Heartworm disease is primarily spread through mosquito bites. When an infected mosquito bites a dog, it transmits heartworm larvae into the dog’s bloodstream. The larvae mature into adults in the heart, lungs, and surrounding blood vessels, causing severe lung disease, heart failure, and other organ damage.
The Traditional Cost of Heartworm Treatment
Typically, heartworm treatment involves a series of injections with a drug called Melarsomine, hospitalization during treatment, plus antibiotics, steroids, and heartworm preventatives. The costs can indeed be steep, often ranging from $400 to $1,000 depending on the severity of the infection and the size of the dog.
Affordable Options for Heartworm Treatment
If the cost of treatment is prohibitive, here are some strategies you can explore:
1. Veterinary Payment Plans: Many veterinary clinics understand the financial stress pet owners can face and offer payment plans to spread the cost over a period of time. Don’t hesitate to discuss your financial concerns with your vet.
2. Pet Insurance: Pet insurance can offset the cost of heartworm treatment, especially if your pet was insured before the diagnosis. It’s always a good idea to review your insurance policy and discuss it with your insurer.
3. Non-Profit Organizations and Charities: Numerous non-profit organizations and animal charities offer financial aid for pet owners in need. Groups such as The Pet Fund, RedRover, or Paws 4 A Cure can potentially assist with costs.
4. Fundraising: Consider turning to your community for help. Online fundraising platforms like GoFundMe can allow friends, family, and kind strangers to contribute towards the cost of your dog’s heartworm treatment.
5. Contact Animal Shelters and Rescue Groups: Some local animal shelters and rescue groups may have programs to assist with the cost of heartworm treatment or could refer you to resources in your area.
Alternative Heartworm Treatment
If traditional treatment remains unaffordable, there’s an alternative method known as the “slow kill” method. This involves administering monthly heartworm preventative medication that slowly eliminates the immature worms over an extended period. However, it doesn’t kill adult heartworms and is less effective than traditional therapy, plus it can take up to two years for all larvae to be cleared.
Prevention is Key
Remember, the best way to beat heartworm disease is to prevent it in the first place. Preventative medication is far less expensive than the cost of treatment and is crucial in areas where heartworm disease is common. Most preventatives are given monthly, and some also protect against other parasites.
Financial Aid Programs for Pet Owners
Several financial aid programs are specifically designed to help pet owners cover veterinary expenses, including heartworm treatment costs.
Care Credit, for example, is a credit card specifically for healthcare services, including veterinary care. It offers short-term, interest-free payment plans, and longer-term plans with fixed interest rates.
The American Animal Hospital Association helps those who can’t afford to fund their pets’ treatments through their Helping Pets Fund. Eligibility is based on specific criteria and applications must be made by the veterinary practice, not the pet owner.
Additionally, breed-specific rescue groups often have funds available to assist with medical costs associated with that breed. So if your pet is a purebred, or a mix that strongly resembles a certain breed, it may be worth reaching out to breed-specific groups for assistance.
Pharmaceutical companies often have programs to help with the cost of medications. For instance, the Zoetis Petcare Rewards program provides rewards for purchases of their medications, including ProHeart, a heartworm preventive injection.
Also, consider checking reputable online pet pharmacies, which can sometimes offer lower prices than physical veterinary offices due to lower overhead costs. Make sure to look for pharmacies accredited by the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (Vet-VIPPS).
Low-Cost Clinics and Veterinary Schools
Some areas may have low-cost veterinary clinics that offer services at reduced prices. Local humane societies or animal control facilities can often point you in the direction of these resources.
Another potential resource for lower-cost care is a veterinary school. Schools often run clinics where students gain experience under the supervision of licensed veterinarians, and fees can be lower than standard clinics.
The Importance of Regular Testing
It’s crucial to have your dog tested for heartworms annually, even if they’re on heartworm prevention medication year-round. This is because no preventative is 100% effective, and the earlier a heartworm infection is detected, the better the chances for successful treatment. Most heartworm tests are done through a simple blood draw, and many veterinarians include heartworm testing in their annual wellness exams.
Promoting Overall Health
While treating heartworms, it’s also essential to maintain your dog’s overall health. A balanced diet rich in essential nutrients helps boost the immune system, aiding your dog’s ability to combat disease. Regular exercise, adjusted for your dog’s condition, can also help keep your dog physically fit and mentally stimulated during the treatment period.
Understanding and Mitigating Risks
Every treatment option comes with potential risks. Traditional heartworm treatment can sometimes lead to complications, including the risk of dead worms causing blockages in the lungs. This is why strict rest and confinement are typically required during the treatment period.
In contrast, the slow-kill method can lead to resistant strains of heartworms over time. Therefore, understanding these risks is crucial in deciding the best approach for your dog’s treatment.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long can a dog live with untreated heartworms?
The life expectancy of a dog with untreated heartworms can vary dramatically, depending on the severity of the infection and the dog’s overall health. However, untreated heartworm disease can lead to severe organ damage and heart failure, significantly shortening a dog’s lifespan. Early detection and treatment are essential for improving the prognosis.
Q: Can heartworms be passed to humans or other pets?
Heartworms cannot be directly transmitted from dog to dog, or dog to human. The disease is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. Humans can, very rarely, be infected by heartworms, but the worms do not typically complete their life cycle and rarely cause disease in humans.
Q: What are the signs of heartworm disease in dogs?
In the early stages, dogs may show few signs of heartworm infection. As the disease progresses, symptoms may include a mild persistent cough, fatigue after moderate activity, decreased appetite, and weight loss. As the disease progresses further, dogs may develop heart failure and the appearance of a swollen belly due to excess fluid in the abdomen.
Q: How is the “slow kill” heartworm treatment method performed?
The slow-kill method involves giving a heartworm preventative to kill off the juvenile heartworms slowly over a period of time. This approach does not kill adult heartworms but prevents the population from increasing. However, this method can take up to two years to eliminate all heartworms, during which time damage to the dog’s heart and lungs continues to occur.
Q: Are there natural remedies for heartworms?
While some natural remedies are touted online, there’s no scientific evidence that they’re effective against heartworms. It’s critical not to substitute these unproven treatments for approved, effective heartworm prevention and treatment protocols.
Q: Can my dog exercise during heartworm treatment?
Exercise increases the rate at which the heartworms cause damage to the heart and lungs. Therefore, dogs undergoing heartworm treatment are generally advised to have restricted exercise. Any changes to your pet’s activity level should be discussed with your vet.
Q: What should I feed my dog with heartworms?
A balanced, nutritious diet is crucial for dogs with heartworms. Some dogs may need a low-sodium diet if heart disease is present. Your vet can provide specific dietary recommendations based on your dog’s individual needs.
Q: Is heartworm prevention necessary year-round?
Yes, year-round heartworm prevention is recommended. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, which can persist in various environments. Also, many heartworm preventatives also protect against other parasites, offering additional benefits. Year-round prevention helps ensure no lapses in protection occur.