Do you test your dog for heartworm and intestinal parasites? Is your dog or cat on heartworm prevention? They should be!
In April of 2022, we had a group of rescue dogs arrive in Canada from San Pedro, Belize. At the sight of one, originally named Miss Gina, I fell in love. I offered a place in my home for Miss Gina as a foster-to-adopt so I could ensure that my own dog, Kayta, would get along with her. They were instant friends and we decided to adopt her. We renamed her Peach.
As per protocol, once she arrived, we tested her for heartworm and intestinal parasites. At the time, her test was negative for all parasites. This was great news knowing she came from a country that does not have the same veterinary care that we do in Canada.
A few weeks go by and Peach started to show some odd symptoms. Peach started coughing up blood, and was vomiting. We tested her again for heartworm and she was negative. The doctor’s treated her and she started to get better. Having no concerns as her health improved, we retested her for heartworm and intestinal parasites 6 months after she arrived in the country.
Peach’s follow up test was positive for heartworm this time around! I was upset but I knew that there would be no one better than Dr. Heather and her team to treat her. As we deal with many rescues at Glanbrook Veterinary Services, there is no one I would trust more.
The heartworm test that is commonly used here in Canada is a simple blood test that checks for a specific protein that is only found in the uterus of an adult female heartworm. Once a patient is bitten, it takes 4-6 months for the larvae to mature into a female adult heartworm. This is why we tested Peach when she came into Canada and again 6 months later. If we tested her after 4 months, we may have missed a positive test result because the female was not quite mature yet; and if we didn’t test her again after that 6 month time period passed, then her infection would be untreated and the heartworms would cause chronic damage to the blood vessels in her lungs and heart.
Once we found out she was positive, we started the treatment.
Any patient that is going through a heartworm treatment needs to be kept quiet and have strict exercise restriction. This is to minimize the risk of a potentially life-threatening blood clot to her lungs. Peach is a black-mouth cur and her breed is very high energy. There are multiple ways that I was able to help Peach stay quiet. Some of them included taking her outside on a leash to go to the bathroom and using calming medications that were prescribed by the doctors at GVS. I also would set up mind games such as lick mats and dog puzzles to tire her out mentally.
The heartworm treatment is divided up into 3 different injections. Throughout the entire treatment, the patient has to be rested and very restricted exercise. With Peach being a high energy dog, I knew this would be tough but I was willing to put in the work. They had warned me in advance that it is a long treatment and can be painful. Even though they warned me, I wasn’t as prepared as I thought that I was.
The first two months of the treatment goes by with Peach on some medication. I was able to keep her quiet enough but it was difficult with her sister, Kayta, always wanting to play. Now it was time for her first injection. I wasn’t ready for how painful this injection would be.
For the first injection, they get medication injected deep into the muscles of their lower backs. Injections into muscles can be very painful in general, but the medication that is required to kill the adult heartworms can sting both at the time of the injection and for the next week or two after it is given. Peach was given pain medication prior to the injection and for a few days after. We will have to go through two more injections back-to-back in another month.
After staying at the clinic all day, I was able to bring Peach home that evening. She was tired and painful. I had to carry her into the house and up to bed; she didn’t want to walk. Every time she got up, she was hesitant to move because she was so painful. It was sad to see but I knew this would help her in the end.
A few days later and she was finally moving ok on her own. Now, we have to wait one more month before she gets her second and third injections, back-to-back.
Before I started working at Glanbrook Veterinary Services, I will admit, I didn’t know much about heartworm prevention. I didn’t have Kayta on it but now going through this experience with Peach, I will always heartworm test my pets and have them on prevention.
The doctor’s strongly recommend all dogs get heartworm tested starting in April and starting prevention in June. Heartworm is still very prevalent in our area as we do get lots of mosquitoes. Any patient that is bit by a mosquito has the risk of contracting heartworm, if they are not on prevention.