Everything you should know about heartworm

It happened this weekend. While we were packing the car after spending time visiting family, we allowed a “guest” to join us in the car ride home. At first, we noticed the tell-tale buzzing, zipping near our ears, but too quick for us to catch. Then, I saw it fluttering near the windshield, too far for me to smack. Lastly, it found what it was looking for, a tasty morsel, someone’s blood. It landed on my arm without me noticing until I felt the prick of its bite. WHACK! I got it! That darn mosquito messed with the wrong car filled with humans, dogs, and packed bags. Blood smeared on my hand as I reached for my trusty collection of Starbucks napkins that I stow away in the event of the apocalypse and wiped my hands clean of the evidence. As I settled back to my seat, I thought to myself, “thank goodness I already gave the dogs their heartworm medication this month.”

This post is sponsored by Waggle.org. We received compensation in exchange for writing a thorough and informative post about heartworm. Information provided has been verified through a variety of reliable resources.

Mosquitoes are a pain in the rear for all of us. No one loves having them show up at the family barbecue, taking the opportunity to use us as human buffets. While we can all recognize that they’re annoying, it’s immensely important to remember that these nasty critters can be much more than an annoyance. They giveth as much as they taketh. As they are sucking away at blood, they are also sharing the diseases they may be carrying. Those diseases can affect humans, pets, and other animals and the type of disease depends on location and the type of mosquito that has decided to make a visit. Heartworm just happens to be the disease that we’re talking about today, as it affects man’s best friend (although cats can get heartworm, too).

There’s a reason why this post is happening a month after heartworm awareness month. I didn’t want our message to get lost in the mix, and a lot of folks choose to write about this subject in April. If you’ve heard about heartworm awareness month, and you haven’t acted in some way to prevent heartworm in your pet, this post is aimed at you. I sincerely hope that the information you see here will help to compel you to act.

Want to know why heartworm is important to talk about, plan for, and prevent? Let’s go over some cold, hard, facts about why heartworm matters.

  • The average cost to treat a dog that is heartworm positive can range anywhere between $400-$1,000. The severity of the infection and length of time needed for treatment attributes to the range in cost. If you need help paying for treatment options, consider Waggle.org, which is a crowd-sourcing resource specific for pet medical treatments. You can learn more about the why and how for doing this through a post we wrote not that long ago.

  • The average cost to prevent a dog from contracting heartworm is around $5 to $20 a month, depending on the type of medication you choose to use.

  • If left untreated, a heartworm positive dog will likely die from its infection. How long this could take can vary, but the dog’s quality of life while infected will be impacted negatively.

  • Heartworm disease has been reported in all 50 states, so while some regions may have a higher percentage of infections, prevention is important wherever you may live.

  • Sometimes dogs don’t show any symptoms of infection, meaning the first time you know they have been infected is after they die suddenly.

I’m going to let that last bullet sit there for a little while. I’m not one for fear mongering, but it’s a sobering point and one I hope isn’t taken lightly. Take a moment to think about your dog. If you’re near it right now, look at it and give it some pets and smooches if you can. Savor that moment. Now imagine that tender moment being taken from you suddenly without any hint of a potential problem. I’m imagining, if you’re like me, you’d be devastated. I would also venture to guess that if you found out that the cause of your dog’s passing was something that you could have prevented, there’d be a solid layer of guilt thrown into your mix of emotions.

If what I’ve just shared made you feel panicked, I’m here to help take the edge off. Here’s what you need to do to prevent heartworm.

  1. If your dog or cat are not currently on a heartworm preventative (prophylaxis), before providing a preventative tool, you need to test to see if your dog is currently infected. A blood test at your local veterinarian’s office will help to determine if your dog is carrying heartworm.

  2. If a blood test comes back positive, further tests such as chest x-rays and urine tests may be needed to determine how severe the infection may be, which will impact type of treatment options available to your pet.

  3. Treatment can include antibiotics and pain medications. Additional medications and special foods may also be needed. Again, each case is unique so treatment can vary. That’s why the range of cost to treat was so wide when I listed it earlier.

  4. Behavior adjustments while your dog is being treated may be necessary to help reduce strain on your dog’s heart. If your dog is active, it may need to be restricted from exercise for the length of time it’s being treated for the disease.

  5. If your dog does not test positive for heartworm, preventative medicine, which is recommended to be year-round, should be your course of action.

  6. Preventative medicine options range and can include monthly chews, pills, injections or topical applications. Many medications can also help to prevent other intestinal parasites such as hookworms, roundworms, whipworms and tapeworms. Other treatments can also prevent against external parasites like fleas, ticks, and ear mites. Because each treatment method is unique, and carries their own risks and gains, I recommend you have a conversation with your veterinarian to determine which is the best option for you and your pet.

  7. Once you’ve determined which preventative option works for you, make sure you mark your calendar so you administer medication each month without missing a day for treatment coverage. I’ve setup an alert on my phone each month to remind me to treat our dogs for their heartworm and flea and tick preventative.

I hope this post has helped to inform you of the importance of treating and preventing heartworm. Not doing so can be deadly, and I hope that’s never something anyone reading this post has to deal with in the future.

For a wealth of information regarding heartworm, including prevalence maps, treatment options, preventative drug information, and helpful facts, I strongly recommend visiting the American Heartworm Society website.

Featured Posts
Recent Posts