Dog rescues throughout the Midwest have reported an unusually high number of heartworm-positive dogs this year. Illinois Doberman Rescue Plus has treated 9 dogs this year, and it’s only May! Marvin, Jed, Zeke, Tia, Patches, Journey, Chiko, Ebby, and Legion have been treated or are getting their final treatments by the end of May.
As if these dogs didn’t have a hard enough time finding a forever home, now they have to endure a painful and expensive treatment that many rescues can’t cover. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, we are able to treat any HW+ dogs who enters our program.
Perhaps this influx of heartworm positive dogs is from people accepting some misconceptions or thinking they can save a few bucks by skipping the prevention pills. If you are reading this, most likely you are an IDR+ adopter, and you already know the importance of monthly heartworm prevention because IDR+ does not adopt dogs to homes that do not take this essential precaution. Hopefully, you can use this information to help other people become as smart and caring as you are.
MYTH: Heartworm can only be passed to my dog if a dog in my neighborhood is already infected, and the mosquito bites both that dog and my dog, and that will never happen.
It’s true that a mosquito must bite an infected animal first to pass it to your dog, but heartworm is a parasite to any member of the canine and feline families, including the “coyote, wolf, fox, bobcat, jaguar, and tiger. Other animals that can acquire heartworm include the muskrat, raccoon, ferret, otter, bear, horse, orangutan, gibbon, and sea lion” (www.thepetcenter.com). So a mosquito biting any infected animal in your area can cause an infection in your dog.
MYTH: The monthly prevention pills are expensive.
Depending on the brand and size of the dog, heartworm prevention pills are only a few dollars a month, which is nothing compared to the cost and pain of treatment if your dog becomes infected. Plus, many brands of monthly preventative also protect your dog against other parasites, such as hookworms, whipworms, and roundworms, and some brands also protect against fleas. If your dog is bitten by an infected mosquito, the preventative eliminates the possibility of the larvae from growing into adult worms. A mere mosquito repellant is not enough to protect your dog.
MYTH: Heartworm is only a problem in the southern states because it’s warmer and provides a better environment for mosquitoes.
According to the American Heartworm Society, all 50 states have heartworm. Although some areas have a higher risk of heartworm, no area in the US is immune to the disease. Areas around bodies of water or warm, humid climates have a much higher risk, and many states have “very high risk areas” called “hot spots.”
MYTH: Only rural areas have heartworm. My dog doesn’t need prevention because we live in the city or suburbs.
While some areas may have a higher risk than others, no area is immune to heartworm. Dogs can get heartworm in any state, county, or city. Anytime you see a mosquito, there’s a risk for heartworm.
MYTH: Only “outside” dogs get heartworm. My dog is an “inside” dog, so I don’t need to worry.
Your dog goes outside for walks and play, so he is exposed to the risk. Also, mosquitoes can get inside the home.
MYTH: My dog gets a flea and tick treatment with a mosquito repellent, so he won’t get bit.
Only some fleas and tick brands repel mosquitoes, but repellents only deter mosquitoes from biting your dog. In the event your dog does get bitten, he won’t have the benefit of the preventative to stop the adult heartworms from forming.
MYTH: My dog has a thick coat, so the mosquitoes can’t bite him and give him heartworm.
Mosquitoes will search for the path of least resistance. The hair on your dog’s face, ears, and feet is much thinner and a perfect spot for a mosquito to bite.
MYTH: If my dog contracts heartworm, it can easily be cured, so why bother with monthly prevention pills?
The cure for heartworm is time consuming, painful, expensive, and sometimes fatal. The treatment consists of a series of intra-muscular injections over several months, depending on how heavily infested the dog is. The dog experiences pain at the injection site and lethargy for several days after the injection. During treatment, the dog must be kept still and not allowed to run or get its heart rate up, which could cause clumps of the dying worms to be forced from the heart and lodged in an artery, which can cause a pulmonary embolism and death. Heartworm treatment is costly, which contributes to many rescues not being able to treat infected dogs. Treatment costs several hundreds of dollars per dog, which doesn’t factor in the frequent trips to the vet for the treatment. Heartworm is the only fatal illness that is 100% preventable! Do you and your dog a favor by putting him on monthly heartworm prevention.