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Layla Overcomes Heartworm Disease
We adopted Layla on August 29th 2014, and she seemed pretty healthy. We took her in for her first check up on September 8th 2014. At this visit, we bought her heartworm preventatives, started her on them right away, and continued to give them to her every month. The rest of her first year was pretty uneventful as far as vet visits go. In March of 2015 she was diagnosed with demodex mites. We tried a few different treatments before finding one that worked. Rechecks showed the mites were dying off, after that she was seemingly healthy.
We were excited to bring her to her 1 year checkup in July of 2015. It was going to be a good visit to get her a new rabies vaccine, as well as some others, and do that yearly blood test to check for tick born and heartworm disease. We paid our bill and walked out the door thinking we were set for the year. Imagine our surprise when Dr. Soutter called back later that day to tell us that her blood test came back positive for heartworms and that we needed to schedule an appointment for a second blood test to confirm.
At that visit, Dr. Allen was very informative on what the process would be if the second test also came back positive. We were on pins and needles waiting for the blood test to come back. We just couldn’t believe that this was happening and secretly held out hope that the confirmation test would come back negative. Dr. Allen called us the following day to tell us the confirmation test was also positive; our baby girl was fully heartworm positive.
Shortly after the call, we went to the office to pick up doxycycline to give to Layla for the next month and also scheduled appointments for the 3 painful immiticide injections to kill off the heartworms. Doxycycline is used in heartworm positive dogs to weaken the heartworms. We did a lot of research, and knew this would be a long process. We slowly started to restrict some of her activity while she was taking the doxycycline for the 1-month time period and made some plans for the the more restricted rest she would have to do after the injections started. We placed a very large order on Amazon for a playpen, many food puzzles, complicated toys, and long-lasting chews. We practiced as many calming games that we could think of, hiding food in boxes and having her search them out, the same thing with baby stacking cups and plastic Easter eggs. A few days prior to her first injection, I brought her outside for one of her last romps in the yard without a leash and she caught a bird and had her best game of keep away ever. It was like she knew it would be her last chance to have fun for a few months, and she had so much fun.
September 1, 2015, Layla had her first immiticide injection. For those that have never been through this, the medication is injected into the dog’s lumbar muscles; as you can imagine this is painful. Dr. Dupre did her first injection, took her out of the room, and told me that she did very well for that injection. By the time we got home, which was about 20 minutes after that injection, Layla was in visible pain. She was shaking a little and not wanting to move from her crate. We did give her an anti-inflammatory (carprofen) to help with the pain. That first night home I was terrified that she would have some sort of reaction and stop breathing, which is not a really reasonable thought - it can happen, but usually in dogs with really high heartworm burdens - so I broke my rule that dogs sleep in their crates and let Layla sleep in my bed…. she hasn’t slept anywhere else since.
Thirty days after Layla’s first injection, she had to go for injection number 2; this one was placed again in the lumbar muscle, but on the other side of her back. This was by far the worst of the 3 injections. We had given her carprofen prior to the visit to try and get a leg up on the pain relief but it didn’t seem to help much. She spent the next 24 hours shaking and panting and not wanting to move, and just when she was starting to feel better, she had to go in for injection number 3. The third injection was surprisingly not as seemingly painful as the second one. The injection went into the same side as the first injection.
After the 3 injections, she had to continue the strict rest for another 4-6 weeks. As we did the month before, we continued to work her brain to tire her out. She loved her food puzzles, and being as smart as she is, she would figure them out within seconds of them being placed in front of her, but she still loved them. When the time came that she could resume normal activity, we took her to her most favorite place, the Oak Grove Nature Center in Manchester. She always enjoys a nice long hike, and while this place doesn’t quite qualify as a long hike, there is something about this place that she absolutely enjoys. Maybe it is the stream that runs throughout that she could play in for hours, maybe she remembers the time she sat patiently on the trail watching a deer cross her path, maybe because it was the only place our now deceased dog Daisy could hike with her because the trails were gentler on her old bones.
That first day back to normal activity, when we pulled into the parking lot and she realized where she was, she was whining with excitement to get out of the car and she thoroughly enjoyed the very short hike we took her on. Even though it was November by the time she could resume activity, she did play in that stream!
Her days slowly returned to normal; she was so happy to run in the yard and play freely with Daisy again. Other than getting caught up on vaccines that she missed because she had to go through treatment, she didn’t have to see the vet again for six months. Once that six months was up, we had to do a retest to be sure she was free of heartworms. Waiting the full eight minutes for the results was torture; a little part of me was very afraid that it would come back positive and she would have to repeat the treatment. Finally, the test had finished and she was negative! No more heartworms!
Those little monthly preventatives, Heartgard or Interceptor Plus, really do work, but in some cases, dogs, especially rescue dogs, are not given them until they are adopted into loving homes and sometimes it is just too late - the dog has already contracted heartworms and they have grown to big for the Heartgard or Interceptor to fight off. In those cases, like it was for Layla, they then have to go through treatment to kill off the adult heartworms. Going through this awful process has not turned me off from rescuing dogs that come from the south where heartworm is prevalent. But it has made me more informed.
I now know that even if a rescue does a test for heartworm and it comes back negative, the dog should still be tested about 7 months from starting on Heartgard or Interceptor Plus, because of the incubation period for adult heartworms. After losing Daisy, we adopted a hound mix puppy, named Penny, that came from Arkansas. Arkansas, along with a few other southern states, including Mississippi where Layla came from, has a really high rate of heartworm positive dogs, but there have been cases of pets being diagnosed with heartworm in ALL 50 states. Luckily, when we tested Penny 7 months after she started Heartgard, she was negative.
Part 1: Layla's Homecoming
Part 2: Layla and her Behavior Training
Part 3: Layla Has Mange