Sunday, June 7, 2009

Heartworm sentence

It seems like Ginger has been at Toronto Animal Services forever. Well, actually, she's only been there since mid-March but that's more than a year in doggie time. She's one of those dogs that's sweet and gentle beyond words and if she had been put on the adoption floor when she first came in, she'd have been snatched up by someone. Unfortunately, she was kept back from general adoption because it was discovered she had heartworm.

When I first heard about heartworm years ago, I thought it was just some colourful name that had nothing to do with reality, like ladybug or butterfly. I didn't realize it was actually a worm that infests the heart of an animal and feeds off its blood like some internal vampire and grows up to a foot long. Gross. And left untreated, heartworm likely kills its host.

It shouldn't even be called heartworm. It should be called bloodworm or vampireworm or something like that because heartworm almost sounds too romantic, like it could be a cartoon character used to sell Valentine's Day cards.

The treatment for the disgusting thing involves three painful injections into the muscles of the back spread out over 6 weeks and over that time the dog's physical exercise must be strictly limited, as in the dog gets almost none. That's because as the heartworms die and are being reabsorbed into the body (again, gross), you don't want the dog exerting itself, causing chunks of dead worms to break loose and travel to the lungs, potentially causing respiratory failure and death.

Ginger's heartworm was pretty advanced. It looked like she had spaghetti noodling throughout her heart. Undergoing the treatment was going to be risky.

She was injected with her first dose of immiticide almost 2 months ago and once the treatment started, she had to stay in her kennel, with only short breaks outside to relieve herself. Initially, staffers were so worried about her that they'd carry her all the way outside, put her down to let her do her business, then pick her up and bring her back to her kennel. I think she may also have spent some time with a foster family, but I'm not exactly sure what the arrangement was there. They wanted to be careful not to stress her out too much from being moved around to different environments. I know she had to at least come back to TAS for her shots and I think she was kept around for the day or two or more afterward for observation.

She got her third and final injection a week ago and you could tell it was hard on her. She moved extra slow, looked like she was hurting. It was probably from the immiticide which can cause pain and swelling at the injection site or maybe it was from pieces of dead heartworm flowing through her system, clogging things up.

Everyone really felt sorry for her.

It looks like Ginger's fine now, though. She's with her foster family and they reported that she was down for a few days after the last shot but is back to her normal self again. In a month, she'll be tested for her antigen levels and if all is well, she'll be in the clear. And soon enough after that, I'm sure, someone will find her to be the perfect companion in their home.


YesBiscuit! said...

She is adorable! Reminds me of my own sweet faced Beagle. Will keep a good thought for her.

Miz Minka said...

Heartworm is widespread here in California, and it's nasty stuff. I once got a greyhound that tested positive after I adopted him. He got one IV treatment (I believe it was a high dose of Ivermectin) and then was on "rest" for 4 weeks after that (sedatives for the first week). Since he was a fairly mellow dog to begin with --we're talking power lounger on the couch-- that part was easy.

The other dog I adopted who also tested positive for heartworm was a terrier mix, so he had to be crated for four weeks. He hated it and howled sadly in his "prison" for the first week before resigning himself to his fate.

Both dogs were cured and then kept on preventative afterward.

I'm glad Ginger's going to be OK!

LynnO said...

Thanks Fred, we don't have heartworm in Alaska so I was ignorant about this whole process. I really appreciate the education and seeing Ginger's sweet face and shaved injection site helped make the digestion of the information better. I'm so glad TAS was willing to invest in her this much. I know pet owners who write off critters quicker than that.

Anonymous said...

OMG god I thought this was going to be sad!!!!!! yay Ginger (breaths a huge sigh of relief) What a great little dog