Despite the ability to prevent heartworm disease, infection with Dirofilaria immitis continues to be a major problem for domestic dogs. To determine worm burden in heartworm-positive dogs from three county animal shelters in the state of Michigan in the United States and to assess the relationship between gross intimal proliferation and worm burden, necropsy was done on 176 heartworm-positive dogs. Adult heartworms were found in the heart and pulmonary artery of 170 of the 176 (96.6%) dogs examined. Mean worm burden was 14 +/- 13 (range 0-85). Fifty-nine percent of dogs had < or =10 heartworms. In contrast, 52% of dogs in a published report from the southern US (Florida) had worm burdens >10 [C.H. Courtney, Q.Y. Zeng, The structure of heartworm populations in dogs and cats in Florida, in: Proceedings of the American Heartworm Symposium, 1989]. These data suggest that mean worm burden in northern areas may be < or = that in warmer areas. Also, since diagnostic tests are less sensitive with lower worm burdens, diagnosis of heartworm infection in Michigan and other surrounding more northern states may be a greater challenge than in areas with higher worm burdens.