In heartworm treatment, the Immiticide shots kill the adult worms that are present; microfilarae is killed by giving Heartgard. Once dead, the adult worms break down and are reabsorbed by the body, generally in the lungs. Not quite as gross as worms living in my dog’s heart, but pretty yucky. The problem waiting to happen is that if there are quite a few worm corpses, and they break down into large-ish pieces, those pieces can be forced into the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism if the dog’s heart or respiration rate increases significantly. To call that a problem is putting it mildly: a pulmonary embolism can kill the dog. So to prevent this, the owner is told to keep the dog quiet for several weeks after the administration of the Immiticide shot.
I’ve known plenty of dogs in rescue that were treated for heartworm. My own Lapphund Mikey was treated after he was pulled from the shelter and before he came to me. Mikey and the other rescue dogs I’ve known who were treated were all in pretty rough shape from long-term neglect. I don’t think any of them were Level One infections, and I don’t think any of them were in as good physical shape as Rowley is. I knew that those dogs were crated for most of the day, every day for the weeks after the shot. That version of the ‘keep them quiet’ protocol is a given in heartworm treatment. But — I also know that Christie Keith’s dog Raven, who was crated and only taken out on a leash to a potty area in the yard, almost died due to pulmonary embolism a week or so after her Immiticide shot. So even stringent confinement is no guarantee that a dead worm won’t try to kill your dog.
Aaaarrgghhhh! What to do?!
Rowley is 9 years old. He hasn’t been in a crate since he was 1 year old, and truly, if I were to suddenly crate him – especially for long periods of time – it would stress him A LOT. Rowley is enormously biddable and has been reliable in the house almost since he was a puppy. People who see his excitable, energetic side – in agility class, at the park – might think that he’s a bundle of energy, but trust me: at home, he’s a bundle of relaxation. I’ve worked from home for several years now, and my dogs know that most hours of their day are not spent in activity. And none of them are in their puppy years anymore, so they are Masters of Chill.
But if Rowley isn’t a crazy wild puppy or a hyperactive adult dog, he certainly is a dog who’s used to regular exercise, and more than just a walk around the block on a leash. He’s done agility since the day I got him, when he was not even a year old; he goes to two agility classes every week, and sometimes we trial. With my other dogs, he goes to the nature preserve about four times a week, where we spend about an hour on the hiking trails and he’s off-leash to explore as he will. We do walk around the neighborhood on leash walks, but even on leash, he espouses the manifest “FURTHUR”, like the Pranksters’ bus. Stop to smell the flowers? Bah! “I, a Border Collie, am charged with finding you MORE FLOWERS and they are OUT THERE, so LET’S GO!” – that’s Rowley’s view of things.
So even though crating isn’t going to happen, what does ‘keep him quiet’ mean for this dog?!
Well, in the week after his Immiticide shot, he seemed a little less energetic than usual. I put that down to having had a big shot of arsenic compound, and his body needing some recovery time. So taking it easy was pretty simple for that short time, and he did 10-minute on-leash walks a couple of times a day and not much else. But after that, he returned to his normal demeanor fairly rapidly. I needed to get him more exercise while still not letting him run around; I also needed to return the other dogs to something like their normal routine. So I split the group into two and I took Alex and Dee for a longer, brisk walk, and after that I took Rowley and Beau for a shorter walk. Alex objected to this, and on listening to his logic, Dee objected also. The two of them were fine with the Alex & Dee walk but they went bark-nuts when left behind for the Rowley & Beau walk. This led to the creation of the Bark Room.
My house was built in the late 1860s. It’s small and it’s got a lot of windows. I like it! It’s also got a full, unfinished cellar, which holds my washer and dryer and all my dog crates and a bunch of other stuff typically found in basements. The floor is concrete and has drains. There are big soapstone laundry tubs that are great for washing dogs. The windows are 5’ above the floor, and half the cellar is below ground level – pretty standard for a house of this age. And the walls, my poured concrete foundation, are more than a foot thick. Aha! So I set up some lawn furniture, dusted off several of the crates and moved them out into the main basement area, and put a couple of Coolaroo dog cots there, along with a water bowl and a radio set to a classical music station. And hey presto: it is now The Bark Room! And this is the routine now: Alex & Dee walk takes place; Rowley and Beau stay home with kibble toys. Return from A&D walk, all dogs and I have breakfast, I do a few work chores. Then the Rowley & Beau walk takes place; Alex and Dee stay home with kibble toys in the Bark Room.
This is working wonderfully. Since it’s been less than a week of doing this, Alex is not entirely on board and will bark his objection to being left behind, but wow, you can barely hear anything from the Bark Room! And he’s got all the creature comforts he needs to survive 20 minutes of abandonment. I don’t think PETA is going to consider his complaint, which he assures me he will be filing. (There is no mail service from the Bark Room, but I won’t mention that to him yet.) And it’s a good thing to have my crates more accessible and ready for use: I’ve always kept them set up in case I need them in an emergency, but cleaning them out and having the dogs actually use them before an emergency occurs is a good move.
Aside from the walks, Rowley now has almost normal yard activity privileges, with the exception of running, which he can’t do. He can wander around in the yard, and in this nice weather we spend a lot of time out there, but he can’t race after a squirrel sighting or the like. Always a good idea to be able to call your dog off in those situations, you might need that ability at some point …
This still isn’t the amount of activity he’s used to, but he’s handling it with good grace. Once he gets the second Immiticide shot on June 15, he will have a few more weeks of ‘take it easy’ and then we can start returning to our normal routine – but I think there will be some changes in that routine. I certainly look forward to getting the group back to the nature preserve, but I don’t think I will leash-walk four dogs at a time again, other than for our short before-bed stroll around the block. I like the A&D walks and the R&B walks, and the Bark Room makes it possible for me to not worry that my neighbors are being regaled with the grievances of the dogs that stay at home. That’s one change we’ll keep.
We’ve adjusted pretty well to what was a very unwelcome change. Yesterday evening I stopped to chat with some of my neighbors who asked how Rowley is doing, and during that break in the walk, Rowley – as usual – stood facing away from us, his gaze on the middle distance, pulling on the leash, tail between his legs in ‘working’ demeanor, all his body language saying ‘come on, COME ON, COME ON ALREADY!’ My neighbor looked at him and said ‘Well, he seems to bearing the burden of taking it easy quite heroically.’ That’s my Rowley Dog.