In the community of dog owners, there tends to be a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to heartworms. Although there are a lot of materials available related to the issue of heartworms, many dog owners simply do not think about the risk of their canine being infected with heartworms. This is partially due to the fact that the symptoms of heartworms can take many months to manifest after the initial infection and because the disease used to be primarily confined to states in the U.S. South.
Overview of Heartworms
Before I get into how to prevent heartworms, it is important to understand exactly what heartworms are. Dirofilaria immitis is a parasitic roundworm and is a type of filaria. While there are a number of filariae that infect humans and cause lymphatic filariasis, subcutaneous filariasis, or serous cavity filariasis, Dirofilaria immitis, better known as heartworm, is not one of them. Heartworm primarily affects dogs and the primary reservoir for the parasite is the canine, although cats, foxes, wolves, and coyotes are known to be secondary reservoirs.
Dirofilaria immitis is spread by mosquitoes and mosquitoes only. The filariae cannot be transmitted from dog to dog or from dog to human through contact, bites, urine, feces, or any other common mode of disease transmission. There are over 70 species of mosquitoes that are known to transmit the disease in the United States.1 According to the American Heartworm Society, the majority of cases occur in states along the east coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mississippi River.
As treatment for heartworm disease can end up costing over $1,000, prevention is the key. The most effective form of heartworm prevention is through the regular use of heartworm medication, and the most common form of medication is ivermectin, which is also used to treat lymphatic filariasis in humans.
Besides the proper use of heartworm medication, other measures can be taken to prevent infection in dogs. Using mosquito repellents is advisable and keeping your dog inside as much as possible during the spring and summer months is also recommended. If your dog sleeps primarily outside, using mosquito netting to screen your dog’s sleeping area (such as a doghouse or porch) is recommended.
Again, the cost of treatment is very high compared to the cost of prevention.
Cost of heartworm prevention
Medication – $40-100 per year, depending on the size of the dog
Repellents – Cost varies depending on the type of repellent used, but <$100 per year.
Screening – Cost varies, depending on the area being screened, but anywhere from $15 for a large dog house to $50 for a 30 foot porch.
Cost of heartworm treatment
Bloodwork – $80-150
Overnight Stay – $100-300
Injections – $200-400
In the end, being aware of the risks and taking proactive measures to prevent heartworm infection is the best thing you can do for your dog and will allow your canine to live a happy, heart-worm free life.