Heartworm Treatment for Dogs: What You Need to Know

Step Three: Quiet Time

During treatment and for several weeks afterward, your dog’s activity level must be limited. Fragments of dead worms can block blood flow through pulmonary vessels and worsen the inflammatory response; too much exercise increases blood flow to blocked areas, causing capillaries to rupture as the body tries to pump blood through the blocked vessels. This heightens the likelihood of complications, such as coughing, breathing difficulties and sudden death. Because of this, a highly active dog with only a small number of heartworms is more likely to develop severe heartworm disease-associated signs than a dog with many heartworms who’s a couch potato.

To reduce the risk of complications, it’s essential that you restrict exercise for the entire time your dog is undergoing treatment and for a period of time afterward. Depending on the severity of the damage caused by the heartworms, this can mean complete confinement in a crate except for potty walks on leash or minimal activity in the home, with only brief walks on leash and crating when no one is there to monitor his activity and make sure he remains calm.

Your veterinarian will let you know when your dog can resume normal activity levels.

When Surgery May Be Necessary

Not every case of heartworm disease can be treated medically; sometimes the worms are found not only in the heart but also in a large vein called the caudal vena cava, located between the liver and the heart. In that situation, surgical removal of worms may be necessary.

Fortunately, drug treatment for dogs with heartworm disease is usually successful, especially if the dog has only mild signs of disease. A dog with more severe heartworm disease can also recover, but he runs a higher risk of complications and even death. For these reasons, the best cure of all is prevention. Ask your veterinarian about your dog’s risk level and be sure you're doing everything you can to stop heartworm disease before it starts.