Suwanee Animal Hospital
Monday - Thursday 6:30 am - 8:00 pm
Friday 6:30 am - 6:00 pm
Saturday 8:00 am - 4:00 pm
Sunday & Major Holidays Closed
65 Buford Hwy
Suwanee, GA 30024
Tel: (770) 271-8716
Established 1989
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Heartworm Disease

heart worm model image   heartworms image

How do dogs get heartworms?
Mosquitoes harbor immature larval stages of heartworms. When your dog is bitten by a mosquito, this larval stage is injected, and travels into the dogís tissues. They migrate over the course of several months until they reach the heart, where they continue development into adult, 12-14 inch long worms. As these worms grow and reproduce, they produce more immature heartworms that are released into your dogís bloodstream. When other mosquitoes bite your dog, they pick up these new baby heartworms, and the cycle continues with the next dog they bite.

How serious is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is very serious. Heartworms interfere with the normal blood flow from the right side of the heart to the lungs. If left untreated, canine heartworm disease can result in congestive failure of the heart and other organs, thereby considerably reducing your petís quality of life, and ultimately lead to death.

How do you know if your dog has heartworms?
A simple blood test that is run in our hospital can determine if your dog has heartworms in less than 10 minutes. Clinical signs of heartworm disease can be very mild in the early stages. However, as the disease progresses and the damage increases, your pet may show signs of listlessness, tire easily while playing, develop a cough (sometimes with blood), or become anemic. The blood supply to the lungs or major organs may become blocked. Some animals will develop a swollen abdomen due to fluid accumulation. Heartworms are endemic in our area, and dogs should be tested annually for heartworm infection, even if they are on preventative.

What is the treatment for heartworm infection?
Before any treatment is started, it is essential that your pet receive a full physical exam and have a series of lab tests performed to determine the extent of the damage. Bloodwork, urine tests, and xrays are all part of this work up to give us a better idea of how many heartworms are present and the severity of the damage they have caused. Doing so allows us to create the safest and most effective treatment protocol for each individual patient. Adult heartworms are treated with a medication called Immiticide. This is a series of injections, the number and period between injections to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Patients are hospitalized for several days following an injection so that they may be carefully monitored for any complications. While this medication is much safer than previous therapies, there is always some risk in treating any heartworm infected dog. As the parasites die, they will start to dissolve and may form clots in vital organs. Patients may experience nausea, lethargy, panting, fever, depression, coughing or difficulty breathing. It is for this reason that patients must be strictly confined and their activity restricted for approximately 4-6 weeks following each injection. Failure to do so could result in these complications, even death.

Can my dog get heartworms again?
YES!! Unless you protect your pet year-round. Heartworms are easily transmitted by mosquitoes, and your dog will not be immune from re-infection. Following treatment, your dog will be placed on an appropriate heartworm preventative.

What is the recommended follow-up after treatment?
Following treatment for the adult heartworms, your pet may need to be treated for the immature stages. This involves dropping your pet off with us for the day, so that we may monitor it closely for any potential reactions. We should then see your pet again in 7-14 days to check a blood test to make sure this part of the treatment was successful. If so, we will do a follow up blood test in approximately 6 months to see if the treatment for the adult heartworms was successful. A small number of patients may need further treatment if they had a particularly high number of worms.

Heartworm Treatment Stages

Heartworms are serious. If your pet is diagnosed as having heartworms, the following steps will be taken by the Suwanee Animal Hospital to cure your pet.

heart worm model image   heartworms image

Phase One - Clearance of Adult Heartworms
• Preliminary bloodwork, chests radiographs and a urinalysis to determine the extent of the heartworm infection.
• If these lab results indicate an otherwise healthy animal or a mild case of heartworm disease, we will treat your dog over a course of 2 days, with one injection on the first day, and a second injection 24 hours later. We will monitor your dog here in the hospital for 4 to 5 days post treatment, watching for any reactions limiting his/her activity.
• If the lab results indicate advanced heartworm infection with moderate to severe damage to the lungs or organs, we will need to separate the injections in order to minimize a reaction to the dying heartworms. We will give the first injection on the first day, wait 30 days, then give 2more injections 24 hours apart. These dogs are much more likely to have an adverse reaction to the dying heartworms and exercising restriction is essential.
• It is very important that for the first 30 days following treatment that you restrict your dogís activity, either in a crate or small room, and allow leash walks only.
• One month after Phase One is completed, we will need to see your pet back to complete Phase Two.

Phase Two - Clearance of Microfilaria (immature heartworms)
Four weeks after completing Phase One, schedule a drop off appointment for the next phase of treatment. This procedure involves giving your dog an oral medication to eliminate any micorfilaria from the blood. Some dogs may experience an anaphylactic reaction to the rapid destruction of these immature heartworms after treatment, so it is mandatory that we observe them for the day.

Filter Heartworm Test
One to two weeks after Phase Two, schedule an appointment for a filter heartworm test. This is a simple blood test to make sure that we were successful in removing the microfilaria. A small number of dogs will need a second dose of the medication given in Phase Two. We will also start your dog back on heartworm preventative at this time.

Occult Heartworm Test
Four to six months after heartworm treatment, we will run another simple blood test to verify that the adult heartworms have been removed. We will then test on an annual basis with your dogís yearly vaccines.

The above is an estimate of how treatment usually follows at the Suwanee Animal Hospital for a dog tested positive for heartworms. We may need to make slight variations to this schedule for individual cases.

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We extend a sincere invitation for you and your pets to visit our office. We are confident you will receive the finest healthcare for your pets in a professional and caring environment.

Located in the heart of Suwanee just a half mile north of the Suwanee City Hall on Buford Highway serving the Sugar Hill, Lawrenceville, Buford, Duluth, Flowery Branch and Johns Creek area Since 1989.