In our area and throughout the South, heartworms are a year-round problem. Though it is a common conversation we have in the clinic, it is still a conversation we keep having. There are still a lot of misconceptions floating around out there. This is not meant to be a technical article full of long names and terms that most people have no idea what they mean. I want this to be the kind of conversation I have in my exam rooms every day.
First, let’s start with the most common misconception I hear daily. Your dog IS exposed even if he does not live outside. I see dogs on a regular basis that test positive for heartworms that only go outside twice a day to use the bathroom. Why is this? Have any of you ever seen a mosquito in your house? I know I have. We live in an area where you can see mosquitos 365 days of the year. We do not get a break from exposure to heartworms. Unfortunately, our pets cannot afford for us to take a break from being diligent about this disease.
That brings me to my next concern. Owners commonly think that they do not need to give their dogs their prevention during the winter time. I would most definitely have to disagree with that thought. Our winters do not get cold enough or long enough for us to take a break from preventing our dogs from heartworm disease.
I want to address one more concern that has to do with treatment instead of prevention. When I diagnose patients with heartworm disease, I commonly hear concerns from clients that the treatment is often just as bad as the disease and more likely to kill their dog instead of helping them. Let me give you details regarding treatment for heartworms ( in my experience). I am old enough to remember, and have seen and experienced, the heartworm treatment of the past. Medicine changes. Human medicine no longer relies on leeches and totems anymore either. The current therapy for heartworm disease is much easier on dogs now than the treatment of the past. The American Heartworm Society puts forth recommendations on what is the safest and most effective way to treat the disease all while not hurting the patient. Heartworm disease causes heart failure. When the disease is this severe and we see symptoms of heart failure, there is not a lot of time remaining to turn it around and save the patient. Some clients decide not to treat, but many do. I have treated a good many of patients with clinical disease and signs of heart failure that do remarkably well and survive for many years to come. I know it can happen, I know that for some it may happen; and, I risk invoking Murphy’s Law by saying this, but I have not yet had a dog to die from the treatment of heartworm disease. I have, however, had may to die of heartworm disease if we did not treat or if was too late to treat.
I can tell you that the cost of treatment usually ranges between $400 to $1,000 to treat depending on the size of the dog and costs of drugs at the time (these can fluctuate wildly); however, on average, it only costs $80-$100 to prevent heartworm disease for a year depending on the product used and size of the dog. That is a pretty amazing comparison.
One last set of facts I want to throw out there…cats can get heartworms. You cannot treat heartworms in cats once they get them and there are very few products labeled to prevent heartworms in cats. Ask one of us about approved products to prevent heartworms in cats.