Part 3: How to treat and prevent heartworms

Aug 31, 2018 by Dr Katie McConnell

Part 3: How to treat and prevent heartworms
          Part 3 of this series will discuss treatment and prevention of heartworm infection.  There is one main method of treatment used today. It is a medication called Melarsomine and is used for adulticide treatment.  Adulticide heartworm treatment refers to the process of killing the adult heartworms inside of the body. It is a multi-staged process that can differ mildly between veterinary practices and even veterinarians within one practice.  Most clinics have a protocol developed among the veterinarians to insure a continuity of care and standard of practice. Don’t be concerned if one practice handles the process a tiny bit differently than another. For the most part, the process is similar.  

          The first stage involves killing the microfilaria that are circulating in the blood.  This is done by giving a dose of heartworm prevention. Different vets opt to for different products.  Drs Moores, Ferrara, and McConnell usually choose Advantage multi for dogs. Dogs must remain on heartworm prevention for the rest of treatment and thereafter.  During this stage, your dog will probably be started on a 30 day course of antibiotics. The antibiotic treats a bacteria, Wolbacteria, that lives within the heartworms.  It is believed that killing the bacteria weakens the heartworm and makes it easier to kill with Melarsomine.  

          The second stage is administration of the medication Melarsomine 30-90 days after giving the first dose of prevention.  The vets at Tchefuncte Animal Hospital usually opt for 90 days of prevention prior to the first treatment with Melarsomine.  The treatment is done in two parts approximately 30 days apart by deep muscular injection into the lumbar muscles. Some pain is association with treatment, so pain medications may be prescribed to your dog on treatment days.  During this process different medications may be prescribed for different reasons. This is the aspect I have noticed differs among practices. Some veterinarians give steroids for inflammation while some focus mainly on the pain aspect of treatment.  Again, there are some minor differences in treatment protocol, but the general process and results are the same. Here are Tchefuncte Animal Hospital, we tailor treatment to the patient and their needs. This may include sedation, pain medications, and/or anti-inflammatories.  These medications are used mainly to prevent complications of treatment. The most common complication is pain at the injection sight, but more severe complications may include inflammation in the lungs, vomiting, diarrhea, or in rare cases death. Most often, the severe complications are due to excess activity.  Strict crate rest and exercise restriction is of utmost importance when it comes to complication prevention. Sedatives may be prescribed, if the patient is hyperactive during treatment process.

          So you see, Heartworm Disease is a problem best prevented than treated.  Heartworm prevention comes in all shapes and sizes. It is targeted at the larval stages which are susceptible to safer and more common medications.   When prescribing heartworm prevention, the needs of the patient and owner must be met to insure complete compliance. Proheart is an injection that lasts for 6 months.  It is a convenient and effective method of preventing heartworms. But some people can’t remember to bring Fido in every 6 months (guilty here!) I find it easier to remember giving my dogs a pill on the first of the month.  Many products exist in the monthly pill category. It is best to ask your vet which one fits your needs. If your dog won’t take a pill and you can’t remember the shot, then a topical product might be the best for you. I recommend having a conversation with your veterinarian annually during your dogs wellness examination to decide which is best for you.  Veterinarians try to make the choice easy, so owners will comply with administering prevention. We truly care about your four-legged family members.

Above image provided by the American Heartworm Society.  Their website has a tone of great information for owners.  

Appointments & Reservations

Our veterinarians, Drs. David Moores, Laura Ferrara, and Adam Brown are now accepting new patients. Bring your dogs, cats, reptiles, pocket pets, and rabbits to Tchefuncte Animal Hospital for veterinary care in Madisonville. 

Contact our office at 985-845-7484 today to schedule an appointment or for more information.

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