H is for Heartworms

A-to-Z Blogging Challenge 2015--HToday’s topic is a serious one that we are particularly passionate about. Our Ginny was heartworm-positive when we got her, as are many shelter dogs. At Unleashed, approximately 1 in 5 dogs who arrive at the shelter are heartworm-positive. Many times, the owners abandon their dogs because they cannot afford the expensive treatment to rid their dog of the parasite.

Heartworms are spread to dogs through mosquito bites. From the time a mosquito bites an infected animal, it takes about 2 weeks for it to be able to spread heartworms to a new animal. Therefore, if you have a heartworm-positive dog, you don’t need to worry about it infecting your other dogs. All dogs need to be on a regular heartworm preventive medicine year-round, regardless of whether there are mosquitoes present, to keep their resistance up and because the preventive medications for heartworms also prevent other types of parasites such as roundworms and tapeworms.

This is definitely one situation where the old adage about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure rings true. Monthly heartworm medications can cost as little as $10 per dose, and are safe and effective in preventing infestation. Treatment of heartworms is far more expensive, anywhere from a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand depending upon the type of treatment you choose. The treatment which works the most quickly is a series of injections of a drug known as Immiticide. The dog needs to be kept on activity restriction during treatment and often for several months afterward, because the dying worms can cause blockages in the dog’s pulmonary vessels, and exercise can aggravate the condition.

Some veterinarians now prefer a “slow kill” method because of risks involved in the Immiticide injections, or simply because they cannot get the Immiticide. There is a good article here about this issue, and the different options a vet might use. We are doing the slow kill method with Ginny, but it is a long process. It takes at least 9 months to complete, and requires vigilance about preventives even after the initial process. We had to keep her immobile during the initial phase, when she was on steroids, and even now, we have to limit her activity because she tires so easily.

It’s so important to keep on top of preventives for your dog. Make sure to set an annual check-up for your dog to be re-checked for heartworms, because most states won’t allow the prescriptions to be renewed without the vet having tested your dog first. If you are concerned about the cost of preventives, many websites such as Petango and 1-800-PetMeds offer them at more affordable prices, you just have to get your vet to confirm the prescription. Petango also gives a portion of all sales to rescues, so you can help your local shelter just by shopping! A small cost and a little vigilance will keep your dog heartworm-free.

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