How To Keep A Dog Inactive During Heartworm Treatment

Heartworm disease is a severe condition that requires immediate veterinary care. If your dog tested positive for this health problem, it’s important that you seek immediate help. Part of the treatment involves reduced and enforced rest. With this, it’s essential to know how to keep a dog inactive during heartworm treatment. This is to ensure that the treatment will be effective while preventing potential complications.

What is heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease, scientifically known as dirofilariasis, is caused by the parasite called Dirofilaria immitis. It’s a blood-borne parasite that thrives and damages a canine’s internal organs. This is the same parasite that causes heartworms in humans, but only through a mosquito bite. It’s very rare for humans to contract the infection in other ways.

Heartworms tend to proliferate in a canine’s heart and nearby blood vessels, thus the name. These worms are usually 6 to 14 inches long for females (half the size for males) with a width of 1/8″. Visually, they look like al dente spaghetti pasta.

To give you an idea of how massive the infection can be, a dog can have as many as 3,000 worms before the diagnosis.

Take note that heartworm isn’t transmitted from one dog to another. As with humans, the Dirofilaria immitis parasite needs a mosquito as an intermediate host. Once an infected mosquito bites a dog, the heartworm will then be transferred.

With this cycle of infection, most cases of heartworm are reported during the mosquito season. For most countries, this season occurs from the end of spring and peaks during summer.

Dogs with heartworm disease will have a persistent and dry cough. The doggo will also be reluctant to move and exert physically because it worsens the symptoms. As the disease progresses, your pet may suffer from heart failure, which will lead to the diagnosis.

Treating heartworm disease in dogs

To treat heartworm, an injectable drug called melarsomine will be administered to kill the parasites. It’s given to infected dogs in a series of injections, which may vary based on the extent of the infection.

After the vet injects your dog with heartworm treatment, it’s imperative to keep the canine calm. This means limited physical exertion.

Why is this so? Well, once the dog receives the treatment, the heartworms will die. The dead worms will then be washed away in the bloodstream and carried into the lungs. These worms end up in the small blood vessels of the lungs, where it decomposes. The body will then absorb the organic remains of the worms.

However, this entire process takes months. Enforced rest is essential, and you have to ensure that your dog won’t perform a strenuous exercise for at least 8 weeks.

Take note that there are dead worms lodged in your dog’s lungs. If the pooch runs, jumps, or walks vigorously, the sudden need for oxygen will lead to complications.

This is why keeping your dog inactive during the treatment is a BIG MUST. It’s a matter of life and death, so you should take it seriously.

How to keep a dog calm during heartworm treatment

If your dog is already calm and docile, you’re quite lucky. However, if you have an energetic and hyper furbaby like mine, you have to do these steps religiously:

1. Enforce cage rest

Most veterinarians will recommend cage rest during the course of heartworm treatment. Also, this will prevent your dog from moving and taxing its lungs too much. You can use your dog’s crate here.

If your dog is already crate trained, you’re good to go. However, if you’re yet to train it, treats and positive reinforcement will always help.

Your dog has to stay inside the crate all day long, except when eliminating. You can feed the pooch inside to prevent them from running away and escaping. While this will make your dog sad, it’s better than letting him suffer from complications.

And speaking of elimination, I suggest that you carry your dog outdoors instead of letting it walk. Also, keep it leashed so that it won’t run around. Keep the length close to you so your pet won’t go too far.

2. Keep the dog leashed

You should keep your dog leashed at all times if you are to get it out of the crate. This is very crucial if your dog is very active. You can’t risk the pooch zooming around the house and running out of breath. Even if you’re just brushing the dog’s coat, you should still keep it leashed.

3. Cancel long walks

Lifestyle changes are also necessary while your dog recovers from heartworm disease. While your dog is receiving heartworm treatment, you should cancel long walks and other strenuous activities.

It’s okay for your dog to walk around the house, but don’t let them roam freely. Besides, heartworm treatments will only take eight weeks. With proper diet changes, your pet will not become obese.

4. Consider calming aids

If your dog just won’t stay still, you can ask the vet for the use of sedatives. Take note that you should always ask the vet first to ensure that the sedatives won’t interfere with the current heartworm treatment.

Also, calming aids can only be used for specific periods. It’s not ideal to give it to your dog all the time, as any drug used too frequently will have serious repercussions.

How long should my dog stay inactive after the treatment?

On average, dogs have to stay calm and quiet for 6 to 8 weeks upon the heartworm treatment’s initial injection. This is to allow the dead heartworms to decompose and be absorbed by the body.

Take note that the first few weeks are very critical as large amounts of worms will die and go through the lung’s small blood vessels. And in worst infections, the vet will recommend that the dog remain inactive for up to 12 weeks.

It’s essential to coordinate with your pet’s vet to know how long it needs to rest. During the course of the treatment, you’ll have to bring your dog to the vet’s clinic multiple times for check-ups.

How expensive is it to treat heartworm in dogs?

On average, heartworm treatments cost around $1,000. For mild cases, the vet may only charge you $500. Take note that the worse the infection is, the more expensive it is to treat. This is why immediate diagnosis is important when it comes to heartworm disease.

Can dogs live normal lives after heartworm treatment?

After successful treatment, dogs can live their normal life without pain. Just note that the treatment will span months to ensure that no heartworm will be left. Antigen testing has to be done multiple times to ensure that the adult and larvae have been exterminated.

You should also remember that the damage brought by heartworm to your dog’s body can have lasting effects. It could potentially shorten the canine’s lifespan if the heartworm disease caused serious organ damages.

In some cases, treated dogs have to consume a new diet and have a permanent change in lifestyle.

What is the success rate of heartworm treatment in dogs?

Heartworm disease treatments have a reported success rate of 95%. Also, it depends on the type of drug that the vet will use during the treatment and how your dog will respond to it. Most of all, the extent of the infection is also a big factor in the treatment’s success.

Early diagnosis, professional veterinary care, and intensive monitoring will help your dog realize a full recovery.

Is heartworm treatment painful for dogs?

During a heartworm treatment, the spot where the drug is injected will become inflamed. This can cause pain to your dog, which can be managed by pain medications. But the same with using sedatives, you should always coordinate with the vet to assess contraindications to the treatment.

Do dogs poop out heartworms after the treatment?

Unlike tapeworms, your dog will not necessarily poop out heartworms. Since the parasite lives in the circulatory system, it will decompose in the lungs and be absorbed by the body. This waste matter will be released in different ways, including your dog’s poop. However, you won’t see actual tapeworms because the body had broken down its remains before it exited the body.


Knowing how to keep a dog inactive during heartworm treatment is a task for every pet owner. Cage resting, leashing, and limiting physical activities should prevent your dog from exhausting its lungs. Of course, you should always communicate with your dog’s vet as the treatment progresses.