As Mom and I looked inside each kennel at our local animal shelter, the decision before us became increasingly difficult— every dog needed love just as much as the last one. In the small dog area, we spotted a little scruffy mutt. His hair was so long and matted he looked like a black and white mop, but beneath his rat’s nest his bright blue eye and deep brown eye sparkled when he saw us. We sat with him in a little room with a bench, and he sprung onto my lap so everyone could have the opportunity to pet him as much as possible. As we quickly built our new friendship, the decision to adopt him became a very easy one.
We learned that some of the dogs at the shelter (including the one we had fallen in love with and named Magic) tested positive for heartworms and were currently receiving treatment. Adopting a heartworm positive dog is not something we had anticipated, and as first-time dog owners, we didn’t know much about heartworms. Thankfully the shelter supplied us with plenty of information, and we learned that heartworms are a type of parasite spread by larvae-carrying mosquitos. The larvae live, grow into adults, and reproduce inside a bitten dog’s heart, lungs, and blood vessels, causing heartworm disease. Magic had contracted heartworms while living as a stray and not receiving monthly heartworm prevention. Heartworm prevention kills the larvae shortly after they are deposited by a mosquito, before they become adults. Without this medication, Magic had no protection against heartworms.
When my family met Magic for the first time, we assumed he was completely healthy because many heartworm positive dogs do not show signs of illness until the disease has become more serious. Despite his ordinary appearance and lively demeanor, treatment was crucial in order to prevent the disease from progressing. They are actual worms that live in the heart— imagine the damage they can cause. If Magic hadn’t received treatment, he eventually might have lost weight, become exhausted easily, and experienced difficulty breathing. In the most severe cases, heartworms can cause a blockage of blood flow or heart failure. While Magic was hospitalized at the shelter during treatment, he received a series of injections which killed the worms in his heart and blood vessels. He spent most of his time in a crate to restrict him from any strenuous physical activity and keep him calm as much as possible.
After Magic completed his treatment and came to live with my family, we had a responsibility to give him heartworm prevention in order for him to remain protected. Because we consistently gave Magic his monthly dose on time, he tested negative for heartworms each year and remained healthy enough to take long walks with our neighbor’s dog and accompany Mom on jogs around the lake as often as he wished.
Any dog who spends time indoors or outdoors is at risk of developing heartworm disease without heartworm prevention. Although the possibility of heartworm disease can threaten your dog’s health, this risk is significantly reduced by providing monthly doses of heartworm prevention. Yearly testing helps discover the presence of heartworms before serious damage occurs.