Heartworms — aka HATEWORMS

Oh, how I hate heartworms.  I hate them, hate them, hate them.

When we take a new dachshund into DREAM, one of the first things that happens is a heartworm test.  When the vet calls me with results, my own heart beats fast, hoping for the magical word, “negative.”  When I hear it, I cheer.  When I don’t hear it, when I hear the dreaded “positive,” my heart and my stomach sink.

When a dachshund is positive for heartworms, here’s what happens at DREAM:

1)  a foster space is taken up for at least 2 months, and likely 3 months. This means fewer dogs saved.  That means we probably say no to 2 other dachshunds.

2)  the vetting cost for that dachshund triples.

3)  the dachhsund cannot be spayed or neutered, or any other kind of surgery, for 6 months.  Which then means — special circumstances in the adoption contract, potential for confusion, and additional tracking to be done by our volunteers.

4) I have to explain to the animal shelter where I got the dachshund why I have not spayed / neutered it, when they call me to check up.  I then have to remember to fax them proof when the spay/neuter actually happens, months later.

5) the foster home must be very patient and diligent with the treated dog, as they must be kept as quiet as possible for 60 days after treatment as the adult worms die off and enter the broader system.  Some foster homes do not want to deal with heartworm treated dogs at all.

6) I know the dog has a tough 2-3 months ahead.  The injections can be painful, and the recovery activity restrictions are frustrating.

7)  For an older dog, or a dog with other health issues, everything is complicated by heartworms.


Heartworms are not like other parasites, the intestinal ones.  Those are generally pretty easy to deal with.  Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes (another reason to hate THEM!).  So any dog that can be bitten by a mosquito can get heartworms.  (A dog with heartworms is not contagious to other dogs.)  And it’s SO EASY to prevent — just a little pill in a treat once a month!

This week we had a particularly terrible heartworm experience.  One of the sweet Waycross doggies, the ones we spent SO MUCH time and effort, SO MUCH stretching at the seams, SO MUCH emotional turmoil and driving and coordinating, to save, has heartworms.  It’s a miracle that only he had them, out of the 6 we took in.

But what was really terrible about this situation was:  we found out he had them AFTER he was adopted.  No, of course that isn’t supposed to happen.  I was horribly embarrassed, mortified.  Through a series of minor missteps, caused by our franticness to get those dogs to safety on very short notice, and using a different vet than we normally use, and getting them into town late one evening as the vet was closing, we thought he had gotten tested when he had not.

So, we adopted him out to a wonderful family, and they love him.  And then they found out that he has heartworms.  How awful.  Those “minor” missteps, individually not so important, added up to a MAJOR screw-up. We have been kicking ourselves (and worse) for the past few days, and going back over our processes to make sure this doesn’t happen again.  (And it won’t.)  But for now, this poor family has to take care of a dog they love, making sure he’s okay.  We paid for the treatment, of course, but they have to help him through the next 90 days.  And we are all praying that he is okay, because we loved him first.  And we really, really, really want him to have a long and happy life with them.



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