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The Quick Facts About Slow-Kill: Treatment Options for Heartworm Disease

The Quick Facts About Slow-Kill: Treatment Options for Heartworm Disease

Written by: Danielle Matise

Hearing that your pet is heartworm positive can be overwhelming. Perhaps you just adopted your pet, who was a stray and has never received preventative care. Or maybe there was a lapse in heartworm prevention when you forgot a few doses, leaving a gap in protection that resulted in infection. Regardless of the situation, it is important to understand how this disease works and what your pet’s best treatment options are before you proceed.

If you missed our latest blog, detailing 6 Things You Didn’t Know About Heartworms, here are some important facts:

  • Heartworms are transmitted through infected mosquitoes.
  • Their entire life cycle, from larvae to foot-long adult worms, takes 7 months.
  • If pets are tested at any point during that 7 month timeline, they can have a false negative test result because the worms are not at a detectable maturity level.
  • Once they reach adulthood, heartworms will reproduce and can live for years inside the host, causing severe heart and lung damage in the process.

Heartworm disease can be successfully treated in dogs, but according to the American Heartworm Society (AHS), there is only one recommended option…and it is not the “slow kill” method.

What is the slow kill method? For a few decades now, the slow kill method has been used as an alternative option for treating heartworms. It involves long-term use of only a monthly heartworm prevention plus an antibiotic called Doxycycline. However the AHS states that this “treatment plan” can actually cause more harm than good for the following reasons:

  • The slow kill method attempts to prevent new heartworms from maturing, but it does nothing to systematically kill the adult heartworms, which can live in their host for years.
  • As the name suggests, this treatment can take a very long time. During this time, the adult worms will continue to cause severe damage to the pets heart, lungs and other organs.
  • Since the timing of worm death is unpredictable, pets should be kept calm with strict exercise limitations during the entire time of treatment–which can take months or even years.
  • Often times when pets test negative for heartworms after being on the slow kill treatment, it is actually a false reading because the treatment did not eliminate all life stages that are still developing.

The ONLY advised method to successfully and safely treat heartworm disease is called the Adulticide Treatment, and it involves these steps:

  1. Keep your pet on monthly heartworm prevention for at least 3 months before treatment.
  2. Start a 30 days course of Doxycycline, prescribed by your vet, leading up to the day of treatment.
  3. Drop your pet off on the day of treatment for a full work up of blood work, a physical exam, and x-rays. The doctor will use this information to grade the heartworm disease and create a treatment plan.
  4. If your pet’s heart is healthy enough*, the first injection of Immiticide is administered. They will be closely monitored and hospitalized overnight.
  5. Following a night of hospitalization, the second Immiticide injection is given 24 hours later*.
  6. Then your pet will go home for 30 days of VERY strict kennel rest. They might also be prescribed additional medications to keep them comfortable.
  7. After a month of recovery, your pet will have a brief follow up with the vet to listen to the heart and lungs.
  8. Six months following treatment (and again at the 1 year mark), your pet will be tested for heartworms to ensure successful treatment!

*In more severe cases, the treatment process is extended to 60 days. The first injection is given, followed immediately by 30 days of kennel rest. Then the injections are repeated 24 hours apart, followed by another 30 days.

Download our infographic handout with more details about Adulticide Heartworm Treatment here.

At GOVC, this is the only treatment option that we perform, and we are proud to have an incredible success rate. Dr. Chmaitelli even performed the treatment on his own dog, Ebbets, after he was adopted as a stray–and three years later, he is doing great and heartworm-free!

For more information regarding the Adulticide Heartworm treatment we perform, set up a consultation online or give our team a call at 713-659-0650!