HEARTWORM IS BOTH DEADLY AND PREVENTABLE
Heartworm is spread by mosquitoes and is deadly to dogs and cats who contract it. The worms grow in their heart/lung arteries until the heart can no longer function. If they are treated, they can be cured of this but even the treatment can put them at risk. The best thing to do is to put your Westie on heartworm medication. Some treat only during the summer months but we prefer to see year-around treatment. Michigan winters can be hard but some years they are very gentle and may not kill off all the mosquitoes. We would rather see them protected year around. The annual test is important too, even if you give year around treatment. No medication is 100% effective; the dog could throw up the pill without you realizing it. You might forget to give it occasionally. Why take the risk. Don’t let your dog go through what Robbie is going through.
Robbie is a little Westie currently (1/05) in foster care. He is only about a year old. His history is pretty sorry. We are not certain about it all but what we have pieced out is that he was purchased by a family with kids. The kids were not very nice to Robbie and the owners ended up keeping him in a dark, back bedroom…maybe to protect him. But it wasn’t a good way for a puppy to learn and be socialized. Eventually another family managed to get him. He would have lived with them except that their larger dogs picked on him. So this poor little boy who was still little more than a puppy, had to live outdoors.
There really is no record of his ever having seen a vet. He was living in an area of the state where there are coyote problems. He wasn’t likely to live long in these conditions. A kind lady convinced the new family to give him up to Rescue so that he would have a chance for a better life.
When Robbie arrived into Rescue, he was a mess. He had to be shaved down to see what was going on underneath all of the hair. He had chewed or scratched large patches of hair out and had big red, bare spots on his body. He had various nicks and scars, probably from dog fights and fights with who knows what while he lived outdoors. He had a bad flea infestation and worms. Already, at this young age he was in need of a dental (who knows what he had been eating!) Of course he was not neutered. And he had quite a cough.
Robbie was pretty worried about the changes in his life. He was easily scared. He would roll over on his back in a very submissive attitude but it was clear that he would defend if he was pushed any further. The only way to deal with this was to “lure” him out of it with treats or toys. Robbie would do this at first, when he got up in the morning and needed to go out. He probably was afraid that if he went out he might not be allowed back into the house! But after a couple of weeks, he got over these fears and now seems quite confident. Initially Robbie was marking a lot and had to wear a belly band. Robbie now has the use of a doggie door and he has not had a single housebreaking accident since he was neutered on the first day.
Robbie was transported across the state by several volunteers who each took a “leg” of the trip. When he arrived at his foster home, he went straight to the vet for a checkup. The vet kept him to neuter him but soon called to say, “Robbie tripped the heartworm test.” This is BAD NEWS in so many ways! Not only is heartworm life-threatening, the cure for heartworm can be also. Fortunately treatments are better now than in the past but it means Robbie will be in foster care for several weeks and much of that time, he has to be kept fairly quiet.
Robbie spent the first 3 weeks or so in foster care, learning to be comfortable in his new living arrangements, to accept a crate and ex-pen, to live nicely with other dogs and to get used to being left at times without getting upset. This was important so that he could be calm and comfortable during his recovery. This time was also spent trying to clear up his skin issues and make sure he was housebroken. Robbie’s skin issues were apparently all due to the fleas. Once they were gone, his skin cleared up nicely and he began to regrow his coat. His x-rays had shown an enlarged heart and congested lungs. He was put on antibiotics for his lungs and will be on them for some time after his treatment. The antibiotics also helped with his skin problems.
Robbie went to the Animal Medical Center in Rochester Hills and was treated for his heartworm by Dr. Theodoroff. This started on the Monday after Christmas. He was there for two days and then began his convalescence. His coughing continues but it is becoming more productive. He is taking meds to help with the cough and it occurs mostly at night when he has laid quietly for a long time and first thing in the morning.
January 4: Robbie had a bad day. He started out okay but as the day went on he became very lethargic and acted as though his joints hurt. Robbie showed none of his usual interest in watching for squirrels from the window and in fact, would not even climb up to look out. He just slept and even spit out a treat. But he didn’t have a fever and wasn’t out and out sick. A pain pill resolved this problem completely. By the end of the day he was much better. (You know a dog doesn’t feel well when he lays down and lets you take his temperature without a fuss!!)
The remaining of the week he has acted normally. He is getting the pain pill in small amounts every day and he has resumed his position in the window! He did cough when he chased a ball thrown for another dog and then came and laid down beside me. Maybe he knows that he can’t handle the activity level he used to have.
The meds he was given for the heartworm are killing the adult worms. As they die, they can cause additional congestion until the body rids itself of them. The most dangerous time is supposed to be after about 4 weeks which will be the end of January.
[Years ago, before we fostered, another rescue had two Westies with heartworm. We helped them pay the costs and find potential adopters for them. The Westies were treated and did really well. But later in the treatment, they were running in the yard and one of them had a heart attack and died. If they get too active too soon, it can be very dangerous for them.]
January 20, 2005 Robbie is feeling much better judging from his cough. He no longer wakes the house at night coughing and after his first thing in the morning coughing spell, he seldom coughs during the day. His hair has grown back in and there are no bald spots left. His nature is much more even-tempered. He still doesn’t like being bumped or having his legs tugged at all…joint pain? But he doesn’t try to bite…just cries or growls lightly. He just seems much better now although next week is the fourth week which is supposed to be the worst time period. We shall see. It is possible his lung issues are separate from the heartworm so one is getting better while the other is coming to a peak.
February 2, 2005
Robbie went through a week or two where his coughing was much worse. Thought we were living with a goose at times when we heard all the honking. The vet gave us cough pills which helped and then suddenly I realized that I hadn’t heard any coughing in a couple of days. He is no longer taking the cough pills and his coughing is now almost non-existant. We are finishing out his antibiotics and will see how he does. If all goes well, we will do x-rays at the end of the month and see how he is. At the same time, we will x-ray his hips to see what is going on there.
Robbie continues to be a wonderful, cuddly little boy. He actually started to play with the other dogs a couple of days ago but still really wants to be with his human most of all. Robbie does very rarely have a moment when he gets scared and will roll over on his back. When he does that, it is as though his mind reverts to his previous life where he was sometimes attacked by other dogs. He needs to be “handled” gently when this happens because he is very frightened. It is rare now and we hope will eventually not happen at all. Robbie will probably need a home with no children at all and possibly with no other dogs or only a very gentle dog. He isn’t going to be the dog to get as a companion to another animal because he really isn’t interested in the other dogs.
Robbie has a football that he just loves. It belonged to his foster brother Glennie who won it at an Agility match. Glennie loved that ball and it has lasted more than a year even though Glennie usually destroys this type of toy. When Robbie was quite new here, Glennie walked up to him and set his ball down. Robbie walked over to the ball and Glennie got up and walked away. It was as though Glennie wanted Robbie to have his ball as a gift! You can see Robbie with his football below. (Note: We’ve since bought more balls so Glennie can keep his too.)
February 21, 2005
Robbie had his last vet appointment today and then his new dad took him home. He was so feisty, they had to sedate him a bit to get the x-rays. But things are looking much better. He isn’t totally cleared up yet but things are headed in the right direction. They plan on staying with my vet because they don’t want to make any changes in his life that aren’t necessary. His right elbow may have some arthritis in it and the balls of his hip sockets aren’t super but not horrible either. Robbie is already the owner of 5 leash and collar sets and many toys, and other things. This is one lucky boy!