Woof Woof! Hello there! I’m Lucky the labrador, and I’m here to tell you about the time I had heartworm disease. Now, you don’t need to feel sorry for me—well, you can feel a little sorry, if that means you’ll give me extra treats—because my pals at Walnut Creek Vet Hospital took great care of me, and I’m feeling much more like myself again. I will admit, however, that being sick wasn’t much fun. I know some pets aren’t as lucky as I was—I’ve also heard that some pets with heartworm disease don’t ever get better—and that’s why I want to tell everyone my story. I learned a lot about heartworm disease that I want to share, so other pets don’t have to suffer like I did. 

Lesson #1: Mosquitoes can infect your pet with heartworm—including pets named Lucky

I never liked those pesky mosquitoes—no wonder they made me sick! I used to like to chase them around the yard, trying to catch myself a little snack, but these days my owners and I steer clear of those meanies! 

So how did that rascally mosquito get me? Well, I was out for a walk by the lake next to my house, which maybe was not smart, because I’ve heard that mosquitoes like to hang out near bodies of water, especially stagnant water. I am used to mosquitoes flying around on my walk—and, of course, I tried to eat a few of them without success—so when I suddenly felt a “zing,” I twitched slightly, but didn’t think much of it. My owner was too busy swatting at all the mosquitoes to notice.

We didn’t realize that that single mosquito bite was the beginning of my problems. Here’s what I’ve learned since about what that bite caused in my body:

  1. The mosquito that bit me was infected with heartworm larvae (i.e., microfilariae), which entered my body through the bite wound and then entered my bloodstream.
  2. Those heartworm larvae stayed in my bloodstream for about six months while they matured into full-blown, foot-long, adults, although I never felt sick. I heard my veterinarian say they kinda looked like cooked spaghetti noodles. 
  3. The mature worms kept reproducing, and all those worms took up residence in my heart, lung, and pulmonary vessels, where they could have lived for up to seven years, causing serious damage, and I could have died. That’s when things could have taken a scary turn if I had not received awesome treatment from my friends at Walnut Creek Vet Hospital. (Seriously, they’re the best.) I guess I’m named Lucky for a reason, because I am sure I am lucky to be here today. 

Lesson #2: Never stop your pet’s heartworm preventive: Lucky goes off to the vet

My owners and I didn’t realize anything was wrong at first, but then I started feeling a little funny. I didn’t feel like eating, and was tired most of the time. Finally, my abdomen became enlarged, and my owners knew I needed to see the veterinarian. I later learned that other heartworm disease signs include coughing, difficulty breathing, and sometimes collapse. 

When my owners described my signs, the veterinarian asked about heartworm preventive. My owners said they had stopped my preventive during the cold weather, but intended to start again in the summer.

Big mistake. Did you know that pets should regularly receive heartworm preventive all year long? My owners know now, but I wish they had known earlier. 

Lesson #3: Heartworm treatment for dogs is rough: Lucky is one lucky pup

My veterinarian suggested I be tested for heartworm, and my owners agreed, although I could tell they were nervous. My veterinarian did a simple blood test, as well as a few other tests to help with a diagnosis. The blood test can detect adult female heartworms and—spoiler alert—the test was positive. My owners seemed so sad, and talked to the veterinarian for a long time. I played with my stuffy on the floor, feeling a bit nervous, but I knew that whatever was wrong, my veterinarian and my owners would take good care of me.

Luckily again for me, heartworm treatment is available for dogs, but not for cats. However, I will admit that my treatment was extremely rough. My treatment included:

  • Anti-inflammatory therapy — Anti-inflammatories reduced the awful side effects from the dying worms.
  • Injections — The injections deep into my lumbar muscles to kill the adult worms were extremely painful.
  • Exercise restriction — Boy was that a bummer! I had to stay in my crate a lot and didn’t get my daily walks for a long time. This was to ensure the dead worms did not cause a dangerous blockage in my vascular system.

After a months-long difficult recovery, I was finally heartworm-free, but I think my owners felt bad after seeing how the treatment affected me. But all’s well that ends well, and now my owners promise they will always administer my heartworm preventives year-round, and they tell everyone about the importance of heartworm prevention, and that all dogs should be heartworm-tested annually from the age of 7 months.

We hope Lucky’s story has helped you understand the importance of protecting your pets from heartworm disease. Contact our Walnut Creek Vet Hospital to have your pet heartworm-tested, to start them on heartworm prevention medication, or to refill their heartworm preventives.