Heartworms are transmitted to dogs through mosquito bites. If a dog has heartworms, he is not contagious to other people and pets.
Because of the warm climate, dogs in Texas must be on a monthly heartworm preventative. If a dog isn’t on a preventative, after being bitten by an infected mosquito, the worms will grow around the heart until they eventually kill the dog. Usually it takes years of being infected with heartworms before a dog starts showing symptoms, but a simple test at a vet will catch if a dog has been infected about 6 months after the initial mosquito bite.
If you adopt a dog with heartworms from APA!, we will treat the dog in our clinic after adoption for a greatly reduced fee compared to private veterinarians.
Heartworm treatment is very safe and the success rate is high. We prefer for a dog to recover in a home with his adopter rather than in a shelter. This is a great opportunity to bond with your new pet and give him a new “leash” on life.
The first step of heartworm treatment is to give your dog an antibiotic called Doxycycline. This antibiotic is very important as it kills a parasite, Wolbachia, which can live on the actual heartworm. He’ll need to take the Doxycycline twice daily for 21 days. We do not need to examine the dog to start the antibiotic, but we do need a current and accurate weight.
After the 21-day treatment, we’ll need to get the dog back in for a brief physical exam to make sure he is healthy enough to start the treatment and prescribe an oral steroid to start 48 hours before the treatment and continue through several days following the treatment. We’ll also send you home with a pain medication at that time. The treatment itself is a deep intramuscular injection that can be somewhat painful.
Next, we’ll have your dog come in for 2 consecutive appointments, 24 hours apart, to receive the injections that kill the actual heartworms. You may take your dog home directly after these appointments, and it is important that you are close by to monitor your dog after the treatment.
Following the treatment, he will need to be on “doggie bed rest” for four weeks, the first two weeks being the most critical. The idea is to keep his heart rate down to prevent any complications as the worms die off.
Finally, you should start and/or continue monthly heartworm prevention for life to prevent future infection. Four months after treatment at Austin Pets Alive!, you should have your dog tested for heartworm at your regular veterinarian.
Our medical staff will review each step and answer any questions you have as the treatment progresses.