The Silver Lining of Heartworm

black and tan mixed breed dog

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to deliver the news that we know is going to shatter a pet owner’s heart. But, on the bright side, we now have a program that will help them pick up the pieces. 

Cherree is a heartworm warrior. The first time she ever heard the term heartworm, a parasitic disease spread by mosquitoes, was the last time she walked her childhood dog to the vet. Unfortunately, the disease had progressed so far that he never walked back home with her.

Since that day, Cherree is haunted by the thought of any pet out there who is not on prevention. The heartache of losing a pet to heartworm isn’t something you want yourself or anyone else to experience ever again.

woman hugging pit bull
Kovu and Raegan, our medical operations supervisor, celebrating on the day of his last heartworm treatment injection.

But, somehow, the awful disease infiltrated it’s way back into Cherree’s life. Her most recent rescue, Kovu, who she brought to us back in June to get neutered shortly after welcoming him to the family, tested positive for heartworm the day of his surgery.

“I immediately went into a hysterical sob,” Cherree said, making our team just as emotional, as well. Fortunately, though, our new treatment clinic has helped her see that there is a silver lining to heartworm … and how this outcome can be different than the last.

blue heeler receiving heartworm treatment at vet
Andi and Raegan treating Rusty, our first heartworm-positive patient, at our treatment clinic.

Mary Reed Treatment Center

We are always looking for more ways to keep pets in our community off the streets, out of shelters and in homes with the people who love them. Through our treatment clinic, we’re able to assist families with medical care beyond spay, neuter and vaccinations. Our veterinarians have designed and carried out life-saving programs where we can affordably treat pets for illnesses, such as heartworm or parvo. Kovu is one of three pets who has been treated at our center for heartworm since opening a few months ago, but his road to recovery isn’t over just yet. It’s going to take time, and lots of rest.

What Does Heartworm Treatment Look Like?

From the day of diagnosis to the final heartworm test to determine if the pet is negative, heartworm treatment can take up to a tedious 12 months. On Day One, they go on a medication called doxycycline for 30 days. This medication kills the bacteria that lives on the adult worms, making them more susceptible to treatment. After 30 days, they are then treated with Advantage Multi for another month, a heartworm preventative that kills the heartworm microfilaria (the larva). When pets hit the 60-day mark, they receive their first melarsomine injection, which is what actually kills the adult worms. They will get their second injection in 30 days and their third injection one day after the second injection. A month after their last injection, a vet will run a blood test to check for the presence of microfilaria, and, in a year, a final heartworm test to see if the pet is negative.

tan and black mixed breed dog at vet
Andi and Jack, another one of our Mary Reed Treatment Center patients, after his last melarsomine injection.

For the entirety of the treatment, pets are put on strict kennel or house rest with very limited activity. The reason for this is because heartworms can grow to be a foot long or more and, when they die, the decomposed worms can block blood vessels and cause a blood clot if pets are engaging in activities that require their heart to pump faster, such as running or playing. The slightest increase in heart rate can put a pet in serious danger. In almost all cases, heartworm is fatal without treatment.

“It’s so easy to prevent, but so hard to treat.” 

-Raegan, PRCKC Medical Operations Supervisor, RVT

It will be a couple more months before we get our heartworm patients back in to see if they test negative. Until then, we are hopeful … and so are their families; the heartworm treatment protocol we follow is 98% effective.

man and his blue heeler
Rusty hugging his dad, Emmanuel, after completing his heartworm treatment.

We can’t emphasize enough how important it is for your pet to be on prevention; if you need assistance in doing so, please reach out to us. Heartworm has a silver lining, and we’re determined to help families of all financial means find it. 

Because what we want more than anything is to keep pets and people together. It’s a relationship that matters. One that changes lives.

“They’ve changed my life tremendously. They are total support animals,” Cherree said.

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