Saving Scout: Rescuing a Dog with Heartworm Disease

By Paige Roth

“We’re just looking. If the right dog declares itself, we can talk about it,” – the serial dog rescuer’s famous last words.

We rescued our first dog almost a year ago, and had been considering adopting another for several months when Scout declared herself. John wanted a dog’s dog – one we could take running, who might catch a stick, swim in a lake and wouldn’t look out of place lolling its head out of the pick up truck.

Scout 1
Scout’s first day of sweet sweet freedom.

Scout was all of those things. A distinguished pointer mix, she looked ready to chase a pheasant. Agile, cuddly, a bit of a ham, a natural athlete, and, most importantly, approved by our miniature schnauzer, we were sold. But of course, there was a hitch.

Scout was heartworm positive. Coming from Colorado, we had honestly never worried about heartworm disease (you can see why on this incidence map) until a Texas vet suggested we test our first dog. And in Texas shelters, it seems like every other dog is positive for the disease. Afraid of the price tag and the follow up, we had passed up numerous dogs simply because we didn’t think two grad students had the resources to treat it.

As we turned to survey the next kennel, a purple sticker caught my eye, “Treatment sponsored.” Optimistic and uninformed, we asked a volunteer to meet her.

From down the hall, another volunteer’s face lit up, “Wait one minute. I need to tell you about Scout (then Sam).”

“This is my favorite dog,” the volunteer, Abbey – with whom we are now on a first-name basis – said, “She is the best dog and she’s been stuck here since February.” It was now the second week of May.

On cue, Scout rolled on her back, thumping her tail in the dirt.

scout and paige

“We noticed her heartworm treatment was sponsored, is that typical?” John asked.

Abbey grinned sheepishly, “No. I did it. It’s the reason no one would adopt her.”

Abbey had paid for the $450 treatment with her teacher’s salary. If that wasn’t a vote of confidence, I don’t know what is.

“What do we do next?” we asked in unison.

heartworm drugs 2
The new decorations on my kitchen counter.

If you are considering adopting a heartworm-positive dog, here are a few things we’ve learned:

  1. Can our current dog catch heartworm from the infected dog? No. The disease is transmitted by mosquitos, so as long as your healthy dog is on monthly heartworm preventative, you have nothing to worry about.
  2. How long does treatment take and what’s involved? Treatment takes about three months. This includes pre-treatment medication, a series of three shots (administered monthly), and heart and lung exams to make sure the treatment is working. Click here for more details.
  3. What’s the owner’s job? Besides shelling out about $450 for treatment and chauffeuring to appointments, the most important part of heartworm treatment is limiting the dog’s physical activity. They are basically on house arrest for the duration of treatment so ensure their blood pressure doesn’t get high enough to circulate the worms from the heart to other blood vessels or the lungs, which can cause lethal clotting. Click here for tips on entertaining your dog while on bed rest.
  4. Can it be cured? Once the dog has undergone treatment, they are considered cured as long as they remain on regular heartworm prevention.

Treating heartworm is a nasty business, but like any good pre-vet student, I’m up for the task. Stay tuned for more Scout updates as we get her health back in good standing!

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