The day everything changed

We woke last Friday before dawn to the sound of Snickerdoodle coughing up blood. It was alarming, to say the least. A few minutes later, the Doodlebug was in the car on the way to the vet, and I was trying to contain my nerves as I drove there, glancing over at him every couple of seconds to make sure he was breathing.

Some extensive testing and a couple of X-rays later, we learned that Snickerdoodle’s heartworm is at an advanced stage. Although we knew he had heartworm from the beginning, he seemed asymptomatic, so everybody assumed that his was a milder case — as is normally expected of young to mid-aged dogs. However, the presence of blood in his lungs and the swelling of his heart and clouding in his chest revealed by his xray puts him at a Class 3 (out of 4).  Dogs with a Class 3 diagnosis are risky to treat and have a “guarded” prognosis with treatment — an expected mortality rate of 10-20 percent. Snickerdoodle’s generally healthy behavior and appearance put him on the optimistic end of the prognosis, but still — ample reason for his doting foster mom to worry.

We had planned to wait a month to begin his treatment (a series of very painful arsenic-based injections into the deep muscle tissue in the lower back), but the new information increased the urgency. He had his first injection on Friday.

For the next ten weeks, our task is to keep the Dude very, very calm. The injection’s task is to break down the worms and effectively kill the disease over the course of 10 weeks. But a big risk associated with the treatment is that any increase in heart rate for the 10-week duration poses a risk of pulmonary thromboembolism (blood clots) because of the pieces of broken-down heartworm traveling through his blood. This is the greatest danger for dogs undergoing treatment, and is more of a threat with more severe cases like ours. This means that for two and a half months, the Dude can’t go for walks, play or run in the yard, or meet other dogs (which gets him VERY excited). The poor guy is on a strict regimen of rest, and with the stakes as high as they are, we are taking the doctor’s orders very seriously.

For Doodlebug, the doctor’s orders are complicated by his serious separation anxiety, which in the first few days (pre-treatment, thankfully) induced panics that resulted in destroyed crates, chewed furniture, and huge puddles of drool on the floor. We have been working overtime to combat his anxiety through a combination of herbal remedies, anti-anxiety meds, lots of ride-alongs for the Dude, and varying degrees of “free range” status in the house when we’re not home. We have slowly begun leaving the Dude and the Chick loose in the house together when we’re not around, hoping that Chick’s stability and company will serve as a comfort to Doodlebug. We’ve even set up a complex video monitoring scheme involving the cameras on our laptops and an iphone, so that we may spy on the Dude when we’re not home and make sure he’s not working himself into a heart-thumping panic.

We’re not sure what his heartworm will mean for Doodlebug long-term. If he survives treatment, he may live a decade or longer, and grow to be a very old man. That is our dream for him. Some dogs treated for heartworm suffer from abbreviated lifespans, while others go on to live full and healthy lives. The result depends on the severity of the disease, how long it was in the dog’s system, the dog’s genes, and a little bit of luck. But for now, he needs to get through the treatment. If everything goes well through the end of March, we’ll know he’s out of the woods.

Given his complex issues, we know that Snickerdoodle is likely to be with us a while. And given how seamlessly he fits into our home and our life, that’s just fine by us.
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For more info on Snickerdoodle, click here.

80 responses

  1. Wow…scary stuff to wake up to and even scarier news to stomach considering his nerves when left alone. Arwen was, still is to a lesser degree, a sep.anxiety kiddo. We learned early on with her that the presence of another dog at home totally eases those fears. So pack oriented…Our running joke is that we don’t have, and now 3 dogs for us, but that we have Arwen and she has her dog(s)!
    Well, given the care and enormous hearts that you guys have, Snickerdoodle has definitely landed in the right place! Many positive thoughts for a peaceful,calm and successful recovery from those awful parasites.

  2. Wow, I’m so sorry you all are having to deal with so much! But he is so, so lucky to have such wonderful people who are able and willing to do just that. Sending calm & healing thoughts your way.

  3. My heart leapt into my throat when I started reading your blog entry on the Doodlebug. As a foster parent myself for a rescue organisation here in South Africa, I know what you’re going through – the highs and the lows. I wish Snickerdoodle strength and courage to get through the next 10 weeks. You guys are doing so much, he couldn’t be in better hands and surrounded with more love.

  4. i’m sorry to hear this news! i know how hard heartworm treatment can be (only secondhand though). i hope the dude can settle down and get through his ten weeks! i’m sure chick will be a huge help- so great that the two get along well, for them and for you guys!

    i recently learned that basil had to be on serious anxiety meds and could never really be left alone when he first got to foster. now, he snoozes all day, taking a few breaks to death-shake his stuffed toys. i think consistency and routine helps a bunch- which you know! i just hope snickerdoodle realizes it soon 🙂

  5. Sending positive thoughts your way. Take it easy Snickerdoodle. Those weeks will go by faster than you think.

    If you haven’t tried Dap, it might keep him a bit more mellow. It certainly looks like you are on top of it.

  6. Poor Snickerdoodle….hopefully the treatment will do the trick and he’ll live a long and healthy life!! 10 weeks is a long time to keep him calm….I don’t envy you that. Thank you for taking such good care of the little guy!!

  7. My first adopted a rescue turned out to have heartworms too. She was estimated to be around three when I got her. She went through the treatment well. I had her for over thirteen happy and heathly years. She passed away in May at we guess was 16+ years old. I hope Dude also enjoys a long and happy life!

  8. MayzieMom here. This makes me SO angry. I used to volunteer for a rat terrier rescue that was based in the south. So of course, a lot of dogs came in with heartworm. As someone who interviewed applicants. I was required to question them about what they knew about heartworm and educate them on it. It was remarkable to me how many people DIDN’T know about it. And the thing is, it’s so easy and relatively cheap to prevent. The treatment for heartworm is so much more expensive and painful than a monthly pill. Heartworm has been found in all 50 states so even though we’re in Colorado, our dogs are on year-round preventative…because I’m a paranoid freak. 😉

    Okay, off my soapbox. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and to the Doodle. He’s a strong little guy and I KNOW he’s going to come through this with flying colors. Have you ever read the blog, Skeletor’s Salvation? He had a severe case of heartworm (AND a severe reaction to the first injection) but he made it through and is healthy and happy today. If you just want something to buoy your spirits, check it out:

  9. Just so you know… I had to skip to the bottom of this post just to make sure that he’s….. well, you know….. and what a relief. I will now go back and read the whole thing knowing he’s still with us and fighting. 🙂

  10. I am not so sure there is a safer, better place in the world for Doodle. You as well as Chick will make sure hes fine. We’re rooting for him. This will also serve as a teachable lesson for the rest of us, why heartworm prevention is important, how to treat, etc. Thank goodness he found you.

  11. We adopted a dog who had heartworm but got her after her treatment (I walked her while she was at the SPCA where she and her 2 brothers had been left, all 3 with heartworm and only our lovely Dallas could be treated because for the cost). She was an unbelievably beautiful purebred yellow lab who had been kept outside for her entire life and we felt lucky to have been able to adopt her. She was incredibly sweet and I don’t know if that was because her trials and tribulations but I can say all the work and effort was worth it.

  12. Our pack is rooting for Doodlebug (which is actually one of my cats nicknames too!) I can’t imagine the pain he has to go through, but it will be all worth it in the end. Only positive thoughts! We know how hard it is to restrict any animal for that long. When Devo had his knee surgery he restricted to only potty breaks and some time on the tie down in the living room with us a night for over 12 weeks. Luckly for us he adjusted to the kennel life quite well. Best of luck DoddleLove ❤

  13. Feel better Dude!!

    Having seen quite a few dogs come into A Pathway to Hope with heartworm, I know how devastating this can be. Treatment is grueling and since many of these dogs have lived their lives outdoors without proper medications, it is inevitable.

    However, just reinforces how important it is to give your dog their heartworm pill every month! I know some states have different rules and regs, but why not just play it safe and give it to them year round.

  14. That poor guy. I’m so glad he found a foster home willing to take on his health issues, be patient with his recovery, and love him to pieces during the duration. No matter what the outcome, he couldn’t be a luckier dog!

  15. Oh, poor Dude-le! With all the love and care you are providing, he is sure to come through this. We are all pulling for him. If donations are needed to help with his treatment, please let me know. I would love to help in any way I can.

  16. Ugh, Heartworm 😦

    I’m so sorry. Keeping them quiet is so, so hard! You’re a superhero foster, though, so I’m sure you’ll manage it!

  17. Poor guy! One of my hardest fosters was a Springer with advanced heartworm. He was soooo sore and mopey after the treatment that keeping him quiet was easy, but he didn’t have anxiety about being alone. It was so rewarding to bring him through that treatment and find him a home- I’m sure Doodle will be the same. Do you ever use Rescue Remedy? That helped Parker on the road to normalcy when his anxiety was at its worst. Good luck@

  18. oh my god …
    that sounds nasty!
    I break out in panic when my Lilu spits yellow foam! what is normal but if she has an empty stomach.
    I really hope it ends well and he is recovering and a long, happy dogs live in front of him!
    I am sending all my strength …

  19. Tha’ts a shame but I give heart worm , since I don’t want the deadly results of Arsenic…that to me would be the cause of Blood clots, not the worms going through his blood system.

    Plus..there is a all Natural Product you can use with out Arsenic. That Kills rats, and can kill dogs too.

    • That’s true Jacqueline, there are many natural products that are effective against heartworm — but none are as effective as the series of injections. We feel funny about allowing our beloved Doodlebug to have poison injected into his body, but his condition is so advanced that if we didn’t get an aggressive treatment started immediately, he could have died from the worms

  20. So sorry to hear about the severity of the heartworms. My foster Chloe also has some scarring/cloudiness in her lungs but the vet thinks it is possibly not related to the heartworms (we’re hoping). She is getting two months of doxycycline now and will start the first injection in a month. I’m hoping that she won’t be too difficult to keep quiet since she’s a pretty lazy dog. I’m still not looking forward to trying!

  21. I cannot believe (well, yes I can) the level of commitment you have to your fosters. I agree with all the people above, Snickerdoodle couldn’t be in better hands. I really hope he pulls through, and if he does, I have a very sneaking suspicion he may have already found his forever home. (Be honest– after 10 weeks of tender nursing care, how will you be able to give him up? I know I couldn’t.) 🙂

  22. Dear Doodlebug – listen to your doctor and rest, rest, rest.
    Dear Two-legged fosters, you guys are in my thoughts and prayers (the pooches, too). Snickerdoodle is so blessed to have you caring for him. THANK YOU!

  23. So sorry you had to go through that with Doodle! But he’s getting the best possible care!

    How did you set-up your webcam/MacBook/iPhone situation?! I’ve been wanting to do that for a long time with Lucy and the fosters, but can’t figure it out! Can you explain?

  24. It’s all been said, but yes, Snickerdoodle is so fortunate to have ended up on your capable and loving laps. Hoping the next 10 weeks fly by! I have some really nice deer antlers for long chewing sessions. I’d be more than happy to send them to you, if he’s allowed to have them. It might keep some of the boredom at bay.

  25. How scary for you to have to experience that. I hope that SnickerDoodle makes a very fast and successful recovery without anymore scares throughout his treatment. He is so lucky to have a family like you guys looking out for his well being. You are doing a great thing and your blog is inspiring since I have a pup of my own that we got from the shelter.

  26. So sorry to hear the news, but how wonderful he has a great place to work on getting healthy. I wish you all the best! Is heartworm common where you are? I know it isn’t in Arizona, and your last two fosters were heartworm positive, correct?

  27. Heartworm is scary stuff. One of the dogs my parents adopted was HR+ when they adopted her so they had to go through the treatment. I don’t think her case was as bad as Doodle’s, but they said it was really tough to keep her calm throughout it. Lots of love and good vibes headed Doodle’s way!

  28. Thank-you for teaching me a little bit more about heartworm. I hope that Snickerdoodle’s treatment goes flawlessly, and he does become a ripe old man.

  29. I cant imagine how I would feel if one of my dogs was going through that! God doesnt just care for people, he cares for what we care about which includes are dogs! I am keeping you and Snickerdoodle in my prayers 🙂

  30. Hello! Love your posts. I foster for the municipal shelter where I am, and it’s so rewarding.

    I would love to hear what you are doing with the iPhone/laptop set up… we have a new foster who also has some separation anxiety, but I think it’s only when we are in the house and she’s not with us (due to my resident female’s dog aggression, we have to crate/rotate). I’d love to set up a little monitor and see how she does once she can’t hear me nearby. Please share!

  31. Good luck little guy, you can do it! You’re oh-so handsome and certainly have an awesome life ahead of you to live for!
    Glad he’s in such good hands right now 🙂

  32. I took on my first foster last March who was severely heartworm positive. The day after I got her home, she would take a couple of steps and then cough really badly. We were at the vet within hours, and Cassie had to start taking antibiotic doxycycline, dewormer Panacur, and dewormer Drontal Plus. Plus sporadic doses of Heartgard–Cassie required her own calendar to keep up wtih the medicines! It’s hard to keep them quiet, but you can do it. The first 10 days after each shot are the most critical, as that’s when the most worms die off and leave the system. You can message me if you have questions about how I did this with two other crazy dogs in my house. Cassie ultimately had 3 shots–one in April, and then two in May, 24 hours apart. She recently tested negative for heartworms, so it can be overcome. Hang in there!

  33. Hang in there Doodlebug, I am so glad heartworm is of relatively no concern in Alaska! He is so lucky to be with you guys, and it is so awesome that Sir Chick loves him so much, especially when the little guy is in such tough shape.

  34. I’m so sorry to hear about snickerdoodle’s vet visit. Poor little guy! I’m rooting for your family. I hope the best.

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  37. love him and lots of prayer’s . you two are angels . god bless and send me snicker doodle’s retired in FLorida . peace

  38. Pingback: How’s Snickerdoodle? « Love and a Six-Foot Leash

  39. Heartworms are scary!
    We recently found out that our foster dog, that we’ve had for nearly two years, is heartworm positive. How they didn’t find it at Animal Control or the vet last time we were there, we don’t know. There are none of the injection treatments available in our area so we’re stuck with the repetitive doxycycline/ivermectin treatment, and hopefully it won’t advance because we cannot get her the correct medicine 😦

    • If she’s asymptomatic, you should be able to get the worms out of her system using monthly preventives (heartgard or whatever you use). It takes longer and is risky for advanced dogs, but if her case is fairly mild, she should get through it just fine — and as a bonus, the “slow kill” method shouldn’t affect her everyday activity . . .

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  42. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems
    as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You obviously know what youre talking about, why waste your
    intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you
    could be giving us something enlightening to read?

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