Heartworm Disease is Treatable and Beatable

Grace received her final, final heartworm negative clearance this week – YAYYYYYY!  We celebrated with a new toy, of course.

A much anticipated celebratory treat dispensing toy.

I knew Grace was heartworm positive when I adopted her and had only a vague idea what that meant, so I got on the fast track to all things heartworm.  Here’s a bit of what I learned about the disease:

  • It’s common among dogs found in all 50 states, with the highest infection rates along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts (from American Heartworm Society and pets.webmd)
  • Dogs (and cats and a bunch of other animals, and rarely humans) are infected with heartworm larvae by mosquitoes (like we need another reason to despise the mutant vampires)
  • If left untreated, it can cause death
  • Treatment is lengthy, challenging if you have an active dog, and can be costly, but entirely worth it
  • There are slow-kill and fast-kill methods; the fast-kill takes a couple of months and final clearance comes approximately six months after treatment
  • Prevention truly is the best medicine – put your dog (or cat) on a preventive and you can avoid the aforementioned ugliness

Before I got Little Miss home and settled into her new abode, I called around to various vets, rescue groups, and even the vet school to find who and what would be the most economical approach to treating her.  The cost varied ranging from $600 to $1,200 for the fast-kill method.  Those were estimates given over the phone; once your dog is examined they can give you a better idea what your bank account will look like post-treatment.  The slow-kill method is less costly.

I chose the fast-kill method because 1) the vet said it was an option, and 2) I wanted Grace to be rid of those creepy-crawlies as quickly as possible.  I was fortunate enough to be able to provide that for her.  It may not be an option for everyone, but talk it out with your vet to determine which method is best for your dog and for you.
Grace got a few injections, had a couple of all-day stays at the vet (for observation after injections), and was briefly on pain meds because the injections are given in the lumbar muscle area – ouch.  Then I had to keep her calm for 60 days.  I can’t speak for the pooch, but that was excruciating for me.  Even though it was Doctor’s orders, I felt like a bad Mom for not exercising her or playing with her (I later learned the no exercise regimen is actually her preference).  I so wanted her to play and meet other dogs.  No M’am.  Sixty days is 60 days.  But we got through it and she received her preliminary clearance in January.  She was good to go for activity and meeting other dogs.  Woohoo!  It would be another six months, though, until we would know the treatment was successful and we would not have to repeat the process.  Here we are, six months later, and she is negative.  Thank goodness!
If you were wondering about heartworm treatment, I hope this was helpful.  A quick search will get you a whole lot more information.  I also hope it does not discourage anyone from adopting a HW+ dog – quite the opposite – heartworm disease is treatable, and there are options for how to treat it.  It doesn’t have to be a factor in whether you adopt that sweet, loyal canine companion who will become part of your family.  It would be sad and unfortunate to miss that.

Out to lunch with the ladies!

Grace has brought so much joy to my world, and I can’t imagine a day without her.  I’m so glad I didn’t let those ugly worms stop me from adopting an incredibly wonderful and deserving dog.  I think she’s pretty happy about it too.