With the climate in Florida, the number of heartworm-positive dogs in the state has been escalating, according to the Humane Society of Manatee County executive director.
“It is a disease that is so prevalent here in Florida because of the climate conditions,” Rick Yocum said of heartworm, which is transmitted to dogs by mosquitoes.
To decrease the number of dogs with heartworm, the Bradenton shelter is offering Heartworm Day on Thursday, July 21, when dogs can receive treatment for heartworm at a discounted rate. The shelter also offers heartworm prevention.
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“You can treat a dog for heartworm prevention for its entire life for less than treatment,” Yocum said.
A negative stigma is often associated with dogs with heartworm, causing many people to pass over the animals when considering a dog to adopt, which contributes to overpopulation, according to Yocum.
“There are people who don’t know what services are out there,” he said. “Education is the key so people understand what it is and what the treatments. When most people hear heartworm, a lot of people think death sentence to animal when it is certainly not.”
Heartworm treatment, which involves three injections, is neither cheap nor easy on the dog, but it is much easier than it used to be, according to Julie Hollifield, medical director at the Humane Society of Manatee County.
“Still the best way to treat it is to not allow the dog to become heartworm positive in the first place,” she said. “There are many heartworm medications available right now — topical, oral meds, even an injection.”
Due to the need for the heartworm treatment in Manatee County, the Humane Society of Manatee County plans to do the treatment days where as many as 30 animals are treated at the monthly event, Yocum said. The Heartworm Day in June was the largest one yet for the Bradenton shelter.
“There is an absolute need right here where we are located in this community for low-cost medical care,” he said. “We want people to keep animal as a family member.”
At least a third of the dogs at Manatee County Animal Services are heartworm positive, according to Sarah Brown, animal services chief.
“It is a lot cheaper to go in every year to get prevention and get animal tested,” she said. “Maybe they just don’t know that leaving an animal outside is leaving an animal susceptible to heartworm. I think a lot of times people pass by heartworm positive dogs. There is treatment available for it.”
Before Manatee County Animal Services started on the no-kill movement in 2012, it was a death sentence if a heartworm-positive dog came to the shelter, according to Sue Kolze with the nonprofit Animal Network, which started a No Kill Fund to pay for heartworm treatment at the end of 2012.
“That is specifically for the animals at animal services and mostly to treat heartworm,” Kolze said of the fund.
To date, 631 dogs have been treated for heartworm with the fund at a total cost of $101,960, according to Kolze.
On Sunday, a “Yappy Hour” fundraiser at Motorworks Brewing, 1014 Ninth St. W., Bradenton, benefitted Animal Network. A portion of Sunday’s proceeds will go to providing heartworm treatment for more animals in Manatee County.
“It saves lives of dogs at animal services,” she said. “That is the bottom line. Those dogs used to be put asleep.”
Without heartworm treatment, an animal can die, Brown said.
“We are going to work harder to make sure we educate people come into facility,” she said. “We can treat these animals and have them live a long, healthy life. It’s not something that is wrong. It is just something that we need to treat. Prevention is not that expensive.”