My Dog is Heartworm Positive
It was the third Monday in October 2013. I had dropped my dog, Maddie, off at the vet. She was having trouble breathing that morning and I thought perhaps a new harness may have hurt her. I proceeded to go see my doctor in the medical center. On the way home, as I was exiting off the freeway, the other vet in the practice called me. I was not expecting to hear: “Lymphosarcoma.” On Wednesday of that same week we put her to sleep because she was suffering so much.
Here it was, an exact year later. It was the third Monday in October 2014. Our Boomer had a full yearly examination on that Friday before (he had a full exam when he was saved from the Beaumont Animal Pound by Golden Retriever Rescue of Houston). I was in the exact same doctor’s office in the medical center when a call came in. I let it go to voice mail. As I continued to wait, I listened to the voice mail. It was the other vet in the practice, the same one that delivered the bad news about Maddie, saying that he wanted to talk about the heartworm test. That could mean only one thing to me. He is heartworm positive. I texted my husband to call because I wouldn’t be able to call them until later that day. My question is: HOW? I told my husband to remind them that it may look like we didn’t have all the appropriate months for heartworm, but we had Maddie’s 5 months’ worth and it was the same brand and weight range.
We adopted him in December. His foster mother had given him his December heartworm preventative. He tested negative with them. We were faithful giving it to him every month, although not necessarily on the 1st of the month. I do get email reminders about the medication AND we put the sticker on the calendar so my husband and I can check each other if we don’t see it. I double-looked at the calendar to make sure we did this. And we did. When I called back to hear about the treatment approaches and costs, I made sure to tell them about the heartworm pills he got that were Maddie’s leftovers. I guess they were letting me know that the heartworm preventative company would not pay for it unless I could show purchases. I was not looking for that though.
After weighing the two options of what they call the slow kill versus the quick kill, the only pro I saw to the slow kill was it didn’t cost as much. It would take years for the adult heartworms to die off. Meanwhile the damage to his body from the heartworms would continue and we could lose him at a younger age. As they did die off we would have the same issues as we do now about keeping him quiet. As the adults die, they can cause blockage in the pulmonary vessels and cause death. The dogs that do die from the quick-kill method are because the owners let them exercise.
Our first step was a full radiological and laboratory workup. He had thickening of his bronchial wall, which they were not sure was pneumonia or related to the heartworm. His creatinine was also elevated (a measure of kidney function). He also had struvite crystals in his urine. Again, the vet is not sure if it is an incidental finding or related to the heartworms. He was put on doxycycline for 3 weeks and prednisone for a month. We had to get his urine checked at 3 weeks. He still had some crystals in his urine on his November 14 followup so they changed his antibiotic to Daytril. In 3 more weeks we will get his creatinine rechecked.
Monday, November 24 is the day. We are nervous about this. Boomer is a very active dog. I think he is young and strong and he will survive the arsenic-based product they will use. He will receive pain medications and have the one injection. They will keep him the entire day to monitor him and hopefully he will get to come home with us that evening. Then next month around this same time he will be there for two days where he will receive two injections over the two days. This dog will stay in the crate only if we are around. At night, he likes to sleep on the couch. To prevent that we got him a doggy bed and put it in our master bathroom and will put a baby gate across the door so he can still see us, but we can still keep our bedroom door open for my son.
The lesson here is that even though you adopt a rescue dog that is heartworm-negative, and you do everything right in giving heartworm prevention tablets, it can still happen. It takes sometimes 5-7 months for the test to show up positive from the time of the initial infection. Now we say a prayer and trust that we will make it out the other side with a healthy dog who no longer has heartworms. Keep us in your thoughts!