Groups issue guidelines for safe transport of heartworm-positive dogs

The American Heartworm Society and the Association of Shelter Veterinarians have issued a new set of joint recommendations for relocation of heartworm-positive dogs. The guidelines are intended to safeguard the health of infected dogs while ensuring infected animals don’t become vectors for heartworm transmission.

These guidelines are an update to recommendations originally issued in 2017. According to the announcement, they’ve been revised to better address the timing of heartworm testing prior to transport; the use of doxycycline prior to transport; and the expansion of treatment options to ensure heartworm-positive dogs don’t become transmission reservoirs.

“After three years of implementation and evaluation, the AHS and ASV reviewed the transportation guidelines for scientific accuracy, clarity and feasibility of use,” said Brian DiGangi, a past president of the ASV, board officer for the AHS and senior director of shelter medicine for the ASPCA. Heartworm is a complex disease, requiring multiple steps to ensure adult heartworms are safely eliminated, complications are minimized and community transmission is advocated, he said.

The principles of the new recommendations for dogs being transported include:

  • Test all dogs greater than 6 months of age for microfilariae and heartworm antigen.
  • Determine which steps of the heartworm treatment protocol should be performed before and after transport.
  • Once heartworm-positive dogs have been safely transported, complete heartworm treatment according to the AHS guidelines.

“While the best-case scenario for an infected dog is to remain in place in order to administer treatment medications and facilitate post-treatment rest, many source organizations lack the resources to provide such treatment. In such cases, the ultimate survival of infected dogs may be dependent on responsible relocation,” DiGangi said. “The AHS/ASV recommendations provide practical recommendations that veterinarians and shelter personnel can follow to help ensure patient safety and avoid further heartworm transmission.”