Heartworm In Dogs – Diagnosis and Treatment

In a previous post, we went over the basics of heartworm in dogs: what it is, how it’s transmitted by mosquitoes, plus we covered the various symptoms and stages of the disease.

Now let’s look at how heartworm disease is diagnosed and treated. Then we will look at how heartworm can be prevented.

Diagnosis of heartworm in its earlier stages is very important because the earlier it’s detected the better your dog’s chances are for a complete recovery. Heartworm disease is diagnosed by a blood test which looks for something called antigens in your dog’s blood. These antigens are proteins which are released into the dog’s blood by the adult heartworm. The test can determine if heartworms are present in the dog’s body, even if no actual worms are present in the blood sample.

If the test is positive, your veterinarian will order some additional testing to confirm the diagnosis and also some tests to make sure your dog can withstand treatment. These tests may include xays and ultrasound as well as an echocardiogram, a non-invasive painless procedure which is able to visualize the chambers of your dog’s heart.

Treatment is expensive and can be dangerous. Prevention is the best route but if your dog already has the disease, it depends on what Class the disease is at the time. Basically there are four phases to treatment which include confirming the diagnosis, restricting the dog’s activity which can make his condition worse, stabilizing the disease if necessary and then actual treatment.

Options include a drug called melarsomine dihydrochloride (brand names Immiticide and Diroban) injected deep within the muscles of the dog’s lower back if the disease has not progressed beyond stage three.

Other drugs which may be used are imidacloprid and moxidectin, which kills the worms in the bloodstream. Some veterinarians also use antibiotics, steroids and heartworm preventatives as part of treatment. In critical advanced cases, surgery may be required, to physically remove the worms from the dog’s heart. Follow up testing is important.

If your dog’s heartworm test came back negative, you can breathe a sigh of relief! Follow your vet’s recommendations to prevent heartworm disease in your dog, including giving him year-round a medication specifically formulated to prevent heartworm in dogs. Alway follow the dosing recommendations and be sure to give each dose in a timely and regular manner.

If your dog is outside a lot, consider the application of canine FDA approved mosquito repellant. And be sure to eliminate any pools of standing water around your house, use mosquito traps and limit your dog’s exposure by avoiding time outdoors at both dawn and dusk which is when mosquitoes are most active.

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By Ellen Britt

Dr. Ellen Britt has loved dogs since she was a child. She is particularly fond of the Northern breeds, especially Alaskan Malamutes. Ellen worked as a PA in Emergency and Occupational Medicine for two decades and holds a doctorate (Ed.D.) in biology.

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