Dog heartworms can be best put in this simple rhetoric: “easy to prevent, hard to cure.”
Heartworms are acquired if the dog gets bitten by an infected mosquito and in return, a mosquito can get infected by biting an infected dog. Hence, a vicious life cycle persists which prompts every veterinary health experts to strongly campaign for prevention.
It only takes one mosquito bite to consign your canine companion to such gravely ill-fated disease. Before discussing further as to why it is easy to prevent, it is best to understand why it is difficult to treat. The fee for heartworm medication is a troublesome aspect to consider.
Overall Cost of Heartworm Treatment
Heartworm is a very lethal disease that slowly kills dogs in a span of 5 years – a very slow and painful death. Curing heartworm also entails a very long and taxing process.
The AHS’s management protocol may last an entire year depending on the severity of the case. Regardless of exactly how long the treatment ensues, the entire therapy plan can be classified into these four basic steps:
1. Diagnosis and Testing
In general, symptoms of heartworm infection don’t show up until these pests have done extensive and possibly irrevocable damage to the dog’s internal body systems. As they do damage, you may see difficult breathing, exercise intolerance, unusual/long periods of lethargy, and coughing.
Because of this, early diagnosis is key. Dogs should be tested annually for heartworm infection even if they are on preventative heartworm medicine cost, as it is not a 100% guarantee of safety.
It’s recommended for dog owners to have the test done at least once (ideally as early as 7 months old) during an annual vet exam; if not bi-annually. The cost for this blood test is $10 to $50 and most vets will do it regularly as part of a standard exam.
For example, in one national organization called PetVet Clinic, the actual cost of heartworm screening is featured as an add-on to various existing packages. Along with a test for Lyme disease, the overall add-on that includes heartworm screening costs $15.
Take note: this is only available when tied up to any valid puppy/dog packages worth $40 to $80.
A welfare-oriented Florida-based vet clinic called First Coast No More Homeless Pets (FCNHP) charges a token fee of $25 for a heartworm test. In this clinic, customers are charged with an extra $12 for dogs aged at least 4 months old and are not spayed or neutered.
When a dog tests positive for heartworms in the blood antigen test, it will then need further evaluation. This would include radiographs and ultrasound to determine the progression of the disease at that point. Radiographs will cost around $150 while an ultrasound is closer to $300.
2. Quarantine / Movement Restrictions
Confirmation of heartworm disease brings you to the next course of action – confinement. You may expect certain changes in the behavior of the dog in question days following the diagnosis.
It’s critical that during the injection treatment period, you restrict the physical activity of the dog. In fact, it’s ideal to restrict activity from the onset of the initial diagnosis, but particularly once the injections have begun.
Once the worms are killed, movement can cause them to be pushed into critical parts of the dog’s lungs or heart which can cause severe complications like pulmonary blood clots and possibly death. Most vets recommend keeping activity levels restricted for at least 12 weeks following the first injection.
It’s also recommended for owners to continue administering heartworm prevention medication year-round for the remainder of your dog’s life in order to prevent any recurrence of the disease.
The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) identifies four levels of symptoms associated with canine heartworm. Each of these is classified according to severity:
- Class 1: Either there is no symptom or the dog has a mild cough.
- Class 2: There are mild to moderate symptoms involving cough and tiredness after an average physical activity.
- Class 3: General body functions are deficient. Heartworms start becoming visible via chest x-ray. This prognosis also involves persistent cough and extreme lethargy after a mild physical activity, specifically marked by troubled breathing and heart failure.
- Class 4: Also called as ‘caval syndrome’, this symptom is characterized by the inability to maintain circulation. The heartworms have grown to such an extent that they obstruct blood flow through the heart’s tricuspid valve.
Based on the aforementioned progression of heartworm disease, there seems to be a direct correlation between movement and feebleness. As it happens, restriction from strenuous activities is deemed a basic protocol preceding treatment of heartworm.
As a standard precaution, especially for Class 2 to 3 cases, sedentary lifestyle reduces the strain in the respiratory and circulatory system.
You may either leave the dog indoors or place it in a crate or carrier – the latter being a more favorable mode of confinement. These containers would cost anywhere between $18 and $80.
It would not be advisable to place them in a kennel outdoors since a number of things outside the house may cause dogs to be excited (e.g. birds, squirrels, etc.).
The total drug cost for the treatment ranges from roughly $550 to $1200. The majority of this cost is the Melarsomine injections.
The process of treatment mainly involves 3 administrations of Melarsomine, the only currently FDA-approved drug for destroying adult heartworm parasites. The full treatment course can take up to 6 months and follow up may extend this up to 1 year. The total cost is anywhere between $500 to $1,000.
Although this may seem extensive, it’s because the disease requires a lengthy and powerful regimen to fight. It is crucial to ensure that all the worms in every stage of their life cycle have been killed.
If any worms remain, they can quickly repopulate themselves and put the dog at risk again.
Prior to the injections, your dog will need to be on once-monthly heartworms preventatives for at least 2 months. This prevents new infections from arising as well as kills the immature heartworms, whereas the Melarsomine injections only destroy adult worms.
Your dog will need to continue on once-monthly heartworm throughout the treatment. These cost $20 to $50 for a six-month supply.
Additionally, most veterinarians recommend a month-long course of antibiotics, usually Doxycycline, in the second month prior to the injections. This not only kills bacteria which live in the worms and help them to propagate, but also helps combat any potential complications from the treatment itself.
It’s essential that no worms at any stage are left remaining in the body once the full treatment is concluded, and studies suggest that this pre-Melarsomine injection course of drugs yield higher rates of success in clearing the disease. Antibiotics of this type would generally cost between $50 to $150 for a month-long supply. Price varies based on the size of our dog.
Following this, the Melarsomine injections can begin. These injections are very potent drugs, so they have the potential to cause complications with the animal.
For this reason, after the initial injection is given, the dog should be kept for observation in a veterinary hospital to make sure there are no serious reactions or side effects. If there are no complications, the dog would likely be kept for 2-3 days.
After 30 days, the second and third Melarsomine injections are given 24 hours apart. Again, the dog will need to be kept in the clinic for observation. Overnight housing and care usually will run between $100 to $300 per night.
After this, the dog will need a follow-up examination in another month. Similar to the original heartworm evaluation, scans will be taken to assess if any worms are left circulating in the dog’s system.
The last follow up is then done 5-6 months after this visit, where a vet will test the dog’s blood to assess that the treatments were successful and no worms have come back.
After an initial incubation period, the worms mature and begin circulating around the body where they can cause permanent damage to the lungs, arteries, heart, and other vital organs.
If left untreated they can also lead to death. Given this, preventative measures are the cheapest, easiest, and safest options that all dog owners should keep in mind.
Preventative medicines are fairly cheap and all dog owners ideally should use them. Puppies are generally started on heartworm prevention medications – Revolution or Heartgard being very common examples, at 6 weeks old in most shelters and pet shops.
These medications are then to be given on a monthly basis. This is the best way to safeguard against infection by heartworms.
These medications usually run between $10 and $20 for a single dose and can be cheaper when bought as 6-month or 12-month supplies.
You should not let your guard down when your beloved canine no longer tests positive during a follow-up exam. As the old cliché adage states, “prevention is better than cure.”
And what’s even better? This prevention comes in the form of chewable medications. Here are some of the costs of a 6-month supply of heartworm preventative:
- Heartgard Plus: Up to $50
- Interceptor: Up to $60
- Sentinel: Up to $66
- Advantage Multi: Up to $98
- Tri-Heart Plus: Up to $33
What Dog Owners Have Actually Spent?
Since treatments differ due to a lot of factors mentioned such as severity, weight, location, clinic of choice, etc., the price of heartworm treatment is expected to vary as well. Here are what some dog owners have paid as shared on forums:
- A dog owner was quoted over $1,000 for complete heartworm treatment that includes 2 phases of injections, radiographs, medications, and 2 overnight confinements. On the other hand, Emancipet offered to treat the same dog for only $225.
- Emancipet offered a pet owner heartworm preventatives for a 50-lb. dog for a year for $70.
- An owner’s 90-lb dog was being treated for heartworm for $800 while the 30-lb dog was $300.
- A 5-year old Dalmatian that had severe heartworm case was estimated to be dead after 4 months without treatment was treated for $1,200 that included shots through the back which aimed directly at its heart, with accompanying steroid and antibiotics prior to each shot.
- A 2-year old Cane Corso Mastiff weighing 110 lbs. was quoted for the treatment of advanced heartworm case (75% chance of survival) for $2,000 for 3 shots but was offered by another vet for the same services for $700.
- One pet owner claimed to have spent over $3,000 for the overall heartworm treatment of her dog.
Dog Heartworm Treatment Payment Method
As with any other type of expenditures, “Cash is king.” However, some of us may not have enough stashed when emergencies arise. What do we do?
The problem is that we might have not thought ahead and got out pets insurance. Unfortunately, conventional insurance coverage does not typically cover any type of preventive pet treatment so trying to prevent our dogs from acquiring heartworms, we should pay out-of-pocket.
Another dilemma of pet owners is that, by the time they decided to get pet insurance, heartworm may have already been pre-existing, therefore, not qualified for coverage.
However, there are still a few options that you can choose from. If you have been able to secure any of the following below, you might save your self from worrying about the cost for the meantime and concentrate on your dog’s prognosis.
Wellness Plans – some insurance companies and large veterinary clinics offer care plans that cater to preventative treatments, wellness check-ups, and basic surgical procedure and these include heartworm medications.
Care Credit – works like a credit card used in paying pet health services that are not usually covered by insurance and extends longer installment terms without additional interest or markup.
Payment plans – you might find yourself a very considerate veterinary clinic that is willing to extend you a credit that’s payable within several months. This is usually extended to loyal customers.
Low-Cost Clinics – there are veterinary clinics that offer discounted heartworm treatment for low-income families. Low-cost options may also be available for dogs that came from a rescue organization.