There was a time when I never gave heartworm a second thought. It was just something Daisy received a preventative for once a month along with her Frontline. In all honesty, the Frontline always seemed like the more important of the two.
We lived near farms and woods with deer, groundhogs, foxes and racoons. Between heartworm and Lyme disease, the worry for Mason-Dixon line pets tends to be Lyme.
Fast forward to living in the South. I haven’t heard of any cases of Lyme disease in the area- the incidence rate is not all vets even keep the vaccine in stock.
Heartworm, however, is a big deal. A large number of dogs at the shelter test positive for heartworms. The incidence rate in our area has been downgraded according to the American Heartworm Society’s most recent map. Based on the number of dogs listed as having heartworms at the Humane Society and in the animal hospital’s adoption program, I’m inclined to think it’s higher than the Heartworm Society’s sampling suggests.
Heartworms are easy to prevent, and the preventatives aren’t expensive. For Gambit, who is just over 50 lb, the monthly cost is under $10. While some of the preventatives taste yucky, others are flavored and he thinks he’s getting a treat. Rusty’s is topical, so it’s just like applying Frontline.
Treatment, on the other hand, is expensive and heartbreaking. The dog has to stay in a small area and remain inactive for 30-60 days while the worms die and are absorbed by the body. Walks outside are just long enough for the dog to potty. Running, jumping and increased heart rate during the 30-60 days of quiet time can cause pieces of the worms to break off- and this can kill the dog.
Unfortunately, without preventatives, heartworms are also really easy to get. This summer, my arms and legs have become covered in mosquito bites after a couple of minutes outside the day after the city has sprayed for mosquitoes. It only takes one mosquito bite for a dog who is indoors the vast majority of the time or even lives in an area with lower heartworm prevalence to get heartworms.
The same goes for one missed dose of heartworm preventatives or a bad dose from an online source. It’s important to buy heartworm preventatives directly from your vet’s office, because many manufacturers don’t sell to those online sources. As a result, they’re not guaranteed to work and the manufacturer is less likely to cover the cost of treatment if a dog that has been on the preventative consistently ends up with heartworms.
Picture spaghetti floating by your dog’s lungs and heart. Gross, right? That’s pretty much what it looks like. Those spaghetti-like worms stick around for several years if left untreated, harming the dog’s heart and reproducing so that more dogs can become infected.
Basically, heartworms suck.
The animal hospital we foster through volunteers their time to treat shelter dogs with heartworms when funds are available or raised to help with the cost of the medication.
About three months ago, they were looking for a foster home to treat Edwin, an energetic 70 lb lab mix from the shelter who would otherwise have to be put to sleep.
My preferred number of foster dogs is no greater than one, but we volunteered to foster him if no one else stepped up. The other potential foster home didn’t work out, so we ended up with a third dog – but one who couldn’t play with the others or go on walks.
Since we didn’t have a small room away from the other dogs, Edwin is energetic, and was not yet house broken, Edwin got to spend his 30 days of quiet time in a crate. Sometimes we’d put him on a leash tied to a chair or couch as long as he would relax.
It took a little time to get used to the crate since we weren’t able to transition him slowly. We brought Edwin home freshly neutered, vaccinated, and injected with heartworm medication.
On one of the first days we had Edwin, I put a bed and a kong in the crate with him. It turned out that Edwin wasn’t a fan of having stuff in his crate.
Nor was he a huge fan of toys. While he would go for some peanut butter in a Kong or a treat sticking out of it, he’s not interested in anything difficult to get like a treat inside of the Kong. When we got him, his back teeth were pretty solidly brown and Nylabones made his gums bleed if he chewed for more than two minutes. He had little interest in other toys that might be crate appropriate, except to get upset about the sound of the squeaky toys Rusty had gotten for his first birthday. Poor Rusty had to give up his new toys for a bit.
We came home to the bed having been pushed halfway out of the crate- along with his water bowl! He also pulled a large corner of the couch cover into his crate to chew. Even now, if I put in a blanket or towel, Edwin just pushes it to the side or dunks it in his water bowl.
At the end of his 30 days, Edwin definitely felt much better and was ready to be done with his crate!