Heartworm Hotline
Vital Signs | American Heartworm Society

Have Dog, Will Travel

The Heartworm Hotline column is presented in partnership between Today’s Veterinary Nurse and the American Heartworm Society (heartwormsociety.org). The goal of the column is to communicate practical and timely information on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heartworm disease, as well as highlight current topics related to heartworm research and findings in veterinary medicine.

No question: dogs are on the move. Whether it’s a homeless dog being relocated following a major hurricane event, a canine companion accompanying his owner on vacation or a show dog traveling for competition or exhibition, road trips can be life-enhancing—or even lifesaving—for dogs.

Nevertheless, travel is not without risk for dogs, and chief among these risks is the spread of infectious diseases. For diseases such as canine heartworm, the risk may be heightened when traveling through or from geographic areas with warm, humid climates or water sources where mosquito populations thrive. Meanwhile, mosquitoes feeding on a microfilaria-positive dog that was rescued or moved from one region to another can quickly become heartworm vectors for other unprotected dogs.

To help veterinary professionals protect the health of their patients and their pet communities, the American Heartworm Society (AHS) and the Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) have formulated evidence-based best practices for minimizing transmission of heartworms in relocated dogs (FIGURE 1). These recommendations are applicable regardless of heartworm status and can serve as a foundation for client conversations on basic preventive health care.

The best practices include the following steps:

  • Testing of all dogs 6 months of age or older prior to relocation to determine heartworm status.
  • Relocation delay for heartworm- and microfilaria-positive dogs to prevent heartworm transmission.
  • Pre-treatment (eg, administration of macrocyclic lactone drugs, application of an EPA-approved product that kills and repels mosquitoes, and antibiotics effective against Wolbachia (eg, doxycycline) for heartworm-positive dogs when relocation cannot be delayed.
  • Guidelines for microfilaria testing and retesting to avoid the transport of microfilaremic dogs.
  • Guidelines for transport following melarsomine administration to minimize thromboembolic events.

When counseling clients about travel (BOX 1), the role of veterinary technicians is to ensure our clients understand the pros and cons of animal transportation and relocation, as well as their own responsibilities to protect their pets from heartworm and other infectious diseases. For scenarios on how to communicate effectively with clients review scenarios under “Communicating with Owners.” Full details on the new best practices and references can be found at heartwormsociety.org and at sheltervet.org.