Dog Heartworm Recovery & How to Keep Your Dog Calm

Helping your dog through heartworm treatment recovery takes work, but it's well worth it in the end.

Updated January 18, 2024
Worried woman taking care of weakening old dog at home

Unfortunately, the treatment and heartworm recovery process is much more difficult than the prevention of these parasites. Once a dog is infected with heartworms, the treatment and recovery period can be life-threatening and long. In fact, heartworm recovery can take several weeks or even months and is not always successful. That said, you can work with your veterinarian and behaviorist to help your dog get through this challenging time as easily as possible.

Dog Heartworm Recovery Overview

With heartworm treatment, recovery becomes a lengthy process in order for your dog to overcome the infestation and become healthy again. Necessary treatment length varies, but it usually takes several months to eliminate the adult and immature heartworms completely.

  1. Initially, your vet will conduct an evaluation to determine the status of your dog's health and the severity of the heartworm infestation. 
  2. Depending on your veterinarian's recommendations, your dog may be hospitalized to stabilize them before treatment. 
  3. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, DVM, advises, "Once your dog is diagnosed with heartworm disease, your veterinarian may recommend a course of antibiotics, heartworm preventives, and steroids before beginning the actual adult worm treatment." You'll give these by mouth at home. 
  4. Treatment consists of killing the adult worms with a series of injections your veterinarian will administer in the hospital. 
  5. After the heartworms are treated, they die slowly and gradually dissolve over a period of several weeks.
  6. Continued checkups and testing will follow to assess if the treatment was successful or if additional medications are needed. 
Need to Know

Dogs with large worm burdens, known as caval syndrome, need surgery to treat their heartworm disease. Extra care during recovery will be necessary due to anesthesia and the severity of the disease. 

Dog Heartworm Treatment Recovery At Home

Caring for a dog after heartworm treatment can be emotionally taxing. It's essential that they're kept confined with limited activity levels for the duration of their treatment and at least four weeks after. That's about four months or more altogether.

The American Heartworm Society emphasizes, "The most important thing you can do to minimize complications during treatment is to restrict your pet's exercise before, during, and after the melarsomine injections." This is a huge deal because if your dog is allowed to play or go on a brisk walk, the increased blood flow can push around pieces of the dead heartworms, blocking blood flow and creating serious and potentially fatal heart and lung complications. For any dog, this level of inactivity is a challenge, but active breeds and younger dogs can especially struggle and display frustration with the confinement. 

Recovery Challenges at Home

The recovery process can vary from one patient to another, but common recovery symptoms include the following:

Muscle Soreness

The injection site will be sore for several days, so avoid touching it or putting any pressure around the area to keep your dog from experiencing unnecessary pain. Applying a cold compress at home can help alleviate any discomfort, and your vet will prescribe pain medication. 

Increased Energy

Even though your dog may begin to feel better after a few days, it's still important that they rest and refrain from exercise, so you'll need to continue to confine them. This means no walks and no playtime. Use a leash for potty breaks to keep them from running around. Your veterinarian may recommend crate training your dog during this time to help keep them safe. 

Keeping Your Dog Calm During Heartworm Recovery

One of the tougher parts of heartworm recovery is keeping your dog quiet until your veterinarian gives you the go-ahead, which can be made harder if you have a younger, high-energy dog. Some ideas for keeping your dog from overextending themselves during this crucial period are:

Train Your Dog to "Settle" on Cue

It's better to start this training before the procedure, if possible. If the dog associates lying on their bed or in a crate as a positive thing, it will be easier to keep them quiet.

Use Mental Enrichment

Use training to keep your dog's brain engaged, which can be just as tiring as physical exercise. Get out a clicker and spend a few short sessions each day teaching your dog some tricks or other behaviors that do not require physical activity.

Food-stuffed toys and dog puzzles can occupy your dog's attention and keep them active while also in a relaxed position. Providing plenty of chew toys is also a great low-stress activity.

RELATED: 7 Boredom Busters to Keep Your Dog's Brain Active

Use Environmental Relaxants to Bring More Calm

Use environmental cues to keep your dog relaxed, such as peaceful music or nature sounds.

RELATED: 9 Methods for Keeping Your Dog Calm

Try Massage or Just Relaxing With Your Dog

Try to spend time with your dog down by their crate or bed to keep them from wanting to get up and run around. For example, you can lay down next to them and read a book, or bring your tablet or laptop, or bring your dog's bed next to the couch while you watch TV.

RELATED: How to Give Your Dog a Massage

Monitor Your Dog's Health

You should watch your dog closely for signs of any potential problems during the recovery period:

Man checking dog's gums

Look at Their Gums

They should be a healthy pink, not pale, purple, or red. If you notice any changes, contact your vet.

Listen to Their Breathing

Do they continue to cough or have difficulty breathing? If so, contact your vet immediately.

Assess Their Overall Appearance

Are they acting as they normally would? Contact your vet if you notice any signs of illness or if your dog seems to be running a fever

Watch the Injection Site

Does the area where the injection was given (it will likely be a small shaved section on their lower back) look OK? If it's red or swollen, let your vet know. 

Fast Fact

Contact your vet right away if your dog begins vomiting, has diarrhea, or appears sluggish and depressed.

Helping Your Dog Through Heartworm Recovery

Heartworms are life-threatening, and the treatment and recovery period can be long and tough on a dog of any age. Thankfully, the success rate of treatment is approximately 98%, and those dogs that have not fully cleared the worm infestation can go through additional treatment for a complete recovery. Follow your veterinarian's instructions and prepare for the long period of quiet time your dog will need to be on to recover fully.

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Dog Heartworm Recovery & How to Keep Your Dog Calm