Several months ago I posted about my new dog Daisy and mentioned that she had been diagnosed with heart worms 6 days after I got her. 4.5 months later, she is heart worm free! I thought I would write a post about our experience because I had found it helpful to read about dogs making it through treatment to calm my nerves about my own dog.
Luckily, Daisy's heart worms were mild, and a scan showed that her organs were in good shape except for part of her heart, which was expected because there were worms living in there. My vet gave me two options: the cheaper slow kill method, or the expensive fast kill method. The slow kill method involved just giving her heart worm preventatives as normal for two years and keeping her exercise restricted, but not necessarily confined to her crate. The fast kill method is expensive, partly because they need to order the drugs from Europe. It also involves several months of crate rest. I chose the fast kill method because I wanted Daisy to be able to run and play in months, not years. I looked online and the total cost of everything for the fast kill method ranged anywhere from $700 to $2500. I was already in love with Daisy and want her around for as long as possible, so the cost was well worth it to me.
For the first two months, Daisy was on steroids, antibiotics, and heart worm preventatives. She was also exercise restricted, so she could go on short walks, but wasn't allowed to run or any other vigorous exercise. The steroids strengthened her heart. The antibiotics actually have a really interesting purpose. They attack a parasite inside the heart worm, Wolbachia. It seems strange to treat the heart worm's parasite, but when the heart worm dies, its parasite actually causes inflammation, so getting rid of that parasite first makes it safer on the dog's heart when the heart worms die. It was sad not being able to take Daisy to the park, but the night before her first injections, I cheated once and took her to the dog park for the first time, just so she'd know what it was like.
The actual injections are where things can get scary. They are arsenic based and injected deep into the dog's lower back. They're very painful and instantly kill 40-50% of the heart worms. The dead worms then get absorbed by the dog's body. If the dog's heart beats too fast, the dead worm pieces can clog her up and she could have severe complications or instantly die. I was really scared for Daisy going in because I'd heard other stories of dogs dying after the injection. (Actually cried a bit in the vet's office when I dropped her off before work but luckily they're used to that sort of thing!) The vets texted me updates throughout the day. Daisy had a very upset stomach and she got extra cuddles all day. I picked her up after work to transport her to the overnight vet clinic for monitoring. Daisy was whimpering in the car and also a little bit high from pain meds. It was hard dropping her off but it was good to see her for a little bit. Then in the morning I picked her up at 5:30 am and after a few hours of cuddles and coffee in my car before the vet's office opened, we had a checkup. The vet listened to her heart and lungs and everything sounded clear! Then it was just a month of crate rest until our next appointment for round 2 of the injections.
The first few days home from the vet, it was easy to keep Daisy calm on crate rest because she was in a lot of pain and she was also on pain pills that made her a little loopy. After she started to feel a little better, she was acting like her normal self and wanted to play or go on long walks all the time. I tried to stay out of the house more often (she's fine with staying in her crate when I'm gone), gave her lots of peanut butter kongs to keep her occupied, and taught her new tricks to try to mentally wear her out.
Soon enough it was time for her second round of injections, and she did much better this time. She had two shots, each a day apart. I still had to transport her to and from the emergency clinic each night and morning (which made for some tired days at work!) and she was in for another 5 weeks of crate rest. This time she didn't whimper as much, and was back to her normal self much sooner. It was more challenging to keep her calm, but I was used to it by then.
5 weeks later in mid-January, we had our check-up appointment and the vet said Daisy looked great and only had one more week of crate rest! Since her liberation we've been enjoying regular trips to the dog park, rough housing in my apartment, and long walks on the nearby college campus! She has a funny patch shaved on her back which makes her look like she's about to get a lower back tattoo, but at least the questions we get at the dog park are humorous.
The worst part about this whole ordeal was that it could've all been avoided had Daisy's previous owner spent the $5 per month on heart worm preventatives. If you have a dog, PLEASE make sure they are on monthly heart worm preventatives!
Questions? Comments? Don't hesitate to contact me!