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Success is in the details when transporting heartworm+ dogs
Treatment, travel, and receiving are challenging but achievable with a coordinated, detailed plan
Canines need to be transported for a multitude of reasons, including recreational travel, moving to a new home, exhibition in a show, relocations from homeless shelters, and mass evacuations during catastrophes. As veterinarians, we should ensure all these patients reach their destination as safely as possible. But what if those same patients are heartworm positive?
Although heartworm disease brings additional complications to all forms of transport, the following guidelines can be used to successfully get a canine with heartworm disease from point A to point B.
Evaluate your transporatation candidates carefully
All dogs should be assessed before travel. Categorize each patient that is heartworm positive (HW+) and assign a risk assessment. A low-risk patient may be a dog that is 12 months old with no clinical signs; a moderate-risk patient may be older with mild symptoms, and a high-risk patient could be a canine that is aged 7 years with breathing issues and syncope.
These designations can alert transporters and point personnel along the way and can provide clarity so that handlers know which dogs need monitored the most, especially in group situations of HW+ transfers. All dogs with HW+ status will carry risk for travel, even in the lowestrisk group. If possible, travel should be delayed or abandoned in the high-risk group.
Treat as much as possible pretravel
In a perfect world, each HW+ patient would receive the proper American Heartworm Society guideline treatments and be allowed to fully recover before any travel is attempted, but this ideal is not always the reality, especially in shelter removals and mass-evacuation procedures. Initial steps in the process should be completed as soon as possible after positive diagnosis. All treatments will need timed correctly based on travel dates provided, and time should be allotted to allow monitoring for the first heartworm prevention dosage. Dogs can also be started on doxycycline and prednisone before they are sent off to travel.
Adequate supplies of all medications should be sent with each dog so that treatment can continue seamlessly during travel and in the immediate arrival period. Again, dogs that are clinically sick from heartworm disease should have travel plans aborted until they can receive proper care.
Protocols and paperwork
It is extremely important to have all documentation travel with the HW+ dog. This would include type of testing (microfilaria, antigen, etc), tests used (Accuplex, 4Dx, etc), and dates of testing; heartworm prevention treatment manufacturer, type, and date(s) of dosing; and any other medications started as well as the dosages and dates given. If the dog has already received melarsomine injection(s), include the dates and sites administered. In situations where multiple HW+ dogs are traveling together, each should have their own separate paperwork. Every person along the route of these patients’ journey needs access to this paperwork so they understand where this patient is in the treatment process and so the information is readily available with that patient in case of a medical emergency.
Strategies to reduce stress
Travel can be very stressful to canines not acclimated to it, and heartworm disease compounds this problem. We can mitigate some of these issues with a little preplanning.
Plan out the shortest travel times in advance, and be sure not to overcrowd travel vehicles. Use appropriately sized travel crates. Crates also should have a waterproof bottom and adequate ventilation, and crate coverings can add more comfort. Use blankets with pheromone treatments and antianxiety medications to keep patients calm, and play white noise or calming music.
Plan for activity restriction
HW+ dogs need severe exercise restrictions; this should be a required communication to all personnel transporting and receiving these canines. It is not uncommon during heartworm disease treatment to have 8 to 10 weeks of exercise restriction. Leash control is a must for these dogs. Daily activity must be kept to a minimum to keep heart rate and blood pressures as low as possible. It is important that every point-ofcontact person realizes this to ensure the best possible trip and the fewest emergency situations.
Success is in the details
Traveling with canines positive for heartworm disease can be challenging. However, success can be achieved if everyone involved in planning, treatment, travel, and receiving are committed to following a detailed plan for each dog.
Michele Leso, VMD, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1995. A general practitioner for 25 years, Leso recently shifted gears to join a pet urgent care system. She shares her home with her husband of 30 years, their 5 children, and dogs, cats, rabbits , and one very mixed-up sheep.
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