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Heartworms in Pets: Everything You Should Know & How to Prevent Them

Reading Time: 3 MIN

Why is Heartworm Prevention So Important?

While there are heartworm treatments available, a lot of damage that can be done won’t be undone by treatment. Dogs have been diagnosed with heartworm disease in every state in the U.S. It’s estimated that more than a million dogs in the U.S. have heartworm disease. A lot of those are concentrated around the Southeast, but there’s been a lot of growth in regions that haven’t had heartworm disease before.

Heartworm infections can cause permanent damage. That’s why it’s so important to prevent the disease in the first place. Heartworm prevention medications have a significantly higher safety margin than drugs used for the treatment of the disease. Treatment options are also more expensive than prevention and require multiple vet visits. Ballpark average cost of the AHS recommended treatment protocol for a 50lb dog is $800 – $1200. Heartworm prevention can cost as low as $5 per month for a 50lb dog.

Irreversible Damage

Diagram showing parasitic heartworm illustration

Once the damage from heartworms is done, there’s no reversing it. Heartworms on average are a foot long, and they live within the lungs of your pet. When the damage is done to the arteries of the lungs, the pet will have difficulty breathing and exercising. By the time heartworms are detected, it’s already been six to eight months since the pet has had the disease. Any time we can prevent heartworm disease, it will make a huge difference in the outcome of the pet.

How to Prevent Heartworm Disease

Thankfully, heartworm disease is very preventable. Heartworm prevention medication comes with a prescription through a veterinarian. Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitos. Once the pet is infected, it takes six to eight months for the worms to migrate to the lungs and then mature within the lungs. Because heartworms are transmitted by mosquitos, pets are always at risk, even if they are mostly indoors. Year-round prevention is key even in colder months to make sure your pet is fully protected.

Dogs, cats, and ferrets are most susceptible to heartworm disease. Cats are now being tested more for the disease, and it’s been established that cats in all fifty states have tested positive for heartworm disease.

Why is Testing Recommended Yearly?

Annual heartworm testing can be a point of frustration for clients especially when their pet is on year-round heartworm prevention. One of the main reasons is that if your pet were to catch heartworm disease, your veterinarian would want to know as soon as possible. Resistance is very rare currently, but it can happen so that’s also why annual testing is important.

Types of Preventatives

Closeup on hand feeding pet dog with chewable to protect and treat from heartworm disease, on white background

There are several options for heartworm prevention. We’re lucky that we have all kinds of different combinations and ways to apply heartworm prevention. There are oral medications, topical medications, combined dewormers, as well as some preventatives with flea and tick prevention. The most affordable options are the ones that exclusively prevent heartworms. The price will increase depending on what else is covered in that particular medication.

If you have additional questions regarding heartworm disease and prevention, the American Heartworm Society has a resource page containing helpful articles and videos.


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