My Dog Has Heartworms and I Can’t Afford the Treatment

My Dog Has Heartworms and I Can’t Afford the Treatment

Finding out your dog has heartworms can be some of the worst news for an owner to hear. In many cases, heartworms can be a death sentence for dogs. This is normally because the illness has progressed too far for the hope of a positive outcome, or the treatment is just too expensive for most owners to afford.

“My dog has heartworms and I can’t afford the treatment.” This is an all-too-common statement heard from pet owners and leaves them wondering if there are any types of alternative healing options. In the following article, we’ll examine different options for heartworm treatment for dogs and how you can potentially find some relief from the high cost of the vet bill.

What Are Heartworms and Why Are They Deadly?

Heartworms are parasites that infect many species of animals, including dogs, cats, ferrets, and wolves. In certain cases, although it’s extremely rare, heartworms have been found in humans as well.

Typically, heartworms are transferred through mosquitoes when they’re almost invisible. These parasites can grow to nearly a foot in length at their largest.

The offspring of adult heartworms are known as microfilaria. When the mosquitoes bite the host, the microfilaria ends up circulating through the animal’s bloodstream.

When microfilaria is in the larval stage, they are ingested by other mosquitoes from the blood of infected animals. This is how they end up transferring from one animal to the next. As these insidious parasites grow and become larger, they end up multiplying at a rapid pace. Over time, heartworms cause harmful side effects to dogs and other animals’ hearts, lungs, and other vital organs.

Although any dog should already be treated with a heartworm preventative, you must understand how to identify the symptoms of heartworms. The following section outlines what to look for when your dog has contracted this parasite.

my dog has heartworms and I can't afford the treatment

Dog Heartworm Symptoms

During the initial period of heartworms, you most likely won’t notice any symptoms at all. It actually takes about six months from the time a dog is introduced to heartworms until the time they test positive.

It’s not uncommon for a dog to test negative for heartworms and immediately begin taking a preventative and still test positive later. This is why it’s normal for a follow-up test if a dog has an uncertain health background and has been adopted and placed on medications for heartworm prevention.

One of the first symptoms you may notice is your dog developing a distinct cough. This is caused by the heartworms growing larger and multiplying inside the lungs of your dog.

When dogs have heartworms, they lose a lot of energy. You may notice your dog doesn’t play as often as it used to and becomes winded in a much shorter amount of time. It’s also normal for dogs infected with heartworms to lose weight.

As the disease continues to grow worse, your dog’s vet is able to hear distinct changes in the sound of its lungs. When a dog has a significant infestation of heartworms, chances are, it’ll retain high amounts of fluid. This will lead to swelling around the stomach area.

Sometimes this swelling leads to the blood flow of the brain becoming restricted, which can lead to your dog losing consciousness. This can also lead to cardiovascular collapse, known as caval syndrome. The symptoms of this condition include dark or bloody urine, labored breathing, and pale or white gums. At this point, surgery becomes the only option.

Unfortunately, when dogs progress to this stage of heartworm infestation, the outlook is often grave. Even if they survive the surgery, their quality of life is significantly lower if they make a full recovery.

This is why it’s vital to understand the different stages of heartworm progression in dogs.

My Dog Has Heartworms and I Can't Afford the Treatment

Dog Heartworm Disease Progression

When your dog produces a positive test for heartworms, most vets will carry out additional testing to assess the damage done to the vital organs. Further tests can show whether there is any damage to the liver and kidneys as well. Use the following section as a guideline for dogs’ different stages of heartworm infection.

My Dog Has Heartworms and I Can't Afford the Treatment

Stage 1 Heartworm Infection

This is considered a mild heartworm infection. When a dog has a mild heartworm infection, normally, it’s when they are younger and healthy. Typically dogs at this stage of infection show no symptoms, even on an X-ray.

Stage 2 Heartworm Infection

Once your dog advances to Stage 2, the evidence tends to show up on X-rays. There may also be minor symptoms like coughing and labored breathing. Your dog may become winded after small amounts of exercise.

Stage 3 Heartworm Infection

Stage 3 is considered severe. Symptoms are normally more prevalent and include coughing, weight loss, regular shortness of breath, and dark urine. X-rays will show substantial damage to the heart and lungs, although there may be none in the liver or kidneys yet.

Stage 4 Heartworm Infection

Dogs that enter Stage 4 or 5 normally enter a period of shock. They are too weak to survive any type of treatment. In these cases, surgery is the dog’s only hope of surviving.

Heartworm Treatment for Dogs

Any type of heartworm treatment for dogs begins with limiting or completely preventing all exercise. When your dog is physically active, this can increase the amount of damage to the heart and lungs. Unfortunately, your dog will have to spend a great deal of time in a crate or small kennel.

Sometimes there are underlying conditions like infections. These conditions must be treated before the heartworms can be addressed. Sometimes, if the infection is severe enough, it can take months to fully clear up.

Fast-Kill Heartworm Treatment

Three primary methods exist for treating heartworms in dogs. The fast-kill method uses melarsomine dihydrochloride, otherwise known as Diroban or Immiticide. This treatment starts with two injections that are given exactly 24 hours apart.

This treatment begins to kill heartworms instantly, thus the name. The heartworms die and decompose inside the dog’s body, and the lungs filter them.

This alone can lead to significant coughing, and in rare cases, dogs may die from blood clots or blocked arteries. During this time, dogs that are physically active increase their chances of an embolism because of increased heart rate.

Because of elevated heart rate conditions, dogs undergoing fast-kill treatment must be confined for four to six weeks. However, this treatment only kills mature heartworms.

Vets recommend following these treatments by using Heartgard (ivermectin) or Advantage Multi (imidacloprid + moxidectin) for at least six months to a year. After this rigorous treatment, you should continue using preventative maintenance.

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Staged Kill Heartworm Treatment

This is also known as split-dosing or three-dose heartworm treatment. Staged kill methods entail one injection with a month-long wait afterward.

After this period, the dog will receive two back-to-back injections, separated by 24 hours. The initial shot often kills over half of the heartworms. Any heartworms leftover will succumb to the final two injections.

This method is considered much safer, but it’s also higher in cost. This also leads to a much longer confinement period for your dog. However, just like the fast kill method, the staged kill only kills mature heartworms. Following up with Heartgard or Advantage Multi becomes crucial for your dog’s aftercare. Today Only! Buy Heartgard Plus is Monthly Heartworm Preventive Treatment for Dogs. Instant 10% Cashback on all Orders. Shop Now Extra 12% off + Free Shipping! Use Coupon code: BPC12OFFMy Dog Has Heartworms and I Can't Afford the Treatment

Slow Kill Heartworm Treatment

The slow kill method is much gentler on the body but can take up to two years to be effective. This means that your dog is exposed to a longer period of damage, putting their life at risk during this time.

This method entails consistent treatment with Heartgard or Advantage Multi. Using this method is fairly new and can be the most reliable form of treatment without paying a significant vet bill.

Dogs that can’t withstand the physical demands of the two previous methods should undergo slow kill treatment. When heartworms treatment is unaffordable, this is probably the best route of care.

As mentioned previously, the most severe cases require surgery.

Heartworm Surgery

Removing heartworms using surgery entails using special instruments and unique training. This means it’s not widely available. The surgical procedure is incredibly expensive and likewise only removes adult heartworms. This means subsequent treatment is still required.

Paratox and Alternatives to Regular Heartworm Treatment

Other methods for killing heartworms exist, but there’s no guarantee that they’re a safe remedy. Regardless of the case, heartworms decompose in your dog’s bloodstream.

This means the dog must be confined, and they’re still at risk of an embolism or organ failure. If you’re interested in alternative treatment, contact a holistic vet for other options.


In the worst cases, vets may recommend euthanizing a dog with heartworms. However, this is only recommended if the outlook is very grave and the dog is suffering a great deal. Euthanizing a dog is humane and only requires an injection that stops the heart quickly.

Many times, a sedative is administered before to keep the dog calm and ensure they are sleeping peacefully before going unconscious. Normally, it only takes 30 seconds for the heart to stop after injection.

Saying goodbye to a pet can be one of the most difficult things an owner will ever have to do. This is why euthanasia is only recommended when exhausted by all other avenues.

My Dog Has Heartworms and I Can’t Afford the Treatment

After reading this article, if you’re still saying, “my dog has heartworms and I can’t afford the treatment,” there may be options. Depending on which type of treatment, the cost of fighting off heartworms can range anywhere from $750-$1,500. This is if surgery isn’t involved.

Surgery can range well past $5,000 in certain cases. However, if you’ve constantly searched for “my dog has heartworms and I can’t afford the treatment,” we may be able to help you with a solution.

My Dog Has Heartworms and I Can't Afford the Treatment
Book an Appointment with an Online Vet

Vetster is a company that provides video sessions for dog owners with a licensed vet. These sessions are incredibly affordable, and prescriptions (even for heartworms) are able to be written immediately. One of the most significant benefits of these services is the fact that your dog can receive a televet appointment instantly. This means they’re able to receive a prescription right away that can help you clear up their heartworms.

Another benefit of using Vetster is the fact that prescriptions can be sent directly to your door. You receive the convenience and affordability of a televet visit, as well as direct to you prescription options.

My Dog Has Heartworms and I Can't Afford the Treatment
Get Prescriptions to Your Door

Depending on the size of your dog, using a service like Vetster can potentially cut the price of heartworm treatment in half. However, it’s important to understand that you’ll be responsible for your dog limiting its physical activity.

You will need to ensure your dog has the proper setting, including limiting their physical activity, but this could provide financial relief. This option is typically much lower than standard treatment at a vet’s office.

However, it’s important to understand the importance of testing and treatment after the condition has cleared.

The Importance of Heartworm Testing

Vets recommend that dogs are tested for heartworms once per year. This includes dogs that are on preventative treatment as well. Without testing, it’s impossible to determine if dogs have become infected. By the time you notice any side effects, the treatment will most likely be too complicated and expensive.

Preventing Heartworms

It’s much easier to prevent heartworms than treat them once they’ve surfaced. Preventing heartworms normally only costs a few bucks every month, and annual testing is often free. You can give your dogs pills or soft chews, or you can use a topical treatment each month.

Injections are also available on an every six-month basis at your vet. Regardless of the specific treatment, it’s vital that you make this available for your dog.

Ensuring your dog eats the right food and sticks to a healthy diet is crucial as well.

If all else fails, you may find relief in the form of a charity or asking your local vet for a payment plan. You never know unless you ask, and in the case of your dog’s life, it’s well worth it!

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Brandon Crawford

Brandon Crawford

Full-time blogger and pet care consultant. Co-owner of Give Dogs a Better Life.

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