Shelters facing high heartworm disease rates

One frequent problem local shelters face is heartworm disease among dogs. This dog, Washington, is currently being treated for heartworms by Oktibbeha County Humane Society. (Submitted photo)
Staff Writer

One challenge local animal rescue programs like the Oktibbeha County Humane Society and Grassroots Animal Rescue are facing is a high rate of dogs coming who test positive for heartworms.


To most dogs, heartworms are not a death sentence, but the parasite does prevent many from being adopted because of the expenses and the diligence required to treat them.

OCHS Outreach Coordinator Sarah Buckleitner said around 60 percent of dogs brought to the shelter lately have tested positive for heartworms. Small Mercies Animal Rescue co-director Andrea Spain said nearly every dog which goes through their foster-based animal rescue tests positive.

"Heartworms are the biggest indication of how long they will be with us," Spain said. "It can often be an impediment to getting them adopted, and very rarely can you send them on transport until after heartworm treatment."

Local shelters and rescues use a transport program to take dogs northward to find homes. The transport program expands the opportunities for the animals and also helps keep the population of shelter animals manageable.

Animals are taken to shelters where the stray populations are smaller and they can be adopted faster. When animals test positive for heartworms, they must stay in local shelters until they receive treatment.

Heartworm treatment can range from $20 to $1,000 depending on the condition of the dog, and because of this not every animal can be treated.

"Unfortunately we have to make judgment calls on which dogs get treatment and which don't," Buckleitner said. "We do have a Second Chance fund that can treat an animal if we have an interested adopter, so we're trying to get where we can do that more."


People who wish to donate to help local shelters treat heartworm in their animals can contact one of the local shelters or animal rescues and specify the donations go toward a certain animal with heartworms or go toward heartworm treatment in general.

Because of the nature of heartworm medication, animals who are being treated must be kept in calm environments and restricted from play and exercise until the treatment is through.

Another way to help is to adopt, even if the animal needs treatment.

Buckleitner adopted a heartworm positive dog from Small Mercies. After watching Wren go through the treatment, Buckleitner said she feels closer to her than she might have had Wren been healthy. Through the treatment, Buckleitner watched Wren change from a tired, unhappy dog with little energy and a bad cough, and blossom into a happy, healthy dog.

"Even though the treatment can be difficult and expensive, it's so worth it and you end up with a dog that is perfectly healthy after treatment," Buckleitner said.


There are medications to stop heartworms before they begin. Pet owners can find the heartworm preventatives at their veterinarian.

"We can't overemphasize how important it is for people to get their animals on heartworm preventative," Spain said. "A simple preventative once a month will keep them from getting this horrible disease."