Questions About Heartworm Complications

Reader “SJaffe” writes to us, “Hi, Dr. Randolph, I foster a Cocker spaniel who is 12 years old. She is heartworm-positive and it’s just breaking my heart. I would love to do everything I possibly can do help her get through this. She doesn’t really have a cough but she breathes very, very deeply (with a wheeze) mostly at night and after getting excited. It seems that her abdomen might be swollen (based on what I’ve read online). She is on her heartworm preventative. Basically, my question in I’m thinking about adopting her. I don’t know how much financially this will hurt me or even if she is suffering right now. Do you have any advice as to alternative treatments/anything?
Thank you!

There is a lot going on here, SJaffe, so let’s go step by step.

  1. It’s good that she’s on heartworm preventive (readers need to understand that there is a medical protocol for beginning heartworm preventive for heartworm-positive dogs which must occur under careful medical guidance.  Do not attempt this at home.)  That will keep her from getting more heartworms.
  2. There are many conditions that can cause deep breathing and wheezing.  It may or may not be related to her heartworm status.  Your veterinarian’s physical examination and chest X-ray will help to determine why this is happening.
  3. That said, the swollen abdomen concerns me, and could indicate ascites.  In heartworm disease, ascites is most likely to occur when the heartworm burden is great, creating congestion to blood flow from the right side of the heart toward the lungs.  Also, ascites may occur in Caudal Vena Cava Syndrome, also called
    Caval Syndrome, a complicated process in heartworm disease.  In either of these cases a veterinarian’s intervention is needed.
  4. Only your local doctor can advise you regarding cost.
  5. Beware of “alternative treatments.”  Study after study proves that heartworm-infested dogs experience significantly more damage to the lungs and circulation when non-traditional treatments are used.

In other words, your veterinarian is going to have to perform an examination and some tests in order to answer your questions.  We do hope you will keep us up to date about his findings and her progress.

See you Monday, Dr. Randolph.


  1. My rescue tested
    Positive and I chose the slow kill , not being educated on the options I thought this was ok. Now I’m concerned I picked wrong . She is losing weight. Is that normal? Her attitude is the same as is her appetite.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.