The Steps of Treatment for Heartworm Disease in Dogs
If you know anything about heartworm disease in dogs, you know how dangerous it can be for them. Diagnosis of the infection is extremely difficult because the symptoms develop almost six months after the larvae get into the dog's bloodstream.
Moreover, pet parents often ignore the symptoms until these get severe. Heartworm infection can be prevented quite easily by feeding Heartgard medication to the dogs. However, if the larvae reach the lungs or cardiovascular organs and grow into adults, it becomes extremely difficult to treat the disease after that.
Although treatment of the disease is possible by killing the heartworms and other associated parasites, the damages done to the organs cannot be reversed and stay lifelong. That is why early diagnosis and treatment of the infection is necessary.
The American Heartworm Society (AHS) has provided guidelines for the treatment of heartworm disease. The therapy consists of three steps of treatment. In the article, we are going to talk about those steps in detail.
The first step to the treatment of heartworm is to feed preventive medication to the dog. Most dogs get infected because their owners have not been feeding preventive medicines to them. The first step the doctor prescribes is to feed heartworm preventive medicines like Heartgard tablets.
Contrary to popular knowledge, the medication does not kill the heartworm larvae directly. The microfilariae secrete a type of protein that makes them invisible to the dog's immune system. The medicine prevents the larvae from secreting the protein so that the immune system can eliminate them from the bloodstream.
Some dogs may have side effects after the administration of the medicine, so the vet should give them antihistamines in case the infection is severe.
When the adult heartworms start dying within the dog's body, it causes an immense reaction in the form of inflammation. That is why doctors inject a dose of Doxycycline in the dog so that it can prevent the inflammation. Doxycycline is an antibiotic and gets administered to stop the sudden growth of a bacteria called Wolbachia.
The bacteria have a symbiotic relationship with the heartworms and live within their body. When the heartworms start dying, there is a sudden exponential growth of the bacteria within the dog's body that triggers the inflammatory reaction.
When the antibiotic kills the bacteria, heartworm larvae also cannot survive, so it would not be able to infect another dog if a mosquito picks them up from the infected dog's body. That is why AHS recommends administration of Doxycycline before Melarsomine so that the infected dog does not become the source of further infections.
Melarsomine is the only drug that has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of adult hookworms in dogs. The medicine is specific to dogs and cannot be used on other animals like cats or ferrets who can also get affected by hookworms. According to the AHS protocol, Melarsomine is administered in two stages.
An initial dose of the medicine is administered first, and the doctor checks the condition of the dog before injecting the next dose. There is usually a gap of one month between the doses. After one month of the first dose, the doctor checks the dog for the amount of reactive inflammation or any occurrence of an embolic disease.
If the conditions are acceptable, the doctor will administer the next dose with two injections that are given with a gap of 24 hours. However, if there is too much inflammation or the conditions are not ideal, the doctor might delay the two injections. However, there should not be a gap of more than 24 hours between the two final doses of Melarsomine.
Doctors must communicate things properly to the pet owners because they must understand that the treatment is lengthy and extremely painful for their dog. The medication can kill the worms, but since they are located in the lungs or cardiovascular organs, they cannot be flushed out as easily as intestinal worms.
The dog's immune system will slowly disintegrate the dead worms and flush them out. If the dog has any physical activity during this time, its bloodlines could be clogged and create further complications.
Therefore the pet parents must keep the dog confined indoors and limit its physical activities for six tonight weeks after the final injection. Understandably, the dog might feel bored, so the owners can find out ways to help them beat the boredom.
Treatment of heartworm disease is an extremely lengthy and complicated process for dog owners, while it causes a lot of discomfort and pain to the dog. That is why the AHS emphasizes that dog parents must feed heartworm preventive medicines to their dogs from seven months of age. The chewable tablets are easy to feed since they are flavored like treats and cost a fraction of the treatment.
This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes