The Problem With Ignoring Exercise Restriction During Heartworm Treatment
The primary reason your veterinarian and the American Heartworm Society want you to keep your active dog calm during heartworm treatment is to reduce complications and reduce permanent damage to your dog’s heart and lungs.
It is a simple but important message.
And, the more advanced the disease in your dog the tighter the restrictions. In fact, if your dog has advanced heartworm, you really need to follow your veterinarian’s guidelines above what I will share with you here if there is a conflict of information.
How I Cage Rest During Heartworm Treatment
Cage rest is pretty self-explanatory. It means cage rest! Your heartworm positive dog, after receiving melarsomine treatment will be instructed to remain caged, crated or penned for the duration of this phase of treatment except when they need to go outside to potty or when you can absolutely-positively-guarantee that your dog will remain calm.
The duration of this phase may be as short as 30 days, or as long as 120 days, but most of my foster dogs were under cage rest for 60 days.
I always “size up” the crate for cage rest. The goal is to keep their body “at rest”, not immobile. Your heartworm positive dog should be able to stretch out and lay comfortably in any position they choose. At a minimum, they should be able to stand up and easily turn around while in the crate.
During cage rest, I stop the following activities:
I’ve Followed Both Fast-Kill and Slow-Kill Heartworm Treatment Protocols
I’ve fostered a half-dozen (or more) dogs who were diagnosed heartworm positive. Only one received slow-kill treatment, Emmy Lou. She was my crate aversive, please-don’t-leave-me-alone deaf female that lived with me for about two years. Her issues made it unsafe for her to undergo melarsomine therapy because I was unable to keep her calm.
Emmy Lou hated the crate. When you closed the crate door, she anxiously worked herself up into a frenzy. I tried to gently train her to the crate, but she was steadfast in her resistance. Sedatives did not ease her anxiety, either. Even though she had an early stage of heartworm disease, melarsomine therapy was unsafe, as Emmy Lou would not tolerate cage rest. The safer treatment for her was a slow-kill protocol.
Emmy Lou’s slow-kill protocol included the use of Doxycycline and a monthly dose of Heartgard. After testing negative for heartworm, she was adopted by a wonderful family and lived the life of a queen. She died at the age of 11 from a cardiac event. I wish she’d had more time to soak in all the doting she received and deserved.
Talking to dog owners about rest and recovery during heartworm treatment
Has your dog been diagnosed with heartworm disease and is currently undergoing treatment? If so, it is important to change your at-home habits to complement your veterinarian’s efforts and give your dog the best chance for a full recovery. Heartworms target a dog’s heart, lungs, and blood, and can bring on potentially fatal health issues without the proper treatment.
Even with treatment, your pup requires additional care and consideration while undergoing treatment. Here are some of Oakland Veterinary Referral Services’ (OVRS) top tips for caring for a dog during heartworm treatment.
Since heartworm disease targets your dog’s cardiovascular and respiratory systems, it is very important to limit physical activity throughout the duration of the treatment. Heartworm disease ranges in severity from stage 1 (where the animal is infected but not showing symptoms) to stage 4 (where the heart and lungs are already damaged and the liver is enlarged). Your veterinarian will talk to you about which stage your dog is dealing with. It affects how much or little physical activity he can safely do without risking further damage. Instead of your daily walk, you might want to instead have a cuddle fest to give your dog’s body a proper chance to heal.
We know it can be difficult to keep your dog from some of her favorite things while she is dealing with heartworm treatment, but it is very important to keep your pup calm to ensure a full recovery. While your dog is undergoing treatment, be sure to avoid the following:
Without regular levels of physical activity, it is important not to overfeed your dog during heartworm treatment. That doesn’t mean you can’t use food to give him a little bit of joy. Invest in a food puzzle or other interactive food game that can keep his mind engaged as he eats to prevent boredom. You can also fill his kennel with some fun chew toys so he can keep his mind busy even while his body rests.
The American Heartworm Society also offers ideas for battling boredom during cage rest while your pet recovers.
If you think your dog might have heartworm disease and needs treatment, the team at OVRS is here for you. To learn more about our specialty or emergency veterinary services, or caring for a dog during heartworm treatment, please call (248) 334-6877.