Heartworm Treatment in Dogs: What You Need to Know

Heartworms kill over time by damaging tissue in a dog’s heart and lungs. How much damage depends on how active your dog is, how many heartworms there are, and how long the heartworms have been around.

As the heartworms do more damage, your dog will start exhibiting symptoms such as:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Coughing
  • Unusual tiredness or lethargy

As the damage gets worse, your dog will start to show more severe and immediate symptoms such as Congestive Heart Failure or Pulmonary Failure. The final stage is death.

Heartworm Treatment

The best thing you can do for your dog once you know they’ve tested positive is to take them to a veterinarian for 

heartworm positive dogs

treatment. Dogs with no signs or mild signs of heartworm disease have a very high success rate with treatment.

The more advanced the heartworm disease is, the more complications can arise with treatment (and the riskier the treatment becomes).

Treatment generally runs from $600 – $1200 (with no complications), and consists of a three-dose regimen of melarsomine to kill off the adult heartworms.

The exact cost will depend on your dog’s current condition, size and the particular veterinarian you visit. There will also be potential fees for optional additional diagnostics and tests that you can do, but in the end no matter how many tests you run, you still want to treat your dog. Those tests aren’t going to significantly change the treatment process, unless your dog is already in heart failure. Keep this in mind when deciding how to proceed.

Prevention and Damage Control

If heartworm treatment isn’t an option for you due to financial or other concerns, you can usually help keep your dog as comfortable and extend their life with certain medications.

Even if you do plan to treat the heartworms, we usually recommend starting your dog on heartworm preventative initially.

By starting your dog on preventative before treatment, you’ll eliminate the most immature stage (“baby” heartworms) and prevent your dog from getting any more heartworms. This will help minimize the disease and probably prevent you from having to go through heartworm treatment twice. Adulticide treatment only eliminates adult worms – not the young and growing stages, and nothing eliminates the “in-between” heartworm stages.

Give the first heartworm preventative pill as prescribed by the veterinarian to prevent any negative reaction. Heartworm positive dogs can have a potentially severe reaction when given the initial heartworm preventative medication because millions of larval heartworms will be killed. Pre-treating with antihistamine and/or cortisone as prescribed by the veterinarian usually eliminates this complication.

Antihistamine Dosage: the usual dosage of antihistamine is 1 mg of Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) per pound of dog’s body weight. Give this 30-60 minutes prior to the initial few monthly heartworm preventative medications.

After administering heartworm preventative, observe the dog for at least 8 hours to make sure they don’t have a reaction.

It is also very important to limit your dog’s activity level as much as you can. Keep them on a leash when outside or in a cage as much as possible to prevent the damage caused by heartworms as much as possible.

Finally, always consult your veterinarian. If treatment may not be an option now but will be later, we can work with you to custom tailor an approach that’s best for you and your dog.

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