S’cuse me while I step up on my soapbox because I have a little bit of a PSA. We will return you to your general happy blogginess tomorrow; today, I need to say something. This is for anyone who has ever loved a dog, owned a dog or wants a dog.
Do you give your dog heartworm preventative every month? Do you forget sometimes and think “ehh, they’ll be fine.” I’m here to tell you, that is NOT true.
Heartworms are NASTY and VERY dangerous and I am crazy about giving heartworm preventative. I mean, religiously, first of the month, EVERY month. I live in the south and, as we all know, the south has mosquitoes. Mosquitoes that carry heartworms. Now, until very recently, I didn’t know much about heartworms beyond the fact that they can kill your dog and it will be a slow, painful death. I didn’t know that the treatment is ALSO slow and painful. I didn’t know how common it is for people to be lax about giving heartworm preventative to their dogs. Unfortunately, I am learning very quickly about this horrible disease and how all too often it is something that gets overlooked.
When we got Layla last April (look at how skinny she was!) she tested heartworm negative (HW-) and we thought everything was good to go. We were wrong. Due to a quirk in heartworm growth, if by a crazy twist of fate, you test the dog at JUST the right time between when they are infected and when the antigens show up in their blood, they can test negative for heartworms and actually be positive.
That’s what happened to us. I took Hank (my other dog) in for his routine blood work (he’s my little miracle dog-one lung, a collapsing trachea and an auto immune disease and you’d never know it) and decided to bring Layla along for the ride. Nothing was wrong with her, but if you take one, you might as well bring the other. Since she was there, we went ahead and did her routine check up even though she wasn’t due for months. Everything looked wonderful. She’s put on about 12 pounds since we got her and her muscles are great. She’s intelligent and loving and is fitting into our lives wonderfully.
We were getting packed up to go and then the doc came back in. Layla’s heartworm screen came back positive. But she’s on preventative! She’s got heartworms. But I’ve never missed a dose! She has no signs of heartworms! She’s going to have to be treated…right now. But she’s JUST getting to the point where she’s really healthy! (Enter Joanna breakdown here.)
Now, it IS rare for a dog on preventative to get heartworms but it isn’t unheard of, ESPECIALLY rescues. It happens because they spend lots of time outside, around other dogs (Though they can’t get it FROM the dog, only a mosquito carrying the disease, infected dogs make infected mosquitoes), mosquitoes, without medicine, etc.
The staff DID make me feel SLIGHTLY better, assuring me they could tell she got the worms before I got her. (At least I can feel a LITTLE less guilty about that.) Anyway, they can tell because she only has adult worms. If she’d gotten it recently, she’d have babies. That means that sometime before she was picked up by animal control, she was bitten by an infected mosquito and she was tested before the worms were developed enough to show up in a screen. Then we got her and put her on preventative and that prevented babies from being formed. BUT in the meantime, the original worms were growing (to a size of 6-12″!) in her heart. I didn’t know they were so big! I didn’t know what they looked like. I didn’t know until I went home and Googled. I should not have Googled.
Long story short (er) she’s got to be treated. Two to three months of treatment and that is if everything goes well! It starts with two weeks of antibiotics to kill the bacteria that live on the worms (because if they kill the worms without killing the bacteria, the worms die and the bacteria lose their home and they get pissed and move to the lungs and wreak havoc all over the place). Then she’s got to have three rounds (split into two treatments) of Immiticide (an ARSENIC based treatment) to kill the worms. This involves a huge needle to the lumbar muscle that makes the muscle die along with the worms. Then she’s got to have more antibiotics and after all of that we have to keep her “still and quiet” for two (or three) months. Still and quiet because the worms are going to die and break up and dissolve and they have to pass through the veins and arteries. Quiet because they could throw a clot and kill themselves. Still to save her life.
Yeah. Right. You tell that to my crazy coonhound. Two (maybe even three) months of this! Meanwhile, spring is coming back to NC and there are good smells everywhere. Sniffin’ heaven for dogs. I HAVE A SCENT HOUND that is now only allowed in our yard on a leash for less than 5 minutes at a time. A dog that has to be quiet all day. A dog that formerly went on hourlong walks (frequently twice a day), rollerblading sessions, dog park trips and loves to play wrestle with her Daddy. A dog that would spend HOURS in the yard sunbathing and chasin’ rabbits. THAT dog has to be quiet while her uninvited guests die and dissolve.
Still think heartworms are an ambiguous problem? I’m an informed dog owner. I’m an obsessive dog owner. I had no idea. The moral? MARK your calendar. Do your part. Protect your dog because this is NO fun.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you. I needed to get that out. Layla’s going to be fine. She’s a month into treatment and we’ve got six to eight weeks (and two more rounds of Immiticide) left. Keep her in your thoughts and send her lots of CALM, PEACEFUL vibes.
If you want more information on heartworms or heartworm prevention, go to this website. It is a wealth of information and real answers.