Understanding How Canine Heartworm Treatment Works

Canine Heartworm Treatment

The diagnosis of heartworms in your pet is certainly cause for concern, but your veterinarian may be able to administer canine heartworm treatment that can save your dog's life.

Common Canine Heartworm Treatment

If your dog has heartworms but hasn't been administered a blood test to determine the presence of these parasites, by the time you notice any signs or symptoms, it may be too late. In order to treat a dog for heartworms, the adult worms, the larvae and the microfilaria must all be eliminated from the dog's body. Microfilaria are baby heartworms that can live up to two years in a host dog. Depending upon the dog's overall health and the number of worms present, the process of treating heartworms can be a very serious and even life-threatening. Still, if left untreated, the dog will eventually die. Keep in mind, however, that dogs don't always respond to medicines and treatment in the same manner.

General canine heartworm treatment typically involves the following:

  • Treatment begins with the evaluation of the dog's health and the severity of the heartworm infestation. Veterinarians typically rely on blood tests and x-rays to evaluate the presence and severity of heartworms in a dog.
  • In some cases, stabilization of the dog's health must first be attended to before treatment can proceed.
  • During the process, adult heartworms are eliminated, and then the microfilaria and the larvae are eliminated.
  • A dog is typically kept overnight at a veterinary hospital for treatment of the adult worms.
  • Treatment generally involves killing the adult heartworms with two injections separated by 24 hours.
  • Close monitoring of the dog will continue during the hospital stay.
  • At the end of the second day, your dog may be released if he is deemed stable.
  • For the following month, you must keep your dog confined so that he does not get any exercise. This is extremely important in order to keep the dead heartworms from circulating throughout the bloodstream and blocking your dog's arteries.
  • After one month, you must bring your dog back to the vet for treatment of the microfilaria. He will be given an injection and kept at the veterinary hospital to be monitored for the rest of the day. If there are no obvious complications, he usually won't be kept overnight.
  • The next step involves bringing your dog back in two to three weeks for a checkup. If no microfilaria are found, your dog will be started on preventative medicine. However, if microfilaria are found, your dog will receive another injection and monitored for the day.
  • After three months, your dog will be tested again for heartworms.

Things to Know

Dog in a cage for heartworm treatment
Confinement is necessary for treatment.
  • The removal of adult heartworms increases the risks to a dog's circulatory system because the dead worms often become lodged in the arteries and blood vessels.
  • Prescription medicines that are typically associated with the treatment of heartworms are referred to as adulticides, typically a form of arsenic. Close monitoring must continue for several days and even weeks after these medicines are administered in order to watch for any serious side effects that could occur.
  • As the worms are killed, inflammation often occurs in the dog, and in some cases inflammatory medicine is also administered.
  • A second round of heartworm medicine is sometimes needed to kill the more immature parasites.
  • Once the adult worms are eliminated, the microfilaria are usually treated with a heartworm preventative such as HeartGard or Interceptor in the following month.
  • Your dog will need to be rechecked for heartworms in approximately four months to see if another round of treatment is necessary.
  • Once the heartworms are completely eradicated, you will need to continue giving your dog preventative medication as prescribed by your doctor.

Holistic Treatments

Some people believe that the serious risk to a dog's health due to the side effects of conventional canine heartworm treatment calls for a focus on holistic treatments as an alternative. Possible health complications, such as liver problems, uncontrolled bleeding, seizures and death have influenced some pet owners to seek more natural treatments. The premise behind these holistic treatments relies on detoxifying your dog's digestive system and expelling the parasites safely without the risks of chemical-based medication-related side effects.

  • What do these treatments consist of? They are typically comprised of natural herbal extracts. One such holistic treatment is Parasite Dr., an herbal remedy that is specially designed to promote digestive health by cleansing the blood and supporting the immune system as well as promoting healthy digestive functioning.
  • Will these herbal treatments work? There isn't a definitive answer. Your veterinarian will probably tell you "No", but if you are seeking an alternative to traditional treatment, you can do more research. However, you should contact your doctor with any concerns regarding your pet, and work with him or her to keep your pet in the best health possible.
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Understanding How Canine Heartworm Treatment Works