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As of August 2019, Washington State isn't a high-risk area for heartworm in dogs, however, this doesn't mean that there will never be a risk and it's important to check in with our integrative veterinarians about any rise in heartworm positive diagnosis in the area.

Is there heartworm in Washington State? What are the risks to our dogs? And are there natural alternatives to heartworm treatments.

We recently added a fifth dog, a puppy, to our family and before he arrived, his former veterinarian gave him heartworm medication (I can't recall which one). I was mildly annoyed with the veterinarian and very annoyed with myself.

  • The vet knew that the puppy was being transported to Washington State, doesn't he also know that the chances of contracting heartworm in this state are low?
  • Why didn't I think about the possibility of heartworm medication being given and ask that the veterinarian not give a dose to the puppy?

I stopped grinding my teeth and accepted that the veterinarian doesn't know about the low incident of heartworm in Washington because (1) he doesn't live in Washington and (2) low doesn't mean nonexistent.

That's when I began to wonder how many incidents of heartworm have been reported in Washington? The last I checked, which was several years ago, the only reports were in dogs transported to this state from other areas of the country. However, I've been warned by several veterinarians that our no-heartworm or low-heartworm status could change at anytime.

With three ponds on our property and a creek, mosquitoes are a part of our lives. Thankfully, the koi, bass, and frogs keep the mosquito population down, but that doesn't mean we don't deal with the annoyance of a bite every now and then.

I use Wondercide spray on myself and my dogs before we go outside to keep the mosquitoes at bay, but the spray primarily serves as a flea repellent for my dogs. I love that it keeps the mosquitoes away too.

What is Heartworm?

Heartworm is a serious disease that results in the death of many deaths and is caused by a parasitic worm spread through the bite of a mosquito. If you have a weak stomach, don't search through Google images for the picture of a heart infested with heartworm. It's horrifying.

Heartworm is survivable, but I've read that the cost of treatment is significantly more expensive than

Is there Heartworm in Washington State?

Heartworm Incident Map of the United States

As you can see, when compared to all of the United States, Washington appears low in heartworm reports as of 2016. I couldn't find anything more recent online. In 2008, a dog in Cowlitz County had been diagnosed with heartworm, which increased concerned among local pet parents, and we were told the following:

There is no evidence that there is any increase in new heartworm cases in our state. There is also no evidence that heartworm is enzootic in Washington, meaning it has not become established as a disease that is constantly present in our animal communities. The most common heartworm occurrence in Washington pets has been diagnosed in those that have relocated to the state from known heartworm enzootic regions. Diagnosis has still been very uncommon and occurred most often on or around military installations and communities with a large mobile population.

Washington State Veterinary Medical Association

While some veterinarians believe the number of cases of heartworm will increase in the Pacific Northwest, not everyone agrees.

The good news is we live in an area that does not support the sustained development of this serious parasite. Thanks to our relatively cold climate, western WA is not an area of concern for heartworm. According to the American Heartworm Society, laboratory studies indicate that development and maturation of heartworm microfilariae in mosquito populations require a steady 24 hour daily temperature in excess of 64 degrees for at least 1 month. This is definitely unlikely in our current climate and relatively infrequent for much of the rest of WA state.

Fairhaven Vet

Over the past few years, the Pacific Northwest has experienced increased temperatures in the summer, often reaching several days of 80 degrees and higher. However, our temperatures do not remain at these levels for 24 hours.

Why Heartworm Medications Scare Me

I'm not writing this post to tell you not to give your dog heartworm medications. This is a personal blog where I ramble on about my thoughts as they pop into my head and I was recently forced to examine why I'm worried about heartworm medication. And the reason the medications scare me is that they're not preventative. The medication is meant to kill the previous 30-45 days of exposure. As I understand it, our dogs are bitten by a mosquito, heartworm larva is injected through that bite, and it takes 30 days or so to mature into gross worms. The heartworm medication prevents that growth.

So, before I decide to give my dogs heartworm medication, I first consider their risk of exposure. When you look at the map above, you can see many of the southern states have a high number of reports of heartworm positive pets. However, just because we don't live in the south doesn't mean that we're in the clear.

For now, I'm going to forgo heartworm medication because I believe (and our veterinarian agrees) that our dogs have a low risk of contracting heartworm.

Natural Treatments for Heartworm

When it comes to treating heartworm naturally, I've read of many solutions, but haven't tried any with my dogs.

Read: 4 Natural Heartworm Prevention/Treatments

Essential Oils that Repel Mosquitoes

I use the Animal Desk Reference II by Dr. Melissa Shelton as a guide to using essential oils with my pets.

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