national heartworm awareness month. cat and dog laying next to each other.

By: Claire Roberson, Communications Director

Heartworms. That one word is enough to change a potential adopter’s mind from a “yes” to a “no” in the span of two syllables. And, we get it! This disease is uncharted territory for many pet owners and adopters, and the word itself sounds scary and expensive to treat. I, too, fell into this mindset when my husband and I were looking to adopt a black lab/rottweiler mix, who had been transferred to the SPCA Albrecht Center during Hurricane Matthew.

Long story short, Ozzy was heartworm positive, had an enlarged heart from heartworms and arthritis, all at an unknown age. Nevertheless, we fell in love. It took about a week of me constantly bugging our Veterinary Care Center vets and researching for hours on end before I became aware of the realities of heartworm disease. That reality, simply put, is that heartworms are treatable, the treatment is not as expensive as I thought, and once treated, Ozzy would live a long, happy and healthy life.

Needless to say, we took the leap. Following six months after his treatment (we opted for the fast-kill method), Ozzy tested negative and he has been the light of our lives for nearly four years.

When we adopt a companion, many times we want one that is completely healthy and, thus, will be with us for the most amount of time. The extra expense and time needed to care for any ailments is intimidating, but these animals need our love too and they can live a healthy, long life with our help.

April is National Heartworm Awareness Month. As such, I hope to ease your mind with the facts of heartworm disease, and maybe it’ll open your hearts to the idea of adopting one of our amazing, heartworm positive dogs:

First and foremost, what are heartworms? The American Heartworm Society states, heartworms are “caused by foot-long worms that live in the heart, lungs and associated blood vessels of affected pets.” A pet becomes infected when a mosquito bites an infected animal, becomes a host for the heartworms and then bites another animal. If left untreated this can cause severe damage to the heart and other organs and can be fatal.

Okay, I know that sounds scary, but here’s the silver linings of those statements. First, the only way heartworms can transfer is if a mosquito bites an infected animal and then bites a noninfected animal. The likelihood of that is not common. And, as long as your other pets are on regular heartworm preventative, which they should be, there is virtually no chance of them becoming infected. If your pet somehow does become infected while on heartworm prevention, many heartworm companies, like Heartgard, will pay for treatment.

We do see more heartworm cases in a shelter setting because the majority of the dogs coming to us were homeless, lived outdoors during seasons when mosquitos were abundant and had never received preventative.

The second silver lining is that severe damage is only caused when heartworms are left untreated. As I mentioned with Ozzy, he did have an enlarged heart from having heartworms for some time before being treated, but now that he is negative, he is a happy and healthy boy. All of the heartworm positive dogs that come to the SPCA Albrecht Center receive treatment immediately. Unless, for some reason, their heartworms have been left untreated for too long and treatment would be too harsh for their heart.

The best news about adopting a heartworm positive dog from the SPCA Albrecht Center is that we cover the cost of treatment, as long as the adopter follows the treatment protocols!

Currently, we have four heartworm positive dogs waiting for that second chance. Now that you know the truth behind heartworms, will you consider giving one of these deserving pets the ultimate gift – the love, comfort and health of a forever home?

It is just as important to get your own pets regular, yearly heartworm tests and monthly heartworm preventative. If you are interested in testing for, preventing or treating heartworms, please visit the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Veterinary Care Center for a walk-in exam; Tuesday – Friday 1pm to 4 pm and Saturday 8am to noon.

flyer explaining what heartworm is

An Aiken native and self-proclaimed cat lady, Claire Roberson is the SPCA Albrecht Center’s Communications Director, working in marketing, grant writing and media correspondence. She attended College of Charleston, where she graduated with a degree in Nonprofit Business and interned with Charleston Animal Society, the leader in No-Kill South Carolina. When not working, you can find Claire hanging out with her 18-pound Maine Coon mix, Anakin.

The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare is a private, nonprofit, no kill animal shelter in Aiken, SC.  The SPCA also operates a local Thrift Store (“Where Shopping Saves Lives”),  a public, affordable Veterinary Care Center & a Dog Park.  It is our mission to improve the lives of companion animals by rehoming abused, abandoned, and neglected pets while fighting for their well-being through vigorous legislative efforts, humane education, and by offering affordable veterinary care for all.