I learned that Rowley had heartworm when our veterinarian called me on the morning of April 14 with the news. Yeah, I took Rowley in for his annual exam and heartworm/tick test on Friday the 13th – I probably won’t do that again!
It took me several minutes to process what I was hearing. Heartworm?! What the HELL?! No, I was halfway prepared for the news that Rowley had tested positive for some kind of tick disease – in 2016 he was positive for Lyme, which necessitated a month of doxycycline and several very expensive Quant C6 tests; but Lyme, although nasty, doesn’t feature WORMS LIVING IN MY DOG’S HEART!
So as we staged his treatment for heartworm, which I’ll detail in a later post, I gave a lot of thought to the question: how did we get here? Because once I know that, I’ll know how to never get here again! And after a good deal of remembering, and considering, and admitting stuff to myself, I found that we got here because of a really bad vet that I saw back in 1999, and because I, like many people in my area, allowed myself to become complacent about a pest that was rarely seen in our own backyards: the mosquito carrying heartworm microfilarae.
Now, the bad vet of nearly 20 years ago isn’t responsible for Rowley’s heartworm in 2018. Certainly not. The effect the bad vet had on me was to turn me against pretty much everything I heard from a vet, any vet, for quite a few years. The bad vet was the vet who vaccinated my first Sheltie, Briar Rose, literally to death, by administering every vaccine he could lay his hands on to a dog who had dermatomyositis (an autoimmune disease similar to lupus, and found in Shelties and several other breeds) and was on Prednisone to ‘manage’ that disease. And yeah, he did it knowingly. He told me once that Briar NEEDED the vaccinations because her own immune system wasn’t working well enough to protect her from parvo, lepto, distemper, blahblahblah. Makes you wonder why the vaccine companies put the instructions to not vaccinate immune-compromised dogs in with the vaccines, doesn’t it? To be fair, I think Dr. W truly believed in the miraculous properties of vaccines; but his faulty grasp of basic immunology, and his failure to heed the instructions in the vaccine packets, sure harmed my dog. She died when she was only 9 years old, and I can’t count how many annual vaccinations she’d had – it still bothers me when I think about it, and she has been gone since 1998. I also think his heavy hand with the vaccine needle contributed to, or might even have caused, Sander’s cancer, which was diagnosed three weeks after Briar Rose died. Two dogs, two calamitous collapses of the immune system, that pretty much shot his credibility with me, and rightly so.
Because Dr. W told me such arrant bullshit about that aspect of veterinary science, I decided that everything he said and had on offer was equally suspect. (Remember, I’ve got my first dog dead at 9 and my second dog diagnosed with cancer at 7, and all I’ve done is everything this vet told me to do.) That included the need for heartworm preventive in any chemical form. And here I fell into the second part of the cause of today’s problem, the ability of dog owners in the Chicago area to discount the likelihood of heartworm because it’s not nearly as frequent or prevalent here as it is in other, warmer, parts of the country. We do have winters that feature entire months of temperatures below freezing, when even if mosquitoes can survive, heartworm microfilarae certainly cannot. I stopped giving Interceptor or any other chemical preventive in 2002, and since then, I’ve had more than a dozen dogs in my household, and none of them tested positive for heartworm – and all were tested annually for as long as they were here. This made me think that the non-chemical protocol I was using to prevent heartworm was working, although there’s no way I can ever prove or disprove that. But where would my dogs get heartworm – that’s something that rescue dogs coming up from Southern states have, it’s not something that my dogs can get in my yard, in my neighborhood, at my training centers!
But, of course, it is, and Rowley did. And Marina Zacharias, who set the protocol that I used for more than a decade, isn’t around any longer, and I can’t ask her if there was, in fact, a scientific basis for the herbal preventives we used: does black walnut hull extract kill heartworm microfilarae in the bloodstream of a dog? I really do want to know that, and maybe some time I will find an answer to that. Last summer I didn’t use black walnut hull, for the first time since 2002; I went with a preparation called HeartwormFree (HWF) (news flash – it doesn’t work) and abandoned Marina’s protocol. Would Rowley have heartworm now if I’d stayed with Marina’s program? I’d like to think I could go back to Marina’s program, but I know I won’t, because the risks are too great. Unless I can verify the efficacy of black walnut hull extract, I’m not going to put my faith in it again. (Marina also used heartworm nosodes, and I consider nosodes and homeopathy to be utter bunk, so she and I weren’t always on the same page.)
Once I left Dr. W and stopped doing things the way that had been so toxic to my first two dogs, I quit giving vaccinations after the initial shots, and I avoided rabies vaccinations whenever I could, and I switched all my dogs to a raw diet; but I did those things with a pretty solid foundation of proven cause and effect. Titer tests showed me that my dogs had ample circulating antibodies to any given disease, even rabies; and the purpose of a vaccination is to raise the circulating antibodies, so I wasn’t assuming they had the protection conferred by a vaccination, I could verify it. Raw diets had enough research behind them that I was very comfortable with what I fed (and still feed), and I never went to the extreme end of the raw-feeding spectrum, never went ‘prey model’ or even BARF. I just gave/give my dogs unprocessed food, including grains, vegetables, dairy products, and meat and fish. I never had the feeling that I was playing Russian roulette with their health, although the third time that my Sheltie, Sundance, tried to swallow half a turkey neck and only horked it up as I was putting him into the car to go to the emergency vet, I did stop giving HIM raw bones of any kind.
I guess my confidence about the vaccination and diet aspects of my dog care program carried over to the heartworm prevention part of that program. That was a pretty serious mistake, and not one I will make again. Rowley is on Heartgard; Alex, Dee and Beau are on Interceptor; and the Merle Girls are on Sentinel. I’ll give the Sentinel and Interceptor at 6-week intervals and I’ll stop when the weather gets cold, but I’m not confident anymore that anything other than chemical preventive can kill heartworm microfilarae that might end up in my dogs’ bloodstream courtesy of a passing mosquito. I don’t think this positive test was a fluke; I think it was an indicator that heartworm is here and not going away, and it’d be as stupid to ignore that as it would have been to let Sundance eat more turkey necks.
Seriously – WORMS WERE LIVING IN MY DOG’S HEART! No, no, no, no and NO.
Next: The step-by-step guide to eradicating those worms.