I was so excited to get my newest foster dog, Clementine. A 1 & 1/2 year old beauty, she was full of spunk and excitement to be out of the shelter. This girl always had a smile on her face, so one day when I got home from school and noticed she was acting very strange, I knew something was up.I checked her gums, which were very pale, and she soon lost control of her back legs – I mean…they were dragging the floor. I immediately rushed her to the closest vet clinic I could, where they ran blood test and x-rays. Clementine slowly came back to herself, but I soon learned that she had temporarily gone into heart shock. Why? Because at only one and a half years old – this girl’s entire right side of her young heart was full. of. worms.
Heartworms disease. If you’re from the northern United States, you may have never even heard of this disease, but if you’re from southern Louisiana… you know that heartworms here are out. of. control. The vast majority of animals housed by animal control test positive for this disease. My very own home town in Terrebonne Parish, LA is has highest number of heartworm positive dogs in the entire country. Why is it so bad down here? Well… in these swamp lands, as many of you may know, mosquitos are not scarce – in fact – they are a year round pain in the butt to each of us, including our companion animals. Heartworms are spread by these mosquitos…. with only one bite, they can transmit up to 7 larvae.
These larvae can mature into a worm in the blood vessels of the lungs and in the heart. Given enough time to advance, these worms can eventually block the flow of blood once their numbers increase, ultimately leading to heart failure. Most heartworm positive dogs display signs of exercise intolerance, coughing, and weight loss. If this disease is allowed to continue to advance in a dog, it will result in a very slow, and extremely painful death.
Fortunately, there are preventative medications which are very effective in fighting this disease! However, these medications must be administered monthly, and many dog owners are not familiar with the vital need to give their companion their heartworm medication.
Close to 100% of dogs who are not placed on heartworm prevention will test positive for this disease by age 2. Wait, did you read that right? Yes.. CLOSE TO 100%. So you can just about imagine the number of dogs who come into our southern Louisiana animal shelters who grew up under the care of an irresponsible pet owner having never taken heartworm medication. I don’t have the exact intake number of East Baton Rouge Animal Control (known as Companion Animal Alliance to many), but I can guarantee that the vast majority of our impounded dogs test positive for heartworms disease.
This disease is not a death sentence, by any means. But unfortunately, having the tag “hw pos” on a kennel can make a dog a little harder to adopt out, and can be the cut off on a dog’s time when our shelters become too crowded.
Ummm.. soo what’s the good news? As widespread as heartworms are in southern, LA, its hard to find “good news” surrounding this topic. However, if this disease is caught early on enough, there are different treatment options. I will discuss the 2 most commonly used in shelter practice.
The first is the most economical. If a dog is a heartworms positive, he/she may be placed on monthly heartworm preventative, and eventually all the worms will died off. The issue with this type of treatment is that time needed to kill all of the worms in a dog’s heart can take anywhere from 3 months to 3+ years, depending on the case. By this time, worms may have already caused permanent damage to a dog’s heart. However, it is not as expensive ( roughly $5-$10 a month/dog) as our more reliable option 2…
Fast-kill treatment. The best analogy I can make for this type of treatment is that it is similar (using the term similar very lightly) to chemotherapy- in that very powerful injections are given to quickly kill off the worms in a dog’s heart. This treatment is very hard on a dog, but it is the quickest and most effective way of ridding the heart of these parasites. This treatment is also very expensive, averaging roughly $400-$500 a dog.
These Louisiana dogs have it rough. Our shelters are crowded, our euthanasia rates are high, and our funding is low. While we are making advancements in decreasing our euthanasia rates, heartworms are still ever present in our shelter. Clementine came into the shelter pregnant at only 1 & and a half, and this disease almost defeated her. She is only one of many, many dogs who deserve not only a second shot at life, but simply a state of good-health. Here are just a few faces of the thousands of dogs who have come into the shelter with heart worms.
What can you do to help?
Fortunately, an incredible donor stepped up to sponsor my girl, Clementine’s, heartworm treatment. She is now happy and healthy – free of heart worms!
However, there is always there are tons of more dogs in need of help. There is an ever continuing need for funding to be able to give our high number of heartworm positive shelter dogs proper medical attention. We have established a donation site directed solely to the treatment of these sick and injured animals of East Baton Rouge Parish at Companion Animal Alliance. To help, please click on the link below in order to make a contribution. No donation is too small. The dogs and volunteers of Companion Animal Alliance thank you!