Caring for a Dog with Heartworm Disease

 |  Sep 15th 2010  |   0 Contributions


It's never a dull moment with my sweet foster dog Redmond, whose specialty appears to be cheating death.First he cheated death ata gassing pound in Lousiana, where rescuers mercifullygot his premature expirationdate changed at the eleventh hour. Next,Redmondcheated death at the emergency animal hospital after chomping on awayward bottle of Gorilla Glue.

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The handsome red dog came through those trials just fine- but hisbattle for survival is far from over, because he's busy fightingheartworm disease. Redmond has a heart full of parasites called Dirofilaria Immitis. These microscopicmenaces have colonized hisheartand threaten to literallysqueezethis most vital organto death. AnX-ray revealedRedmond's heartto beso thoroughly infested that evenhis worms have worms: they got busy reproducing mini versions of themselves - mini-thems - called Microfilaria.

The good news is that Redmond is under treatment for this life-threatening disease, inthe care ofDr. Michael Rubinsteinat the Humane Society ofNew York. A highly respected diagnostician, Dr. Rubinstein assessed Redmond's condition and prescribed a "slow kill"method to rid my dog's heart of the invaders that are relentlessly trying to stop it.

Previously, it was believed that heartworm-infected dogs should be treated as soon as possible with intramuscular injections of Immiticide, then kept as still as possible so as not to run the risk of dead and dyingworms clogging the arteries. This is how myrescued pit bullLazaruswas successfullytreated for the samecondition in 2008.

But that treatment protocol is so two years ago. As Dr. Rubinstein explains,studies show that the better way to treat heartworm disease is by killing the attacking invaders slowly. "The big risks here are damage to the respiratory system, tissue destruction,and embolisms (clotted blood vessels) in the brain or lungs," explains the Doc, who modestly calls this new methodthe Rubinstein Super-Efficient Heartworm Kill Technique. "When you do a slower kill, it allows the body to rid itself ofdead worms in a more efficient way, which lowers the potential for fatal complications."

Because the dead wormsrelease bacteria into the bloodstream - very not good -Redmondwas prescribedthe antibiotic Doxycycline, which he tookevery day for one month. He must also take one monthly dose of Heartgard (the heartworm preventive medication Ivermectin) for a total of four months;hehappily devouredhis third of four Heartgard doses this morning. After his fourth Heartgard on October 15, Redmond will be ready for his Immiticide injections.

In July, when he first arrived in New York afterthe bigtwo-day trip from down South, one-year-old Redmond presented as asenior dog: mellow andslow to move, he hardly appeared the lively,energeticyoung manhe is.Hewas actually coughing - that's how much stress those worms were putting on his heart, making him seem old before his time.

What a difference acouple of monthscan make. Today Redmond is much more sprightly, enjoying relaxed romps onmy bed with his friends Lazarus and Cupcake. This is another fringe benefit of the slow-killheartworm cure: Dogs under treatment still have to take it easy - no running or long walks - but they don't have to lie totally still in a crate. The new, improved, heart-healthier Redmond hasa spring in his step, and I detect no sign of a cough.

I happen to be a big believer in partnering with vets to treat my pets, adding my own two cents (and lots of research)when it comes to supplements that will help their bodiesheal while they cope with the ravages of toxicmedications. So, Redmond's been getting daily doses of Milk Thistle toprotect his liver against the chemical onslaught.

He also gets the heart-strengthening supplements Hawthorn, CoQ10, L-Carnitine, and Taurine,plus Omega 3 fish oil capsules. (Dr. Rubinstein, who's not a believer, just politely shakes his head.) Admininstering all these pills is a cinch; I just hide them in Redmond's favorite canned food, Wellness Venison & Sweet Potato (actually, his real favorite is Duck & Sweet Potato, but venison is a more heart-healthy source of protein for him right now).

Have you used alternative methods to treat a dog with heartworm? Please tell us about it in the comments!

Photo credit: Anneli Adolfsson

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