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I didn’t give up on my heartworm-positive dog because he’s family, too

Seeing Crash for the first time was truly love at first sight. I volunteer at a local animal shelter and Crash was surrendered to the shelter by his previous owner. A friend at the shelter asked me to help rehome him because she did not want to put him into the shelter system. Owner surrenders do not get much time — no one is coming for them. I gladly offered to foster Crash until he could be placed in a forever home.

From the beginning, he was playful and almost too smart — typical of the Australian cattle dog breed. He did have intestinal worms, which concerned me. Did his previous owner make any effort to take care of him? When I took him to my vet to get a physical I got the bad news: Crash was heartworm-positive and it was already advanced to stage 3. I knew it was not the end of the world, but this was a major financial blow.

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Heartworm treatment is expensive. This was most likely the reason they surrendered him. I see it all the time at the shelter: owners getting rid of their heartworm-positive dogs because they can’t or won’t pay for the treatment. Crash was dumped by his first family and was not even a year old yet. I couldn’t do that to him again. In the few short weeks I had been fostering him, he’d already become a beloved member of our family. I have kids, but my dogs are like my kids too. Crash immediately bonded to my other dog as well. It was settled — he was part of the family. I decided to officially adopt him and pay for his treatment.

Not only is heartworm treatment expensive, it’s hard on the dog. The treatment plan my vet proposed was the slow-kill method. Crash had a stage 3 heartworm. That meant he had adult heartworms present in his heart and some damage to the heart muscle. The slow-kill method would last approximately three months and required three sets of intramuscular shots, antibiotics, steroids and sedatives. All this set me back about $1,300.

After his first injection, he was a miserable sight to behold. My hyper cattle dog slept all day and yelped in pain when he tried to move. This lasted for a few days. The hardest part after that was to keep him calm. If you know anything about Australian cattle dogs, you know they are high-energy dogs that get bored easily. I needed to keep his blood pressure from rising for three months. You have to keep them calm or they risk throwing a blood clot. The sedatives they prescribed him made little difference.

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Four weeks in, we developed a routine and Crash grew used to — although begrudgingly — a sedentary life. He had no adverse reactions to the medication and all in all, he did well. After three months of treatment, we got the good news: he was free of heartworm. Best of all, the damage to his heart was a non-issue and he’s as hyper and active as he was before the treatment. Now he’s free to live life to its fullest with a healthy heart.

The best advice I can give if you ever find out your dog is heartworm-positive is to know that there are options. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s a treatable disease. If it’s affordability that’s a factor, there are organizations that can assist you with financial help.

The best way to treat heartworm is to prevent it. Make sure you are giving your pet their monthly preventatives and get them tested yearly. If you are looking for a special fur baby and see that a rescue has an adoptable heartworm-positive dog, please don’t pass them by. Many heartworm-positive dogs recover without any lingering side effects. I didn’t give up on my heartworm-positive dog. I’m glad I took a chance on him. He brings me joy, as well as an occasional chewed-up slipper. I wouldn’t trade him for the world.

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