UF veterinarians offer alternative treatment for severe heartworm cases

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Oct 17, 2011
By dvm360.com staff
Gainesville, Fla. —Veterinarians at the University of Florida report they can surgically extract heartworms from dogs suffering from severe parasitic infections.

Veterinary cardiologists made the announcement due to the shortage of Immiticide, a drug used to treat heartworm infection. With specialized instruments, cardiologists can extract the heartworms from the heart and pulmonary arteries through the jugular vein. Heartworms can live up to seven years while causing damage to blood vessels, the lungs and to the heart, according to UF veterinary cardiologists.

“This minimally invasive technique is deemed most valuable as an option for dogs with considerable symptoms or high levels of heartworms,” explains Herb Maisenbacher, VMD, a clinical assistant professor in cardiology at UF. “In this way, the heartworms are physically removed from the dog instead of just waiting for the worms to die.

“The procedure is not risk free because it involves heavy sedation or general anesthesia, and is not inexpensive,” he adds. “But for dogs with extensive disease, it could be another option to consider at a time when there are limited treatment options available.”

Immiticide has been unavailable for several months due to manufacturing problems and will remain unavailable for an unknown period of time. A limited supply is being redirected to the United States from European channels through a special program initiated by the manufacturer Merial and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Although heartworm infection can be prevented through monthly medications, Immiticide is the only FDA-approved drug to treat the disease.

The American Heartworm Society (AHS) recently released guidelines for managing heartworm infections without Immiticide. They include administration of monthly heartworm preventative and four, four-week courses of an antibiotic called doxycycline for one year. The goals of the AHS guidelines are to maintain the dog’s health, reduce any damage caused by the heartworms and prevent additional heartworm transmission.

For more information about the new treatment, call the UF Small Animal Hospital at (352) 392-2235.