Heartworm Disease


Heartworm disease. This is a disease that has the power to stir my own personal memories, and today, I would like to take a moment to share those memories with you.

It was 2002, and I was a senior student in veterinary school on my most difficult rotation yet – Advanced Internal Medicine. I had also just recently broken my arm after falling off of a horse that changed her mind about a jump in the very last second. I remember walking into the internal medicine room early on a brisk November morning soon before Thanksgiving. One of the residents greeted me with the instructions to go examine some German Shepherd dog he had found wandering the streets of Raleigh on his way into the veterinary school that morning. No other classmates were available to help me, and I clearly remember walking hesitantly toward the wards wondering just how nice this stray Shepherd would be to a veterinary student crippled by an arm cast. But when I walked up to the cage and saw his gentle eyes and wagging tail, I knew I’d be just fine. As I examined this dog, I found he had the most amazing spirit and gentle soul I had ever personally encountered. He quite simply exuded love, affection, and a desire for human companionship. I knew I wanted to be the one to provide this sweet dog with the life of love he had not yet experienced. Unfortunately, routine parasite testing revealed he was infected with heartworms. My resolve to adopt this dog was unwavering, and I made the commitment to get him through his heartworm treatment.

The next several months were difficult for my brave Bailey. While ultimately the heartworm treatment was successful, it proved to be taxing on my sweet Shepherd’s body (and difficult for me to watch him endure). Until the treatment was completed, I had to spend the first several months of his new life keeping Bailey quiet and restricting his activity. This was because physical activity would have increased the rate at which heartworms could harm his heart and lungs. I could tell how restless he was from this confinement and how much he just wanted to get up and run around! Over the months, he received intramuscular injections of medication (an arsenic-based compound) to kill the adult heartworms. The injections were painful for him, caused swelling at the injection site, as well as fever, vomiting, and loss of appetite. He also had some coughing from the dying worms. Thankfully, Bailey made it through the treatments and managed to successfully overcome his heartworm infection through appropriate veterinary care and lots and lots of love and affection. Bailey went on to live a very long and rewarding life before his age and arthritis got the best of him. But his memory lives on in my heart, and I think of him whenever I have to explain what heartworm disease can do.

As pet owners, we have the privilege of being able to help prevent heartworm disease in our dogs and cats – simply by giving them monthly heartworm prevention. So join with Lawndale Veterinary Hospital and embrace the American Heartworm Society’s campaign of Think12, which promotes year round heartworm prevention for dogs and cats. And if you have trouble remembering to give the prevention, then sign up for a reminder email (Virbac, the manufacturer of Sentinel for dogs, has a reminder system (click here) and Zoetis, the maker of Revolution for cats, has a reminder system (click here). My experience with Bailey certainly helped to solidify for me the importance of year-round heartworm prevention, and I hope that by sharing Bailey’s story, his memory will continue to inspire.

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS