With April being Heartworm Awareness Month, we’d like to take the time to answer any frequently asked questions regarding this disease and how you can help.

Yes, heartworm disease is serious in dogs, especially if it is left untreated. But it is also easy to prevent and is treatable. Dogs treated for heartworm — especially if is it caught early — can go on to live completely normal, wonderful lives.

Let’s get started:

What exactly is heartworm disease?

Heartworm disease is a parasitic worm that inhabits the heart, lungs and associated major vessels in both dogs and cats. Dogs are considered a primary host, which means that heartworms can grow and reproduce in an infected animal. In fact, hundreds of worms can inhabit the heart and lungs of a single dog.

How do pets get heartworms?

Heartworm disease is spread by mosquitoes; the baby heartworms, called microfilaria, are found in the bloodstream of infected dogs. Mosquitoes pick up the larvae of the heartworms when feeding and then transfer them to other animals. The larvae then grow and mature into adult worms.

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease in dogs?

The most common signs in dogs are coughing, exercise intolerance (or getting tired easily with exertion), collapse or fainting episodes, decreased appetite and weight loss. Many dogs, however, show no signs at all early on.

How do you test a dog for heartworms?

Early detection is key to treating the disease successfully. Because many dogs show no signs during early infection, a positive test can guide early treatment and help to avoid potentially fatal complications. The test involves collecting a small blood sample, which can either be analyzed at the veterinarian’s office or sent out to a diagnostic lab. The results are usually acquired rapidly, within a few minutes if run in-house or in a couple of days if sent out.

Because of the worm life stage that the test detects, it will take a dog about six months to show up positive on a test from the day he was infected by the mosquito. For this reason, for dogs not previously on prevention, it is recommended that the test be done immediately, and then again in 6 months.

I found out my pet has heartworms, now what?

If your dog tests positive for heartworm disease, there are several steps to treatment. Your veterinarian may want to perform additional testing to confirm the diagnosis and to look for evidence of infection on blood work or X-rays. This can help to determine the likelihood of complications occurring with treatment. (Despite potential treatment risks, however, heartworm disease will most certainly prove to be fatal if left untreated. That’s why early detection is so important.)

Treatment at JHS:

During treatment, it is imperative that your dog’s activity be restricted. Increased activity before and during treatment (and for up to six weeks afterward) has been associated with an increased risk of complications. What this means is that the dog should go on leash walks only, with kennel confinement at all other times. Sedatives can be used to keep a dog calm while undergoing treatment; your veterinarian can help determine if this is necessary.

Are heartworms contagious to other animals/pets?

The only way heartworm spreads from host to host is if a mosquito bites a dog with heartworms and then moves on and bites another dog. Even under this circumstnace, the microfilariae can only be spread if conditions are just right.

*Humans cannot get heartworm

How can I prevent my pets from heartworms?

There are several options for preventing heartworms in dogs, all of which require a veterinarian’s prescription. A monthly chewable tablet is usually all it takes. This product works by killing off heartworm microfilaria in the pre-larval stage before they can grow into adult worms. Bonus: Some heartworm preventives contain other ingredients that also help prevent roundworm, hookworm and parasites such as fleas and ticks.

How does JHS help dogs with heartworm disease?

JHS provides compassionate care to nearly 9,000 animals each year, some of which come to JHS as heartworm positive. JHS will cover the entire cost of heartworm treatment for each dog, averaging to a total of $50,000 each year in heartworm treatment alone.

JHS will also place all dogs on heartworm preventatives during their time at the shelter to ensure each pet is protected.

How can I help homeless pets with heartworms?

Do you still have questions? Feel free to reach out to us any time! Email us your questions or concerns at info@jaxhumane.org. 

There is nothing like the unconditional love given by our pets. ​They show us constant affection, provide us with purpose, and change our entire lives without trying. Now it is time we come together to change their lives with a day of giving for pets in need.

How you can change a life:

Donate – Each donation made with the designation “Change A Pet’s Life Day” will honor this momentous day. Together we hope to fundraise $4,000 for pets in need but need your help to reach that goal. Will you donate to change a pet’s life?

AdoptIn honor of this day, we will be waiving all pet adoption fees in exchange for a pet food donation to the JHS Pet Food Bank! When you adopt, not only are changing the life of the pet you adopt, but you are making space for another homeless pet to have that same opportunity AND with a pet food donation, you are changing the life of a pet in need – tripling your generosity!

VolunteerIf this isn’t your time to adopt, you can always volunteer. Volunteering your time will help our pets get some much-needed socialization, which in turn helps them find their next home. When you volunteer you are making a difference in the lives of many. Will you volunteer to change a pet’s life?

FosterTake it one step further and bring a shelter pet into your home for a temporary stay. Fosters also help other dogs by freeing up resources, so new pups can get what they need and have a better chance of finding their homes. Will you foster to change a pet’s life?

Share your storySharing how you have changed a pet’s life will inspire others to do the same. Please enjoy a few of the stories shared with us below.

Abbey’s story:

“In April 2020, in the midst of the shutdown, we decided to take a chance on a special girl. The staff at JHS called me immediately after filling out the application for Andromeda (now known as Abbey, aka “momma”), she had a sad history and multiple surgeries prior to going up for adoption. During our visit, we were told that she was deemed “semi-feral” and would never be a lap cat. Fast forward almost a year later…. she is the sweetest girl with an amazing personality. She follows her hoomans everywhere and looks after her baby brother like a hawk. We are so blessed and so so happy we took a chance on a special girl. We love our “Momma”.”

Jorja’s story:

“This is Jorja the Destroyer. She had been through 3 owners and the pound when I found her. She is the most amazing and loving dog ever. I thank God every day for the blessing she has been. She has inspired me to donate to the Jacksonville Humane Society any way I can. Her inspiration has led my family to donate to the Pet Pantry as much as possible. Because of our love for her we were able to donate 235 pounds of food this weekend! We love the mission of JHS!”

Widdle’s story:

“This is Widdle, a foster failure from last summer! We have fostered so many kittens but this girl my husband and kids begged to keep! What makes her extra special is when my daughter is frustrated doing homework she comes and sits by her and I see the frustration just go away! The therapy cat!” Widdle’s family also mentioned that they did not think Widdle would make it when they first brought her in. She was very sick and weaker than her littermates. With constant love and perseverance, Widdle made a full recovery and captured the hearts of her foster family. They just knew she was something special!

Fiona’s story:

“I am a single mom of 3, laid off in March due to COVID, and have an autistic child that has delays in social skills. Since adopting Fiona I have felt my depression lifting, I have lost weight being active with her, and my son’s social skills and confidence have increased. He loves talking to Fiona and playing with her. It’s like they understand each other. When I got her she was timid and scared of soda cans opening and brooms, now she is no longer afraid. She sleeps in the bed every night with me and demands her belly rubs. She has completed the circle of love for our family. We may have rescued her but she actually rescued us.”

Goby, Minka, and Cash’s story:

“We adopted Gobi (cat) in 2012 and Minka (smaller dog) in 2015 from The Jacksonville Humane Society! We adopted Cash (larger dog) in 2019 from Florida Urgent Rescue, Inc. These three animals make my life complete and are the best companions. We love them dearly. I’ve been volunteering as a dog walker at JHS since 2017 and love it.”

Change a pet’s life today.

Mutt March, Jacksonville’s largest dog walk and pet festival, is coming soon. Register to walk on April 11, 2020 at the Jacksonville Humane Society.

JHS can’t wait to see you and your four-legged friends on Saturday, April 11th as we bark down Beach Blvd and paw-ty in the sunshine. Mutt March helps to raise funds to benefit the nearly 9,000 pets that walk through our doors every year.

This fun-filled day will include:

Anyone who registers online will get our custom wag bag filled with goodies from our sponsors, including plenty of treats and toys for your pup. Wag bags go fast, and registering online is your only chance to secure one!

Who’s ready to march? Join us and raise the “woof”!

To register or donate, visit jaxhumane.org/muttmarch

Our CEO, Denise Deisler, is here to explain why Mutt March matters to Jacksonville and how you save lives by walking with us!

 Mutt March Presenting Sponsors