Heartworm is a huge concern for animals, and for those who care for them, here in Korea. The following is a simple outline on heartworm – what it is and how to prevent, treat, and do further research on the disease. I hope you find it helpful. I am writing the following from research and experience. I am not a vet. I am a pet guardian in Korea who aided my pet through heartworm treatment to become healthy and heartworm free. I am also a volunteer at KAPS in Daegu. Please know that should you need to treat your pet for heartworm, you have a base of support here in ARK.

General Information and Prevention

What are heartworms?

Literally, they are worms in an animal's heart.

How do the worms get there?

Heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquito bites.

How prevalent is heartworm in Korea?

Korea has a very high rate of heartworm positive animals. Due to Korea's geography and weather patterns, the country is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and thus also the disease.

How do I prevent my pet from getting heartworm?

Ask your vet for year-round preventative and follow directions on how to administer the preventative properly.

How do I know if my pet has heartworms?

Ask your vet to test each year for heartworms. It is a simple blood test. (This blood test must also be done before a pet is put on preventative.)

What is the difference between preventative and treatment?

Preventative blocks your pet from getting heartworms. Treatment is the method used to kill heartworms that the animal already has.

Heartworm prevention is safe, easy and inexpensive. While treatment for heartworm disease in dogs is possible, it is a complicated and expensive process, taking weeks for infected animals to recover.

Heartworm Treatment and Post-Treatment Care

My pet has heartworms, now what?

Heartworm treatment can be dangerous and costly, but the risks are worth the benefits! Talk to your vet about the best options for your animal. Your vet should do a blood test to ensure the animal’s filter organs are strong enough to endure the treatment needed. Additional testing may also be done to determine the level of infection in your pet. The levels range from early infection to Caval Syndrome (severe). For more information on the levels of heartworm, please visit: AHS Canine Guidelines - Principles of Treatment.

What is the recommended treatment?

The American Heartworm Society 1 “…recommend[s] a 3 shot series. One shot followed in one month by 2 shots. We also recommend starting a positive dog immediately on preventive and giving 1 month of doxycycline* before treatment. The first 6 weeks after injection is critical to be rested.” There are, however, many methods vets use to get your pet heartworm free. *dead link removed May 2014

Your personal veterinarian will determine the best treatment for your pet. As your pet’s guardian, you should follow their advice exactly. Only with the help of your veterinarian, will you be able to cure your pet of the disease in the safest and most effective way possible.

All treatments involve the same arsenic-based compound (unless surgery is recommended), called Immiticide. There are "No 'natural' or herbal therapies (AHS Canine Guidelines PDF) that have been shown to be safe and effective treatment for heartworm disease." Your pet must be in general good health to be able to receive the shots needed.

There actually is no approved treatment for heartworm positive cats. Talk to your vet to determine the best option should your cat test positive for heartworm. There are options, but they pose a greater risk to your cat than the treatment available to dogs. You and your vet should be able to come to the best decision for you and your animal.

Please start your animal on preventatives as soon as possible to avoid the heartache that heartworm cause – for both you and your pet!

What do I do after my pet receives treatment shots?

Listen to your vet! Follow all their directions. They will ask the animal be comfortable and rested for an extended period of time (months at a time!), and this is crucial to your animal's future. Heartworms are in the heart. They must leave the heart, but how? As they are in the blood stream, they clearly cannot be excreted…

The process for the animal's body to get rid of the worms, are for the white blood cells to slowly eat away at the dead worms floating through the bloodstream. If your pet does not get the proper rest needed, then as the pet exercises, the heart will pump blood faster, pushing dead worms too fast through the bloodstream possibly leading to a clot. The clot of dead worms is referred to as an embolism. You want to prevent this from happening as it can cause damage to limbs, the brain, or kill your pet. Please listen to your vet and get your pet as much rest as needed.

Feel you need assistance, advice, tips on how to keep your pet calm? Try a calming product such as the Calming Collar or Comfort Zone 2. If your animal must go outdoors to go to the bathroom, stick to a schedule so the animal knows when to hold it and when it needs to go. Keep the bathroom outings short. Keep the animal entertained with toys indoors, but ones that they do not need to chase or get excited over – bones are excellent for dogs. Keep yourself calm – your pet can pick up on your emotions and actions and if you are feeling excited or are running around, your pet will be able to tell and may mirror your feelings. So, keep calm to keep them calm, keep a schedule to keep them routine, keep them entertained in a relaxing way, and you will have a healthy animal after the rest that is needed!

What if I don't treat the heartworms?

The animal can live with heartworms, but their longevity and quality of life are affected. Heartworms cause extensive, irreversible damage to the heart and lungs. Talk to your vet, consider your pet, and come to the best option for your pet. Your pet cannot chose; you have to decide for them.

The best thing you can do is give your pet year-round preventative. Mark your calendar and don't forget! The monthly preventative is usually a meaty flavored treat that pets love. But there are other options, such as a topical application as well. Talk to your vet! Please prevent your pet from getting this heartbreaking disease.

Additional Resources

The American Heartworm Society website has very useful information for vets and pet guardians alike, from posters to videos to up-to-date veterinary research on the disease. Please take advantage of all the information they offer. Additional links are collected below.

A video from mosquito to pet from The American Veterinary Medical Association:

1General Disclaimer: The American Heartworm Society was organized for educational and research purposes only and is not engaged in rendering medical advice to the public. Any information provided through the Society should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If a pet health problem is suspected, a licensed veterinary health care provider should be consulted. The members, editors, sponsors, and contributors of the American Heartworm Society shall have no liability, obligation or responsibility to any person or entity for any loss, damage, or adverse medical results alleged to have happened directly or indirectly as a consequence of communication with the Society.

2Comfort Zone: If you are in civilian Korean housing, you will need an adapter for using Comfort Zone. The unit will melt if simply plugged into the wall with a plug converter. Please follow the unit’s instructions and purchase an adapter.

Written by Katelin MacNair and originally posted in the ARK Forums in April, 2011.