Why I Adopted a Heartworm Positive Dog

by Debbie Wolfe

In anticipation of Z Living's upcoming original show Finding Fido, where underwater dog photographer (yes, that's right) and behaviorist Seth Casteel plays matchmaker each week between a person and a pooch, we're collecting and telling a series of heart-warming pet stories. Follow along and check back often - we'll have plenty to share!

I’ve always been somewhat familiar with heartworm. I had a dog for nearly 14 years and I gave him a monthly heartworm prevention medication. I knew it came from an infected mosquito, but that was all. It wasn’t until I adopted a young blue heeler named Crash that I fully I understand the complexities of a heartworm infection.

why-i-adopted-a-heartworm-positive-dogI adopted Crash directly from an animal control shelter. He was initially adopted from that shelter to a home that didn’t understand the needs of a young herding dog and they returned him after short three months. Since he was returned, he didn’t have much time to find another home. The shelter’s adoption coordinator reached out to me because she knew I love the heeler breed. I adopted him without a even a second thought.

My shock came later, after I took him to visit my vet for a check up—Crash was heartworm positive.

As a pet rescue volunteer, I was familiar with dogs that were recently pulled from the shelter that were heartworm positive. I just didn’t expect it to happen to me. I had to make a choice: pay for his treatment or return him to the shelter and hope that a pet rescue organization takes him. He’s already been abandoned twice in his short life so far, I couldn't do that to him again. I decided to pay for his treatment.

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Heartworm is a 100% preventable disease as long as you give your pet monthly preventatives. It’s also a treatable disease, even when contracted, but it’s not cheap. My vet and I decided on a treatment plan to treat Crash. He had stage three heartworms—that meant he had adult heartworms present in his heart and some damage to the heart muscle. He was going to need the slow-kill method would last approximately three months and required three sets of intramuscular shots, antibiotics, steroids and sedatives. All this set me back about $1,300.

why-i-adopted-a-heartworm-positive-dogThe treatment for heartworm is hard on a dog. Not only are the shots painful, the dog must be on strict crate rest for the duration of the treatment. Any activity that could raise Crash’s blood pressure could cause him to have a blood clot from the dying adult worms in his blood vessels. To keep him calm, he had to be sedated for most of the three months. Keeping Crash calm and sedated was the hardest part for me. Blue heelers are highly active dogs and he’s young (under two). He didn’t know he was supposed to be calm. However, the three months went by without any complications.

Crash is now 100% heartworm-free. He’s a healthy, active young dog that spends all day herding his human and fur brothers. Was it treatment worth it? Absolutely. Crash is part of our family and we couldn’t imagine our life without him. What I learned from taking a dog through heartworm treatment is that how many people do not understand the disease. I’ve met dog owners who thought that only outdoor dogs get heartworms or only dogs that drink out of ponds and other stagnant bodies of water get the disease. Nope.

All it takes is a bite of one tiny infected mosquito to get the disease. If your dog isn’t protected from monthly medicine that targets the larval stage of the worms, then he or she will contract the disease.

What can you do to learn more about heartworm? The American Heartworm Society is a treasure trove of information about the disease.  As a pet owner, the best defense you have against heartworm is prevention.

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If you see a dog up for adoption from a rescue that has been through heartworm treatment, don’t worry—that dog is perfectly healthy. Many dogs who go through heartworm treatment successfully have no lasting side effect and go on to live long, healthy lives. Crash is proof that it’s worth the cost to treat a heartworm positive dog. He’s a happy dog that brings me joy and occasionally steals a sandwich from my kids. I wouldn’t trade him for anything.

WATCH on Z Living: Finding Fido, where photographer and animal behaviorist Seth Casteel hosts plays matchmaker each week between a person and a pooch. Finding Fido will premiere on Z Living in January 2017.

Tell us YOUR heartwarming dog story! We're starting a new series called How I Found My Fido and would love to hear how you found your dog. Click here to submit your story. You could be featured on Z Living!

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