After heartworm treatment, there can be problems with loss of appetite and a refusal to drink water resulting in deydration. Treating a dog infected with heartworms is difficult for both the animal and its owners. The only proven method of for killing the adult worms is with the drug Immiticide – and the side effects vary enormously.
Most veterinarians advise pet owners that the treated animal may not eat for three to four days after heartworm treatment. This is understandable since the treatment is painful. Adult heartworms are eliminated by using the drug Immiticide which is known to cause joint pain and nausea.
After treatment, many dogs simply feel too ill to eat. The more serious concern is dehydration. If your pet refuses to drink water after two or three days, it is imperative you contact your veterinarian immediately.
Coaxing Your Dog to Eat and Drink After Heartworm Treatment
Your dog will experience pain and discomfort for at least a week. Some pets may experience severe joint pain after the injections. This joint pain may last for two or three weeks. Most are actually hungry; however, it is too painful to walk to the food dish and many will avoid moving as much as possible. When you bring your dog home after heartworm treatment, it is recommended you move his food and water bowls close to where he sleeps. This minimizes the amount of movement, and he will be more likely to eat and drink.
You might consider investing in a pet fountain to encourage your dog to drink as the running water is much more appealing. Check out our article about these drinking fountains using the link.
If your dog refuses to get up, you can hold the food and water bowls in front of him. If he does not express any interest in food or water after three days, contact your veterinarian immediately and see the section below about what to expect if you have to take your pet back to the vet because he will not eat or drink. If your dog will at least drink water, he should be fine without food for two or three days. However, most will begin to eat a little food within a couple of days.
It is important to keep your dog well hydrated immediately after immiticide treatment. You can use a squeeze bottle to gently put water in your dog’s mouth – on no account try to squeeze water down his throat. You do not have to squeeze a large amount of water, just a little at a time until he begins to drink out of the water dish.
Enticing your pet to eat after immiticide treatment may be a challenge. This is particularly true of dogs that become nauseous after treatment. If your pet is sick, your veterinarian may prescribe medicine to alleviate the nausea. Many pet owners use Pepto Bismol to alleviate the sickness. If you have a small dog, a half teaspoon is recommended. For medium or large dogs one or two teaspoons is sufficient. However, it is recommended you ask your veterinarian if this is an appropriate treatment before giving this medicine. The nausea usually disappears by the third day.
You dog will likely have an abnormal appetite for up to two weeks after Immiticide treatment. This is due to the discomfort of the injection site and joint pain. As long as he eats a small amount of food daily, he should be fine. To entice him to eat, you may want to offer him his favorite treats. You can leave a couple of treats near his bed – although you do not want to deviate too much from your dog’s normal diet.
While most dog owners do not feed their pets ‘people food’, you may want to make exception after heartworm treatment. A wonderful meal to prepare for your dog is boiled chicken and broth. When you boil the chicken, do not add any salt or other seasonings. Make sure you boil the chicken until it is soft and easily shredded. Simply place the shredded chicken in a bowl with a small amount of chicken broth. If he laps up the broth but leaves the chicken that is fine. This is a bland meal but it will help him feel better. Many pet owners recommend mixing white rice in with the chicken. Either way, this may entice him to eat.
If your dog will not eat or drink after heartworm treatment
If you cannot persuade your dog to eat – and more importantly, if you cannot persuade him to drink, your veterinarian will request that you bring your pet in for a physical examination. In some cases, the loss of appetite may be due to an underlying condition that is exacerbated by the heartworm treatment.
Depending on the dog’s medical history, the veterinarian may need to do additional blood work to determine the cause. The veterinarian staff will make efforts to coax your dog to eat.
If he is severely dehydrated, it is likely that fluids will be given intravenously. If your pet is young and reasonably healthy, you should be able to take your pet home after treatment. However, if the dehydration is severe, it is likely your dog will need to stay overnight. While a loss of appetite is disheartening for pet owners, dehydration is dangerous and if left untreated, can cause organ failure and may result in death.
Once a pet is dehydrated, it is imperative you do not attempt to treat him at home. Even though he may begin to drink water, the amount will be insufficient to reverse the dehydration. In addition, a veterinarian must first determine the cause problem. The cause may be related to a reaction to heartworm treatment, or there may be an underlying cause. Once the dog receives fluids intravenously, a further examination must be done to ensure the dehydration does not occur again.
Signs of Possible Dehydration
- Sticky or dry gums
- Sunken eyes
- Lack of urination or urinating too much
- Loss of skin elasticity
For older pets, it is difficult to determine if dry or sticky gums are age related or due to dehydration. However, since becoming severely dehydrated can result in death, it is best to take your dog to the veterinarian if you suspect dehydration. Combined with other mentioned signs, it is likely your pet is dehydrated.
Here are some tasty treat suggestions
Your veterinarian will discuss the possibility of loss of appetite and dehydration due to the Immiticide treatment. He or she will provide you with guidelines and recommendations in the event your dog refuses to eat or drink. This is an expected side effect of the treatment and normally does not raise concerns. It will require you to be diligent in monitoring your pet’s behaviour and in encouraging him to eat and drink. As far as dehydration is concerned, it is far better to over-react than to under-react. After heartworm treatment, a lack of appetite is unlikely to prove fatal however severe dehydration will cause organs to fail and may result in death so you need to be vigilant and ensure that you take prompt action.