The treatment of dog heartworms is much more difficult than the prevention of these parasites. Once a dog is infected with heartworms, the treatment and recovery period can be life-threatening and long. Recovery can take several weeks or even months, and is not always possible.
Heartworm Recovery Facts
With extensive heartworm treatment, recovery becomes a lengthy process in order for your dog to completely overcome the infestation and become healthy again. Treatment actually occurs over several months to eliminate the larvae and the adult heartworms.
- Initially, an evaluation is conducted to determine the status of the dog's health and the seriousness of the heartworm infestation. The dog's overall health is taken into account before treatment begins.
- Depending upon your veterinarian's recommendations, your dog may be hospitalized from two to four days.
- Treatment consists of killing the adult worms first with a series of injections.
- After the heartworms are treated, they die slowly and gradually dissolve over a period of several weeks.
- Three or four weeks after the initial treatment, your dog will need to be brought back for treatment of the microfilaria; these are the baby heartworms. This can usually be handled during a one day vet visit.
- After that, continued checkups and testing will follow, and the dog will be placed on heartworm preventative medication.
What to Expect During Recovery
After your dog has initially been treated for heartworms, it is essential that he is kept confined for three or four weeks. After treatment, excessive activity and exercise can increase the risk of movement of the dead heartworms through the body, clogging the arteries, and creating serious heart and lung complications. The recovery process can vary from one patient to another, but common recovery symptoms include the following:
- Lack of energy; sleepiness for several days - This will actually work to your advantage since you want to keep your dog quiet during his convalescence.
- Muscle soreness - The injection site might be sore for several days, so avoid touching it or putting any pressure around the area.
- Increased energy - Even though your dog may begin to feel better after a few days, it is still important that he rest and refrain from exercise, so you'll need to continue to confine him for the first month. This means no walks and no playtime. Put him on a leash to take him outside when necessary, and then bring him back in. If you have problems limiting his activity level, confine him in a small area of the house or in a large crate.
After the first month has passed, you can encourage your dog to build up his strength with your vet's guidance and approval. You should continue to monitor your dog's health.
- Pay attention to his behavior. Does his energy continue to increase?
- Look at his gums. They should be pink in color, not very white or red. If you notice any changes, contact your vet.
- Listen to his breathing. Does he continue to cough and/or have difficulty breathing? If so, contact your vet immediately. Also, contact your vet if you notice your dog running fever or acting as if he is ill.
Continue to keep your dog on preventative medication and be sure he makes all of his veterinarian check-ups. Heartworms are life-threatening, and the treatment and recovery period can be long and tough on a dog of any age.