Heeling Hearts of Heartworm-Positive Dogs
What is heartworm disease?
Heartworm disease is a serious and often fatal disease in pets around the world (especially in the southern United States). Foot-long worms (heartworms) live in the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of infected pets, causing severe lung disease, heart failure, and damage to other organs in the animal’s body. Heartworm disease affects dogs, cats, and ferrets, but heartworms also live in other mammals, including wolves, coyotes, foxes, sea lions, and—in very rare instances—humans. Because wild species such as foxes and coyotes live in proximity to many urban areas, they are considered important carriers of the disease. The American Heartworm Society is one of the best sources of knowledge for those looking to learn more about heartworm disease. It is through their tracking of the prevalence of heartworm disease in pets that we have learned that North Carolina ranks in the top ten states for heartworm prevalence.
How is an animal infected with heartworms?
Heartworm disease is contracted when a mosquito carrying heartworms bites a pet that is not up-to-date on a heartworm preventative like Heartgard, Interceptor, and so on. It takes just one bite by an infected mosquito for a pet to become infected, too. Dogs (and other pets) become hosts for the heartworms, and the worms grow and live inside the animal, maturing into adults, mating, and producing offspring. If untreated, their numbers can increase, and dogs have been known to harbor several hundred worms in their bodies. Heartworm disease is preventable, and giving your pet regular preventative medication is much cheaper and safer than treating heartworm disease after your pet has tested positive for heartworms.
How is heartworm disease treated?
While there is no known treatment for heartworms in cats (though there are preventatives for cats), in most cases, dogs with heartworms can be treated safely and effectively. Heartworm disease causes lasting damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries and can affect a dog’s health and quality of life long after the parasites are gone. For this reason, treatment should be administered as early in the course of the disease as possible.
While treatment options vary, a dog is typically given antibiotics for a month and then, over the course of a couple of days, will receive two shots. It is important that a dog is on crate rest for a couple of months, from the start of the antibiotic to around one month after receiving the shots. (This course is known as a “fast kill” course; the “slow kill” approach involves heartworm preventative and an antibiotic given over the course of a year or more. While this option is significantly cheaper, it is less effective than the “fast kill” course and the adult worms that have already formed in the dog’s heart and lungs will continue to grow and cause damage until they die.) After the two months of crate rest are up, dogs are free to play again, but should be retested in 6 months to ensure that no heartworms have remained.
Because the treatment is costly (ranging from $400 to $1,000, depending on the veterinary practice and the size of the dog) and crate rest is hard on most dogs (and their owners), heartworm prevention is by far the best option. Learn more about heartworm medicine for dogs by speaking with your veterinarian.
How is heartworm disease prevented?
Heartworm disease is easily preventable. You should give your dog a monthly pill or a 6-month injection. It is vital to protect your pet year-round and not to skip any months of medication. It does not get (and stay) cold enough in southern states like North Carolina for all mosquitos to die, and there have been many reports of dogs getting heartworms when their owners skipped even one month of prevention. (Cats, who can contract heartworms but cannot be treated for them, can also be given a preventative made just for them.)
What is Second Chance doing to help dogs through Heeling Hearts?
Due to the financial burden of treating a heartworm-positive dog, rescue organizations and adopters alike have overlooked adoptable dogs with heartworms, preferring instead to rescue dogs who do not need such a costly treatment.
Through our Heeling Hearts program, Second Chance has made a commitment to accept dogs into our program based on temperament alone, regardless of their heartworm status. We test each dog for heartworms at intake and will accept one into our program even if it tests positive; if we already know a dog is heartworm-positive before admission, we will not refuse to take the dog on the grounds of being heartworm-positive alone (rather, decisions are made based on space available, funds available, and the dog’s disposition).
Second Chance is committed to rescuing and treating 75 heartworm-positive dogs over the course of a year, a dramatic increase from our previous numbers. About 20% of the dogs Second Chance has rescued since November of 2017 have been heartworm-positive. In addition to raising awareness of the heartworm epidemic in the South, Second Chance is saving the lives of dogs who would be euthanized to create space in a county shelter with only the cost of treatment determining life or death.
Second Chance can only rescue as many dogs as we have room for in our foster homes—so, the more foster homes we have, the more dogs we can save! It’s that simple.
Fostering is fun—and free. Second Chance supplies each foster home with food, medicine, crates, toys, beds, collar and leash, waste bags, treats, and anything else a foster pup will need. All we ask of you is for room in your home and room in your heart!
Foster parents are generally responsible for bringing foster dogs to our clinic nights, vet appointments, and adoption events, but when necessary, another volunteer can transport your pup if you’re unavailable.
The best part of all? As a foster parent, YOU get to help us decide if a potential home is the best one for your foster dog—after all, you will know the pup better than any of the rest of us! There’s nothing more rewarding than to know that a dog was saved because of your generosity and that the dog is now in the best possible home—one that you love, too!
To get started, fill out of foster application. Once approved, you’ll get the opportunity to tell us what kind of dog you’d like to foster, and when. Remember: without an available foster home, we cannot take another dog, and cannot begin giving them the life-saving heartworm treatment they desperately need to survive! Please submit your foster application today!
The damage caused by heartworms is often fatal, but there is a cure for heartworm disease—and it’s highly effective. The problem? It’s also incredibly expensive, costing pet parents as much as $1,000. With a price tag that high, heartworm-positive dogs are often surrendered, abandoned, and overlooked in shelters by potential adopters and rescues alike. When overcrowded shelters are forced to euthanize, dogs with heartworms make their way toward the top of the list. These dogs lose their lives solely because they run out of time before someone will step up to pay for them.
Second Chance is stepping up for heartworm-positive dogs. Through Heeling Hearts, we are making a commitment to dogs whose hearts are big, but broken: we will rescue—and treat—75 heartworm-positive dogs over the course of this next year. We can find these dogs, we can rescue them, and we can foster them—but we need your help to pay for the cost of their treatment. They deserve this simple second chance.
On average, each heartworm treatment costs Second Chance around $200—significantly less than a pet parent would pay, thanks to our partnership with the generous Bayleaf Veterinary Hospital. Including heartworm treatment, food, medicine, spay/neuter surgery, and so on, the total cost to us of rescuing a heartworm-positive dog is approximately $450. Yet, our adopters pay just $275 per dog—the same price as the adoption fee for a dog without heartworm disease, so that a formerly-positive dog has an equal chance of getting adopted as an always-negative counterpart.
We need your support to help us offset the difference between the cost of a dog and the income of the adoption fee. Second Chance is one of the only organizations that will rescue and treat a heartworm-positive dog—the impact of your donation through this program is truly significant. Your gift will save a life that would have been overlooked and undervalued. Make a contribution today, or set up convenient automatic monthly donations, to know that you have heeled a heart!
Each year, breeders sell and individuals purchase over 2,000,000 dogs born in puppy mills. And each year, shelters that run out of room for more animals euthanize 3,000,000 cats and dogs. Among those are many of the 250,000 dogs who are infected by heartworms each year.
A dog who has been treated for heartworms deserves a loving home no less than a dog who has never had heartworms. After suffering illness and months of crate rest during treatment, they deserve to run, to play, and to know that they are loved. For most, you’d never be able to tell they were ever sick.
Check out our Heeling Hearts dogs (click on the “Meet the Dogs” tab above) and read more about which might be the right fit for your household. Submit an adoption application; once approved, you’ll speak with the foster parent to learn more about the dog you’re interested in, and you’ll be able to meet the pup and see if they’re a good match for you. Everyone at Second Chance is committed to your family during and through the adoption process—we thank you for giving a dog a second chance to find love.
Michael and Kimberly Anderson
Carol, David, and Tim Ballesteros
Dianne and Richard Barnes
Bayleaf Veterinary Hospital
Winnie and Michael Beach
Tricia and Douglas Bell
Joan and Anthony Blando
Rebecca and Ames Brantley
Bonnie and Thomas Briggs
The Bulman Family Trust
Camp Bow Wow (Cary)
Barry and Irma Ceglia
Kim and James Cleary
Robert and Lois Clements
Evelyn and Edward Costello
Jessica and Christopher Cunningham
Ann and Donald Etheridge
Fetch! Pet Care
Linda and Terrence Fitzsimons
Tim and Tammy Gage
Anne Gavin, DMV
Jan and John Geiger
Carol and Arthur Hall
Jerilyn and Alexander Hobbs
Caitlin and George Hogge
Debbie and Dennis Hotovy
Kay and Charles Jones
Ellen and James Kelly
Judy and Russell Kulp
Madelyn and William Lackey
Ansley and Marc Leblanc
The McCosley Living Trust
Ellen and Bruce McKim
Sara and Lawrence McSwegan
Patricia and Robert Mohnal
No Ruff Day Learn and Play
Ann and James Pearson
Terrie and Michael Pelt
The Petfinder Foundation
Rod and Bev Pitta
Julie and Rich Powsner
Heidi and Kirk Rabe
Christine and Michael Reed
Heike and Ronald Sederoff
Jacqueline and Theodore Straub
Town and Country Veterinary Hospital
Teresa and Mark Wagner
Michelle and Roy Walker
Marilyn and Robert Warner
Cindy and George Webster
Kim and Timothy Wilkins
Cheryl and Charles Wilkinson
Theresa and John Williams
Pam and Jesse Williford
Christine and Daniel Willis
Mary and LaMarr Yarbrough