For several days now I've been trying to muster up the courage to write in my blog. Usually I find writing about our dogs to be a joyful act, but at this moment I feel no joy in writing. I am still sort of in shock and dreading the words I know I have to write here. I feel like I have to write about this because I cannot honestly blog about cheerful little dog stories and observations without acknowledging our new, not-so-cheerful reality.
The early November anniversary of our first year with Kirby went by without any fanfare. We realized it a day or so later and felt warmed as we thought about how Kirby has become such an integral member of our family. Even Baxter has finally decided Kirby is a good companion (we caught them curled up together just the other evening).
When we took Kirby and Baxter to the veterinarian on Monday for their annual check-up, we had a pretty routine experience. Both dogs appeared to be healthy and normal and Baxter seemed relieved to be back with his original vet (we recently moved back into the same area where Baxter spent the first two years of his life).
The shock came the next morning when the vet called with the results of their heartworm tests. Kirby's came back positive.
At first I couldn't believe it. How could this be true? Baxter's was negative. Could it be a false positive?
Kirby shows now outward symptoms and the vet was as surprised as we were. While false positives are rare, he offered to retest. We brought him in that afternoon. Wednesday morning we got a firm, sad confirmation that Kirby is, indeed, heartworm positive.
What happens now? Can it be treated? Did this happen because I missed or was late with a dose of preventative? We don't have many mosquitoes in our area, how did a heartworm carrier find him? Based on several factors, the vet said it was most likely that Kirby had been exposed during his wild months on the farm before we adopted him. Dogs aren't usually tested until their first year exam.
Bloodwork and X-rays on Wednesday showed evidence of a mild enlargement of one heart ventricle and some cloudiness in the lung, both indicators of heartworm. He was diagnosed as "class 2." Not as mild as class 1, which we were hoping for, but still highly treatable.
The vet said Kirby's bloodwork indicated that he's otherwise perfectly healthy and with his young age, he is most likely going to go through the treatment well. The cure rate is 95-100%. But, he said, the treatment is not without some danger in and of itself.
I was relieved to find out that heartworm can be treated and eliminated (I had thought it was mostly fatal), however the treatment itself is a bit frightening. Our vet recommended a slow, phased approach recommended by the American Heartworm Society. Monday we will start by giving him his regular preventative (Interceptor) for three months to make sure all the larvae are dead (it only kills larvae, not adult worms). Then in late February the vet will administer a shot of Immiticide. This aresenic-based drug kills the adult worms. A month later he will get two more doses, 24-hours apart.
Through all of this, we need to keep Kirby from engaging in any major physical activity -- no jumping (he bounces like a rubber ball and the mere suggestion of going outside), no running up the stairs (his favorite new evolution of the "Kirby Derby" in our new, two-story home) and only slow walks. Nothing to get his heart rate up. Egad, what about the UPS guy?
I had to ask the vet about the stress of NOT being able to exercise. Kirby is young and full of energy. The vet explained that while not letting him run around and burn off his energy will create emotional and possibly physical stress on the dog, the danger of harm coming from letting him run around is much greater.
Apparently, as the larvae then the adult worms die (the latter is much more severe), they can break away from the walls of the arteries and enter the bloodstream where there is a risk of causing blockages, particularly in the lungs. Jarring movements can dislodge the dead and dying worms and, as I understand it, the force of a fast-beating heart can make the blockages more likely to happen. So it's the sedentary lifestyle for Kirby for several months to come.
I sent an email to Dr. Pema, Baxter's holistic vet from Sedona (now in Maryland working in the Garuda Aviary for rescured birds) to tell her about it. She offered the following advice to me: "Your awareness of concerns is important but not with attached fear or worry. Positive thought, brings positive outcomes."
I'm going to try to live by those words, for Kirby's sake (and for the sake of the rest of our household) as Kirby goes through the next several months of treatment. I'll try to keep my blog updated for those who know and love Kirby and want to follow his progress.
And as for Baxter, he's just going to have to teach Kirby a few things about the art of leisure.