AHS Heartworm Hotline , Parasitology , Preventive Medicine

Hitting the Road Heartworm-Free

Hitting the Road Heartworm-Free

Brian A. DiGangi, DVM, MS, DABVP (Canine and Feline Practice, Shelter Medicine Practice)

The Heartworm Hotline column is presented in partnership between Today’s Veterinary Practice and the American Heartworm Society (heartwormsociety.org). The goal of the column is to communicate practical and timely information on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heartworm disease, as well as highlight current topics related to heartworm research and findings in veterinary medicine.


The hurricanes of late summer/early fall 2017, which necessitated the evacuation and relocation of thousands of shelter animals and homeless pets, highlighted some of the challenges associated with pet relocation. Whether pets have been evacuated following a natural disaster or are vacationing with owners, participating in professional competitions or moving across country with their families, relocation can be associated with certain health risks, particularly if the pets being transported are dogs infected with heartworms.

At issue: Mosquitoes feeding on a microfilaria-positive dog that was rescued or moved from one region to another can quickly become heartworm vectors for other unprotected dogs. Not only is the health of the originally infected dog in jeopardy, but so is that of unprotected pets within flight reach of those mosquitoes.

Fortunately, measures can be taken to protect the health of both infected dogs and pets living nearby. To help veterinarians balance their dual role of protecting individual animal health and welfare as well as that of animal populations, the AHS and the Association of Shelter Veterinarians (ASV) have formulated evidence-based best practices for minimizing transmission of heartworms in relocated dogs (Figure 1). These recommendations are applicable regardless of heartworm status and can serve as a foundation for client conversations on basic preventive health care.

Full details on the new best practices, as well as references, can be found at heartwormsociety.org and at sheltervet.org. The best practices include the following steps:

  • Testing of all dogs 6 months of age or older prior to relocation to determine heartworm status
  • Relocation delay for heartworm- and microfilaria-positive dogs to prevent heartworm transmission
  • Pre-treatment (eg, administration of macrocyclic lactone drugs, application of an EPA-approved product that kills and repels mosquitoes, and antibiotics effective against Wolbachia (eg, doxycycline) for heartworm-positive dogs when relocation cannot be delayed
  • Guidelines for microfilaria testing and retesting to avoid the transport of microfilaremic dogs
  • Guidelines for transport following melarsomine administration to minimize thromboembolic events

Traveling with pets is common in today’s mobile society and can be key to maintaining a strong human-animal bond; meanwhile, transport and adoption of shelter animals saves countless lives. With evidence-based diagnostic, prevention, and treatment strategies, veterinarians can help ensure that the spread of heartworms does not become an unintended consequence of these vital activities.

5 Tips for “Talking Transportation”

  1. Know the regulations. For domestic travel, most states require proof of a current rabies vaccination and a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection at minimum. Meanwhile, airline carriers have additional rules and restrictions.
  2. Ensure preventive care measures are up-to-date. Review the patient’s vaccination history and internal and external parasite prevention plans. Ensure that both visible (eg, collar and tag) and permanent (eg, microchip) identifications are in place.
  3. Assess travel-specific risks. Based on the pet’s origins and destination, review disease prevention and mitigation strategies for infectious diseases that may be region or situation-specific such as Bordetella, Borrelia, canine influenza, and leptospirosis.
  4. Discuss ways to reduce stress during transportation. The Five Freedoms present a useful framework for assessing animal welfare in a variety of contexts, including transportation accommodations. Ensure that these can be maintained during the journey. (FAWC, 2009)
  5. Review best practices for large-scale animal relocation. For shelters and rescue groups, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, American Veterinary Medical Association, and Society of Animal Welfare Administrators all have published guidelines for successful relocation of animals for adoption. (ASV, 2010; AVMA, 2014; SAWA, n.d.)


Brian DiGangi
Brian DiGangi, DVM, MS, DABVP, is a senior director of shelter medicine for the ASPCA. He earned his DVM from the University of Florida and is board certified in both canine and feline practice and shelter medicine practice. He is a member of the board of directors of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians and the American Heartworm Society. Dr. DiGangi has published research on feline adoption, canine heartworm disease, and immunology. Prior to joining the ASPCA, he served as a clinical associate professor at the University of Florida.

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