that we rescued because Deacon has become such a happy dog and even jumps around like a little puppy now. The heartworm treatment process not only saved his life, but it gave him a second chance at a happy life and a loving home.