Heartworm Is On The Rise. What you need to know…

Our family rescued a young dog last year, Heidi. She is a beautiful lab mastiff mix, who in her short 10 months prior to us adopting her, had been neglected and injured. While we didn’t know her whole story, the scar on her leg said enough. We vowed we would give her a better life and so we were devastated when at her well dog check up recently, she was diagnosed with heartowrm.

Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially fatal disease. It is caused by foot-long (yes, you read that right) worms that live in the heart, lungs and blood vessels. These worms cause severe lung disease, heart failure and damage to other organs in the body. Heidi was not yet two years old and there was no way we were going to let her suffer. While there are different treatments for dealing with heartworm disease, after talking with our vets about the pros and cons, we opted for what we felt was the safest (and sadly the most expensive) protocol. We were not going to try to save a few dollars and gamble with her life.

Heidi had to undergo blood work, x-rays, antibiotics and two doses (injections) of Immiticide (which has been in short supply, thus boosting the cost.) As I write this, she is at the vet getting her second injection and we hope to be able to bring her home later this evening. So why am I telling you all about this? Why should you care?

The vet looking at Heidi’s x-rays

Because, with the economic downturn a few years ago, a lot of pet owners could no longer afford the monthly heartworm preventative medication. As my vet put it, people were banking on “pack immunity” aka well everyone else gives the meds so my dog should be safe. But with so many people not giving meds, it only took a handful of infected dogs to spread the disease. If a mosquito bites just one infected dog…… wide spread heartworm. Vets all over are reporting a major rise in cases of dogs (and cats) getting heartworm.

This rise in heartworm cases has lead to alternative treatment options due to the lack of availability and cost of  Immiticide. Some of these alternative treatment options, while successful for some, can lead to sudden death for others. You see, when heartworms die they release a toxin that can kill the host dog if the toxins overwhelm the system. Saving money sounded good, but playing Russian Roulette with our pet did not. It took some time to round up the meds, but luckily Heidi was only stage 2 and we had time for our vet to get her hands on the needed vials of Immiticide.

I will say it here and I will say it again, while monthly prevention may seem costly…. trust me, you don’t want to see the alternative bill if your pet does develop heartworm. Give your dog a monthly heartworm preventative!!!!

How is heartworm disease transmitted?

Adult female heartworms in an infected dog produce microscopic baby worms called microfilaria. These baby worms are in the animals bloodstream. When a mosquito bites an infected animal, it picks up these baby worms. The mosquito is then infected and becomes a carrier. When the infected mosquito bites another dog, the “infective larvae” the mosquito has developed are deposited onto the animal’s skin and enter the new host through the mosquito’s bite wound. Reason #582 I hate mosquito!

What are the signs of heartworm disease?

According to the American Heart Worm Society, signs of heartworm disease may include “a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As heartworm disease progresses, pets may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen.” Heidi was already stage two and other then some heavy breathing (in retrospect) we had no idea she was infected!! GET YOUR DOG TESTED!! It is a simple blood test that most vets do right in their office.

What is the risk for heartworm infection?

Heartworm disease has been diagnosed in all 50 states. Infected mosquitoes can come inside, so both outdoor and indoor pets are at risk. The relocation of infected animals can spread heartworm. Many of the 250, 000 pets relocated from Hurricane Katrina were heartworm positive and they were adopted throughout the country. The lack of preventative meds being given due the to economic downturn…..  so what is the risk of infection?!?! Ummm don’t risk it! Give your dog a monthly heartworm preventative!!!!

Trust me folks, when Ms. Heidi the Homestead Hound is cleared by our vet, she will be getting her once a month heartworm preventative medication like clockwork! Treatment for heartworms is no walk in the park for the pet. I never want to have to go trough this again, it is heartbreaking. Remember, not only will giving your dog a monthly heartworm preventative keep them safe, trust me, your wallet will thank you in the long run too!

The vet techs trying to get Heidi on her back for an x-ray.
The key word is trying! Our big girl was a handful.

26 thoughts on “Heartworm Is On The Rise. What you need to know…

  1. I"m so sorry about Heidi. I pray she has a quick recovery. We do heart worm pills here..

    Hugs from Oklahoma,


    1. Starting in January she will be on them too. She is home tonight and really feeling poorly, but after a month of rest and restricted activity she should be right as rain. 🙂

  2. Sorry to hear about your girl! Working as a vet tech for the last 5 years, in 3 different areas, I can say that I have seen the rise in heartworm positive dogs. It really is a devastating and costly disease. I know a lot of people have a hard time making ends meet as it is, and it seems like adding on an additional cost each month is near impossible. Luckily though, brands like Heartgard and Sentinel have made it much more affordable, averaging around $9-$15 per month depending on the size of your dog. It really is so much more cost effective to give a monthly preventative than to have to pay for your pet to undergo the treatment. I hope Heidi has an uneventful recovery!

    1. She is doing great so far. She just finished her antibiotics yesterday and only has a couple steroid pills left to go and a few more weeks of "calm." Money is tight everywhere and I agree with you 100% $15 a month is nothing compared to the close to $1000 treatment. We were lucky our vet (of close to 13 years) let us set up payments. I will gladly pay $15 a month to never have to go through this process again. We have been very blessed to have friends and even strangers help us with her medical cost (something that would have crippled our family if we had to go it alone.) But when it comes to taking responsibility for a rescue dog, you take those hits when you sign up for the job. There was never an option of not helping her.

  3. We had a dog who died fro heart worm and it was horrible . We think she had it before we got her (as a rescue dog) . I do hope Heidi recovers.

    1. Jo, she is doing awesome. A little too good! LOL Keeping her calm has been a challenge because she is starting to feel so much better. I am so sorry for your loss.

  4. I adopted my foster dog who was heartworm positive. At the time he was on the slow kill method but when I took him to our regular vet, she informed me that that treatment was more dangerous for the dog. So after hearing a heart murmur, we had to go to the vet school for a cardiology exam by the experts. Hunter was cleared for treatment and started the antibiotics and steroids. He got his first shot last week and that night just whined and whimpered. I never want him to go through this ever again. I live in Florida so heartworm treatment is year round here.

    1. Heidi stayed overnight at the vet and got shots two days in a row. We didn't have to see her lowest low, but when we brought her how, you could tell she was feeling bad. It broke my heart. She was that way for about a day and a half, then *poof* happy, hyper dog was back. LOL She has had to spend a lot of time in her kennel to keep her calm, like the vet told us to. 30 days of calm is hard on a young pup who just wants to play, but better to be safe then a heart attack! Even though Michigan doesn't have mosquitos in the winter, Heidi will be on year round too

  5. oy, i hope your dog is mending. we have 2 cats, and they just don't talk about heartworm prevention for cats as they do dogs. my vet has never said about starting preventative care, like we do for fleas and ticks. perhaps that's because my cats are indoor cats? i don't know.

  6. What a sweet story – and such an important reminder. We rescued a min pin – Pete – when we lived in South Carolina – years ago – took him to the vet and were given a clean bill of health. Within a month we moved to the northwest, and because heartworms were not a problem here, we never gave it another thought, until about two years later,when he became very sick. The vet told us he had contracted heartworms in the few short weeks we remained in SC. He called up every resource known at the time (1982) and found there was nothing they could do. Such sadness. Marjie @Homeagainjiggetyjig.com/wp

    Praying all goes well with your sweet Heidi. HAPPY to hear of your success!

    Our daughter in Oklahoma gave her dog heartworm meds faithfully each month, and he remained heartworm free all his years.

    1. She is doing well and she too will be getting a pill EVERY month. It is not something you want to see your dog go through.

  7. Thanks for sharing this at Good Morning Mondays, I hope Heidi gets better and stays well, Blessings.

  8. : ( When we bought our homestead over 7 years ago, we adopted two dogs from the previous homeowner. Little did we know they had heartworm. We lost the girl dog after 6 months and the boy dog, her brother, one year later. Today we have two Labradors. They get their monthly dose of prevention. In fact, today is the day for their meds. Thanks for loving Heidi. Stop by my homestead when you have time.

    1. I am so sorry about your loses but so glad your current pups are getting protected. Heidi is on the mend and we are so grateful for that.

  9. Hello Mindie. I'm so sorry about Heidi. I hope she's all better now. This is so scary. People should not stop giving their dogs heartworm medication because in the long run, if they get heartworms, the costs would be much worse. Thank you for this informative post.

  10. Thanks so much for sharing this important information with your readers. Stopping by from the Thursday Favorite Things Blog Hop at Katherine's Corner. Hope to catch up again with you this coming week! Nina @ Vintage Mama's Cottage

  11. Heidi, thank you so much for sharing this important information. We do have both of our dogs on Revolution but I haven't been as attentive to giving it to them now that winter has arrived. The are getting a dose right away!

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