Friday, March 12, 2010


(That photo was taken well after Father recovered from his heartworm infection, but that was about the same area on the same couch that Father would lie on when he was recovering from the heartworm treatments. He particularly liked the round area of the couch on the end.)

There was not much discussion on whether to have Father treated for heartworms. Admittedly, I did not know much about the disease let alone the treatment. What I did know was that the disease could be deadly, and the heartworm treatment, an arsenic based agent, could be deadly as well. I did, however, know that the treatment would be expensive. Interestingly, after paying for Father’s first few vet visits, which included the heartworm treatments, I had spent more on Father’s medical costs in that year than I had spent on my own medical care in that whole decade up to that point. (The year was 1996.)

I did not even know how the treatment was administered (by a shot). Two rectangular patches on the dog’s back towards the rump are shaved out. Then the vet administers a series of injections. From there, I had not idea what to expect other than the fact that there would be no guarantee that the treatment would completely rid the dog of heartworms.

My most vivid memory of Father after his treatments was how lethargic he was. He could barely lift his head to eat, languishing on the couch and sleeping all day. All I kept thinking about was how toxic arsenic is. It reminded me of that scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when the guys were trapped at a cliff’s edge by bounty hunters. Robert Redford balks at the idea of jumping into the river below because he can’t swim, to which Newman scoffs and says the fall alone will kill you. And so it was with Father. He was trapped with this disease and his plan of action was almost as deadly as what he was afflicted with.

The vets also prescribed other medicines for Father, but I was not sure exactly what at the time. The dogs’ medicines came in green containers so as to avoid confusion with human medicines which are usually in brown containers. Looking back and after doing a quick internet search, I can guess that it was some kind of blood thinning agent. The heartworm treatment leaves the dog vulnerable to clotting and subsequent death due to an embolism (pulmonary or heart, but I’m not sure), hence the blood thinning agent which would reduce the chances of clotting.

Anyone with a pet can attest to how difficult it can by trying to administer pills to a dog.
My mom was in charge of that department. At first she would hide his pills in bread and Father took it with no problems. But after a few doses, Father would turn his head away whenever my mom tried to give him a pill. So, my mom switched over to other foods such as turkey, peanut butter, ham or liverwurst. The results were about the same. Father would take the pills for a few tries, but then turn his head away.

It got to the point where my mom would hide the pill in the food, wash her hands to hide the ‘pill smell’, and then hand Father the food. That worked well, and this tactic carried us through to the end of this regimen. There is one other thing to note about Father’s feeding immediately following the heartworm treatments: he would only eat by hand feeding alone. He was too tired and fatigued to get up or even raise his head up to eat. It was very pitiful to watch.

Eventually, Father regained his strength but we wouldn’t know for sure if he was heartworm free until his next visit to the vet.

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