The Peppermint Patty Treatment

Just Google Heartworm In Dogs!

Do you ever blindly agree to do something just because of the person asking you the question? In the Jesswein house, that occurrence happens all too often, due to my blind faith in my wife. To be fair, it hasn’t gotten us into a situation we couldn’t handle. So based on that history, her knowledge, and our firsthand experience dealing with all sorts of greyhounds, I always say yes to fostering a dog without hesitation. Given Erin’s preference for “special” dogs, I should have known this one would be different though. Sure enough, Peppermint Patty has turned out to be pretty special alright.

Peppermint’s favorite spot during the workday is helping Erin. Right on the standing mat of Erin’s standing desk.

It’s not like I haven’t helped out by taking a foster dog to the vet – or had to manage a reaction to medicine. I even know the spay and neuter post-op procedure by heart because we have gone through it so many times. However, Patty is a bit different. It is a combination of her personality, her mixed breed, and her condition that has made her a very unique foster for us. What I didn’t expect was the influence that her heartworm condition would have on her personality and day-to-day life.

If I would have taken Erin’s advice and just googled “heartworm treatment in dogs,” in the beginning, I would probably not have gotten so frustrated with the early accidents in the house. The more I learn about the parasitic worm, the less I care about a little pee on our already dirty flooring.  If left untreated, heartworm can damage a dog’s heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys, and can even lead to death. Due to this knowledge, I have found myself giving her most of my attention, quite frankly because she’s sick. Six Pack and Callie can confirm this!

Roll call for when I come home from work. One of the only opportunities I have to give all 3 equal amounts of attention.

Heartworms Aren’t Hookworms

My first pre-google lesson I learned was that when treating heartworm, they do not pass through the intestines. Erin found it quite comical that after Peppermint’s second heartworm treatment, I was in the backyard sifting through her poops, on a seek and find mission for heartworms! A lot of fosters when introduced to a new environment, have runny poops because they’re nervous (and because they all have hookworms). Not Peppermint Patty! The only things that makes this sweet girl nervous are car rides and storms. Girl absolutely hates car rides! We are working on that. She has spent a couple of weekends at Prison Greyhounds President Mary’s house, which is thankfully is only a short distance from our house. We are doing our best to get her comfortable with the car. It helps when Six’s big butt isn’t in the way, and she does the car rides solo.

One thing that has not been affected by the heartworms is Peppermint’s appetite! She loves to eat. She loves her treats.  And if you’re not careful and you ignore your food bowl, as Callie has been prone to do, she’ll snake your dinner right out from under you. Now do you understand why I thought in the beginning that the heartworms could be intestinal? In our experiences, the greyhounds with hookworms always seemed to eat more. They have to make up for the nutrients that the intestinal worms steal from them. I guess in Patty’s case, she just loves food!

The Treatment

When Patty first came to us, she had already received her first thirty days of heartworm treatment. We had no real idea of what her entire treatment looked like, but we knew that she had already started it.  The first thirty days was a daily dose of an antibiotic and a steroid taper.  For those not familiar with steroids, if you have to give (or take) them for a period of time greater than a few days, you have to do a taper.  Which just means you start at a high dose, and gradually lower the dose until treatment completely stops.  The initial high dose helps decrease inflammation, and then slowly as the dose is decreased, the body is allowed to resume normal function.  After that first month of treatment, the dog rests for the next thirty days.  We started fostering Patty when she was in this rest period.  She was not actively receiving any medication.  We were giving her body time to heal, and prepare for the next, more important course of therapy.  This is the melarsomine injection, given by the veterinarian.  Patty went in to see Dr. Carter in the morning, and by late afternoon, when we knew that she was unlikely to have any complications, she was allowed to come home.  This injection is what actively kills the heartworm.  The medication causes the worms to die, while the body will slowly degrade the dead worms until all that is left is little pieces that are broken down in the bloodstream.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a one time shot.  Patty would need to go on another thirty day steroid taper to reduce the inflammation in her body caused by the worms.

Unfortunately for us, the steroids do a great job of decreasing inflammation, but have a ton of side effects.  The worst one is excessive thirst and increased urination.

Because of all the potty breaks, we probably spend more time with Patty in the backyard than any other foster.

Patty was constantly thirsty. And just like a beer drinking college student, all that extra drinking caused her to have to use the outdoor facilities a lot. She always did her best to try to warn us that she needed to go outside.  However, sometimes we missed her running to the door, or we couldn’t get to her fast enough.  Then the accidents in the house were our fault. She is 100% potty trained, but all that extra water is no match for her little bladder.  On the bright side, though, she has had no accidents in her crate at night.

Thankfully, we got through that round of steroids, and prepared Patty for quite possibly the worst part – two more injections of melarsomine.  The injections needed to be given on two different days, which meant that Patty had to stay overnight at the vet’s office.  Most of you know that when your dog is sick and staying the night at the vet, you get no sleep.  We were worried about Patty.  Not because we didn’t think she was in great hands (she was).  But we naturally worry about our dogs.  Thankfully, late in the afternoon on day two, we heard word that Patty had completed her shots and was doing really well.  She was ready to be picked up.  So I raced over to the vet, and found Patty, cuddled up with her toy pig, just waiting to go home.

Patty Can’t Come Out to Play

Through all of this, Patty has had the hardest time with the activity restriction.  She can’t play with her friends.  She can’t run in the backyard.  She can’t go up and down the stairs with the other dogs.  She can only go for very short walks.  She can’t go to any greyhound events.  Basically, she can’t have any fun.  However, this is the most important part of her recovery, and the one thing that ensures success with the treatment.  The treatment causes the dead worm to degrade into tiny pieces and naturally be expelled through the bloodstream.  If Patty’s blood pressure gets elevated, there is a risk that a large piece of the dead worm can break off and lodge itself into a blood vessel causing an embolism.  So, her activity is highly restricted during the entire course of treatment.  We have been using various mental stimulation toys and techniques to help with her pent-up energy.  We are happy to say that it is working.  She absolutely loves the puzzle toys we give her (the treats inside sure help)!

It only took a few tries and a little help from Erin before she became a Master Puzzler.

Patty is now resting comfortably at home.  She just started another thirty days of steroids.  After that is another thirty days of rest, with no medication.  And after that comes the test.  We will find out if the treatment worked.  Dr. Carter assures us that it will, and we trust that.  We are just ready for little Peppermint Patty to be healthy again.

Lots of rest in Patty’s future.

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