(Kate and Copper’s Story)
Kate is one of our Directors, she became involved with the rescue after adopting Copper – who is still heartworm positive as of 01.03.2021. Throughout this process she has helped other adopters who are hesitant to adopt a dog with HW, and reassured them that it’s not as scary as it seems. Below is her account of what has happened so far, and what you can expect. For other HW information please see out Training & Resources page.
“On the website I saw the very brief profile for a dog named Copper. He looked a bit rough around the edges, was a mixed breed, and he had heart worm. I don’t know why but I was drawn to him. I just had to know more, so I contacted Klaudia who told me Copper had been very sick, but was actually getting better – a lot faster than other dogs who had heartworm.
He had been rescued from the streets in June 2020 and this was now September, his last heartworm test showed he still had some within his system, but it was a low reading. He had also become a bit more active (and vocal) at the shelter, and his personality had started to come out. The vet said he was safe to travel, but that I would need to keep up his medication at home until he was totally negative on the test.”
Finding out I would have to treat him at home:
“I froze for a minute. Me? Looking after a dog with a fatal disease who’s in recovery? That all sounded very complicated. I talked it over with my partner, as well as Klaudia… and that’s when I realised that I was more than capable of doing this, and so are you!”
“Firstly, Pacsi dog shelter will not let a dog with heartworm travel if they are still in the throws of being very ill. The vets will only allow travel once the tests come back as almost negative, and if the rest of the blood work is ok too. Then the shelter staff have to assess whether the dog is well enough to travel – so this is not a ‘rush job’ to get the dog out of the shelter. This carefully considered.
Secondly, the treatment that an adopter carries out at home is very simple, and is written in English by the vet. It involves using a powdered version of an antibiotic, mixing it up with water and squirting it onto the dog’s food twice a day. Then after an agreed amount of months you give the dog some strong worming tablets, wait a little bit, then do the test.”
“The only part that people may find a little daunting is drawing the blood for the test, but in this case you can ask your vet to do it! You literally need just need 3 to 5 tiny drops – not a whole syringe! Here is a video showing you what it’s like to do the test… How to perform a heartworm test.
So, back to my experience. We picked Copper up and were given his paperwork. It was written down how much powder you have to mix with how much water to create the correct strength of solution – a bit like mixing squash and water to make a drink! We make up a week’s worth of solution in a feeding syringe we got for around £3 from Amazon.
We then keep the antibiotic power and the syringe of liquid in the fridge. Every morning and every evening squirt the required amount onto either dry or wet food. Depending on the size of the dog this amount will vary. If you don’t have a set of kitchen scales that measures small amounts you can get these ones for less than £10 as we found them very accurate (and great for measuring spices out too for cooking)!
“During the time that Copper was on the antibiotics we noticed he can be a bit itchy, this is solved by continuing to give some salmon oil in their food, which helps with coat and reduce dander. The only other issue is that the antibiotic, combined with the previous treatment, can make their wee stronger. Again, this isn’t a major problem but if you have a garden with grass/ plants I would suggest keeping a watering can handy or the hose, and just wash off they wee after they’ve gone.
A dog with heartworm knows they are unwell, and so you may see them taking themself off to their bed more often. Copper used to get very tired, and so the answer to this is going on little walks multiple times throughout the day. This is also great for lead training and socialising them because they get to have a sniff around and get used to their environment quicker.
The reason that you shouldn’t over-exercise a heartworm dog is that the dead worms that are floating around their heart can cause issues and get stuck if the heart pumps harder for prolonged periods of time. The aim of the treatement is to kill off all the worms and their babies, then the dog’s body breaks down and absorbs the remnants. So you want to minimise the risk of any worm parts getting caught somewhere they shouldn’t e.g. an artery.”
“Once Copper had been on the antibiotics for 3 months (plus all the time he was at the shelter) we decided to do the next bit of the treatment which is giving the extra strong worming tablets. Again this was super easy, we just put them in some raw mince in he inhaled them! You do it once, then wait 2 weeks and do it again. Then wait one more week and take the blood test.
The worming tablets go alongside whatever monthly treatment your vet has prescribed for flea/worm/tick and so having the extra tablet on top of this can make you dog feel sick for a day or so. Copper was lethargic and just wanted to hang around the house and his crate.
When it came time for the test I already had experience of drawing blood, so it was easy for me to get it from Copper’s leg. I wouldn’t recommend doing this unless you have had previous experience as you don’t want to injure your dog or miss the vein. Instead you can just book an appointment with your vet for the week you know you will be testing.
After we took the blood (and gave Copper lots of treats and cuddles), we followed the video instructions for the test. We did a tiny ‘test squirt’ onto a tissue to get the air out of the syringe, then we mixed the drops of blood with the blue solution. After that we tipped the mixed liquid onto the test window and waited for 15 – 20 minutes.
“The test works in the same way as a pregnancy test, the liquid gets drawn up the paper and then at the end it will show either positive, nearly negative, or completely negative. It was very clear to use even thought I’d never done it before. Unfortunately Copper still down a pale single dot which meant that he still had the remains of worms in his system.
Now, this could be because the remains of the dead worms were being absorbed, but we didn’t want to just chance it. We decided to continue with a second course of the treatment. We have continued with the antibiotics twice a day, this time for 4 months instead of 3, and we will be testing again in the middle of April. This was all discussed with Klaudia and the Hungarian vet, then we just emailed our own vet with a brief update.”
“Then something amazing happened. We were so used to Copper being a bit tired, and trotting around the house that we assumed this was what he would be like for ever (or at least until after April)… but one day in February Copper became really animated, and happier – playing with his toys a bit more, wanting to go on walks, and choosing to run around the field on his long-lead instead of just bumbling around! His eyes looked brighter, and he was the same dog… just healthier.
We are hoping for a negative test in April, and after reporting back the changes in him to Klaudia, she is confident that he has passed through the last of the heartworm. We will update this page when the test comes in in 6 weeks!
All in all, I don’t know why I was worried about taking on a dog with heart worm, it is literally like just remembering to take your own pills or vitamins – it becomes a routine at breakfast and dinner. The final 2 sets of worming tablets can easily be given in food. I am glad that we adopted Copper and gave him a chance, because now another dog fills his place. Unfortunately HW can be a stigma because it’s not seen over here in the UK.”
We thank Kate for sharing her story, and Copper for being a model patient!
HERE ARE THE ESSENTIALS TO TAKE AWAY:
– Give antibiotics with food twice a day
– At the end of the course give 2 lots of worming tablets
– Finally complete the easy to use blood test
– If Heartworm is still present, discuss a second course with Klaudia
Things to be aware of:
– Your dog will feel tired as they are fighting an internal parasite
– The medication can make your dog a bit more itchy
– Their wee is a bit stronger while they’re on the antibiotics
– You should temporarily restrict their walking/ exercise to short distances
* If you have any other questions you can always ask our team, and also current adopters of heartworm dogs! The cost and personal vet plan details for your own dog will be discussed with you during the adoption process.