Determined Doggie Diva

contributed by April Peiffer; photos courtesy WCRAS

When Diva arrived at the shelter as a stray, thanks to a free ride from a local Animal Control officer, she tested positive for heartworms. Just 18 months old at the time, her condition might have seemed too big a hurdle to overcome. On top of that, Diva was full of energy and exuberance, and truly needed a home where she would get lots of attention and exercise. She had little training and spent many months at the shelter waiting for the right family to come along. Heartworms were just another black spot on this young dog’s resume.


According to the American Heartworm Society (AHS), dogs are, sadly, a natural host for heartworms. The disease causes lasting damage to the heart, lungs, and arteries and affects the dog’s quality of life. Dogs can contract heartworms when bitten by an infected mosquito, and it can take up to six months for the disease to be detected by testing.

In the early stages, few symptoms are detectable, if any at all. They may include a mild persistent cough, reluctance to exercise, fatigue, decreased appetite, and weight loss. When in the advanced stages, a dog might develop heart failure and have the appearance of a swollen belly due to an increase of fluid in the abdomen. At its worst, according to AHS, “Dogs with large numbers of heartworms can develop a sudden blockage of blood flow within the heart, leading to a life-threatening form of cardiovascular collapse. This is called caval syndrome and is marked by a sudden onset of labored breathing, pale gums, and dark bloody or coffee-colored urine. Without prompt surgical removal of the heartworm blockage, few dogs survive.”


The good news is that there are a number of options for successful treatment of heartworms. Owners should discuss the best options for their dog with a veterinarian. 

Prevention is the best option and is as simple as a monthly or even a yearly preventative. Monthly preventatives come in the form of treats, topicals, or pills, and the yearly is a shot. Many are combined with flea and tick preventatives as well. 

Diva spent 447 days in the shelter. Perhaps if she’d been protected from heartworm disease, she might have been adopted even sooner. Regardless, hers is a heartworm success story. When she was re-tested months into her stay at the shelter, she tested negative, which opened doors to new opportunities. She is now living a happy and healthy life in a loving home, where she is doted on and adored, like any diva ought to be, including receiving her monthly heartworm preventative.

The Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter takes in dogs your-round that test positive for heartworms. In 2021 alone, 106 dogs tested positive for heartworms. Click here to donate to the Heartworm Treatment Fund and help those doggos get the treatment they need.

For more information about heartworms, prevention, and treatment, please visit the American Heartworm Society’s website: