How Much Does Heartworm Treatment Cost?

Written by: Staff

Heartworm treatment is a procedure that attacks a parasitic roundworm that resides in the pulmonary arterial system, commonly transmitted via a mosquito.  The heartworm is a thread like worm that usually lives in dogs, cats, wolves and other animals, and if left untreated, it can potentially be fatal.  While these worms can also infect humans, it only happens in very rare circumstances.

There are different ways to remove heartworms from the host, but drug treatment is the most common treatment used today.  Other methods include monthly topicals that you apply to the skin and injections that last about six months.

The price for the treatment depends on the type of treatment that will be used to get rid of the heartworms, the weight of the animal, the vet clinic, geographical location and how advanced the situation is.

Sad Dog by rubixcom, on Flickr
Sad Dog” (CC BY 2.0) by rubixcom

How much does heartworm treatment cost?

On average, the complete treatment process can cost anywhere from $200 for the assessment and tests to as much as $1,000+ for the full treatment plan.  

The first visit to the vet alone can cost $65 to $95 for just the visit and won’t include any tests.  If a CBC (complete blood count)test is conducted, this can be another $75 to $115.  Chest x-rays can be another $125 to $225, bringing the total close to $300 just for the initial testing and vet visit.

Add in the two to three injections, which can cost about $125 to $250 each, and the total can easily be $600 to $1,000, but some vets may package the treatments into more affordable options.

For example, when doing our research, we had found a woman in Tennessee brought her Great Dane into the vet’s office for heartworm treatment.  After everything was said and done, the final bill was $735.  Also, during our research, we had found a rescue clinic — Mazie’s Mission Rescue Group — that charged $200 to $350 for two injections and post oral medication.

Emancipet, another vet office that posted their rates, said they charged anywhere from $225 to $495, depending on the size of the dog.

Over the counter medication can be purchased online or through pet stores without having to go to the vet’s office.  These tablets can cost anywhere from $15 to $45, but because these are not as effective as a vet treatment, it is best to consult with a professional before administering these drugs.

As for cats, there is no known treatment today, but unlike dogs, cats can often recover on their own without the help of medication.

Heartworm treatment overview

At a minimum, the estimates provided above should include the evaluation exam, the heartworm test, Doxycycline tablets if needed, blood work, pain medication and the injections.

Prior to any treatments, the vet will first want to assess the animal to determine the risk and level and to confirm the heartworm.   During this assessment, they will take blood work to check the organs, x-rays to glance at the heart and lungs, and an ultrasound if they deem the situation is severe.  Based on these tests, the vet will be able to determine how severe the heartworm is and they will be able to create a detailed treatment plan.  Most treatment plans will involve a series of injections, known as Melarsomine; however, if the problem isn’t too severe, they may recommend a course of antibiotics to see if it helps.

Following this injection, the vet will ask you to keep your dog restricted for weeks as the worm dies and breaks off.  Most of the time, the worm will be carried through the blood to the lungs, where it’s eventually reabsorbed by the body.  The entire treatment from start to finish will take 60 days to kill the worms.

Most vets will inject at the time of diagnosis and ask you to wait up to one month before coming back for another two injections, which will be 24 hours apart.  After the final injections, the dog will have to be restricted for up to eight weeks.

What are the extra costs?

Your vet may require follow-up tests/visits that won’t be included in the initial costs.

Medication will be prescribed after the injections have been administered.  This can include Doxycycline, Prednisone and Tramadol. Depending on the weight of your dog, this medication can cost another $40 to $75.

If an extra injection is required, this can add another $150 to $250 to the cost.

Preventative measures need to be taken once the situation improves.  Heartworm preventative medication will cost about $60 to $100 per year, depending on the dog’s weight.

In some extreme cases, the dog may need to stay overnight at the vet offices.  Each stay may be billed separately, depending on the billing policy.

Tips to know

Symptoms may include coughing, the unwillingness to exercise, difficulty breathing, an enlarged abdomen or having no energy.

There are four class types:  1, 2, 3 and 4.  Class one will show very few symptoms with the exception of a cough here and there.  Class two will have mild to moderate symptoms and with an x-ray, the vet will be able to notice changes in the lungs and heart.  Class three will also show heart and lung changes, along with a persistent cough and fatigue after activity.  The worst level – class four – can prevent the blood from flowing the heart because the heartworm is so large, potentially causing a cardiovascular collapse.

This is what a heartworm cough sounds like.

Some shelters may recommend the slow kill heartworm treatment, but studies have shown this treatment may not eliminate all the worms, even 18 months after the treatment has been administered.

How can I save money?

Check with local rescues or animal shelters.  Many have great connections with veterinarians that will perform the procedure at a fraction of the cost.

It is best to talk with at least two or three vets before bringing the animal in.  Many vet offices are more than happy to give a quote over the phone.

If you have pet insurance, this procedure may be covered depending on your policy.

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