Once a dog has heartworm, it can be treated, but the treatment is costly, painful, and dangerous. Lynn had already been treated at the shelter with her first injection of melarsomine, an organic arsenical chemotherapy agent used to kill heartworms. Dogs with heartworm typically have three melarsomine injections, spaced out by 4-6 weeks to ensure that worms in all life stages are killed and that the dog is cured.
Side effects of melarsomine injections include pain, swelling and tenderness, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, gagging, lung conjestion, and depression. After dogs are treated, the dead worms can become more dangerous and the risk of sudden death increases. The need for exercise restriction is increased immediately following the treatments as well.
After Lynn had been with us for a few weeks, she was due at the shelter vet for her second injection. The plan was to administer the second injection on a Wednesday morning and keep her at the shelter clinic overnight for observation. She would have her third, and hopefully final, injection the next day, Thursday. If she appeared well enough to go home, we could pick her up Thursday evening.
After the treatment, Lynn would need another 6-8 weeks of exercise restriction, and it would be months before she could be tested for heartworms and hopefully deemed cured.
I took Lynn and Livie for a slow walk before we headed to the shelter. I had fallen in love with Lynn, despite her destructive, goofy habits, and was worried for her. I felt awful loading her wagging self into the car, her not knowing what the plan was.
I felt worse dropping her off at intake. She politely greeted everyone there, but followed me when I headed toward the door. The leash grew taut and she leaned against it. Oh, my heart!
I headed right over to adoptables to walk some dogs. I needed the shelter pups to distract my mind from the painful procedure that Lynn was undergoing.
The following video includes a good explanation of heartworm treatment and shows a dog receiving the injection to treat heartworm.
I got a call that afternoon. The injection had gone well, and while Lynn was not her usual boisterous self, she was awake and okay. Whew!
We snuggled Livie a little extra that night. We also relaxed a little. While hosting Lynn was rewarding and amazing, it was also a lot of work. I missed her, but I have to admit, it was also a relief to have that bit of respite from constant alertness.
The next afternoon, we got the green light to pick Lynn up. Yay!
The kids and I hurried to the shelter. Our girl greeted us enthusiastically and I had to remind the kids not to pet her along her back where she had received the injection. Lynn wasn’t complaining, but I knew from my readings that she was in pain.
We were sent home with some pain medicines, antibiotics, and steroids (meant to reduce her body’s reaction to the other drugs).
Lynn was really low key Thursday evening. She seemed alert and happy, and she was interested in dinner and Livie, but she was walking more slowly and had less pep in her step. I had been advised to keep her really calm over the next couple days and to watch for warning signs, like coughing or gagging, that indicated that heartworms had become lodged in her arteries. Now that Lynn knew us well and felt settled at our home, I felt confident that we could keep her calm. She was well on her way to a successful heartworm recovery.
Please, please, please…give your beloved dog a heartworm preventive!