She did great for a few days and was so happy. Her foster loved on her every minute she could and Bitty seemed so grateful.
She took a turn for the worse on Friday and her recheck revealed that her body had eaten up all of her red blood cells so she was dangerously anemic again. In fact, she would not make it through the night without another blood transfusion. Thankfully, there was another dog, The Donald, who willingly gave his blood to Bitty. She seemed to take it well overnight and her gums became pink again. We were hoping that the Lyme Disease type illness had just been so chronic that it would take awhile to respond to the antibiotics (sometimes it can take 2 weeks to respond). But as her symptoms progressed, it became more and more obvious that she might be suffering from a disease called Caval Syndrome.
Caval Syndrome is caused by heartworms. Heartworms that get lodged in a bad place of the heart and cause the valves to be obstructed. The obstruction causes the red blood cells to get destroyed because of the turbulence of the blood past the worms through the heart. It also causes heart failure. Usually it causes death within hours of lodging in that part of the heart. In her case, it was not so fast. Robyn, our volunteer ultrasonographer extraordinaire, was able to confirm our morbid suspicion.
So we were faced with euthanizing her. Our vet team, Lindsay McCay, Palmer Neuhaus, Ellen Jefferson, and Robyn Roberts, all gathered and gave up their entire Saturday evening to try a long shot: manually extract the heartworms from her jugular vein. Although we were able to get about 10-15 worms out, we were able to see via ultrasound that there were still at least 50 in there. We tried for 3 hours with no further success.
She was put to sleep without waking her up. There are 2 things that make this less hearbreaking than it could be (a poor dog being neglected her entire life and dying a terrible preventable death is heartbreaking!).
1. She got to experience love with Jodi, her fabulous foster. Jodi sat with her on the couch for 5 days (whenever she was not at work) and just held her as she recovered. Even when she was so weak, she tried to follow Jodi out of the vet clinic when Jodi was visiting the last day of Bitty’s life.
2. There was literally nothing else we could have done for her.
The lesson is that heartworms are preventable for a few dollars a month. There are great organizations in Austin that assist people who can’t afford regular vet clinics like Animal Trustees of Austin and Emancipet.
Poor Bitty might have lived a long healthy life if someone either knew about or cared about heartworms. Maybe someone will see this and save a life by putting their dog back on prevention. Then her death won’t be totally for naught.