Sandie, a 2 1/2-year-old golden Labrador retriever, is healthy, happy - and is apparently now free from heartworm disease. But it took time, a considerable amount of money and lots of loving care to get her to that point.

The dog's owner, Jim Vosburgh, 13, Farmington, and other family members, a sister, Natalie, 10, and parents, Reed and Pauline, are pleased that they had their pet tested before heartworms could do more damage."We're all excited to have Sandie healthy. She's back to normal, doing great and happy to go outside and play. We feel part of our family is back," Pauline Vosburgh said of the 75-pound gentle dog that as a puppy was purchased as a Christmas present for Jim.

The teen, who will turn 14 on Oct. 10, began the eighth grade Mondayat Farmington Junior High.

Dr. Douglas W. Folland, a veterinarian, said Sandie was brought to Parrish Creek Veterinary Clinic, Centerville, in June for a routine checkup and a heartworm test.

The dog tested positive but had no symptoms. However, a blood test substantiated the presence of the disease. The key to successful treatment is to catch the illness before symptoms develop, Folland said. In Sandie's case, a second blood test also confirmed the veterinarian's suspicions.

Sandie was also given chest X-rays and blood chemistry and blood cell count tests to make certain that she didn't have any possible underlying problems that would complicate treatment. The X-rays were taken to assess if there was any disease developing in the heart or lungs related to the heartworms.

"Everything checked out pretty well with those tests, so we went ahead with treatment on July 1. She was hospitalized for two days and given a daily injection of Immitacide, an anti-parasitic drug, to kill the worms. Sandie then went home on an anti-inflamatory drug, with instructions to its owners that the dog have lots of rest and refrain from exercise," Folland said.

Immitacide is administered to kill and hopefully disintegrate the worms, which often vary from 6 to 12 inches in length. Keeping the dog as quiet as possible is important. Any increase in exercise or excitement can potentially cause the worms to break apart. That could result in development of an embolism in the lungs that could kill the dog.

After about a month, an infected dog is given a second drug, Ivermectin, which kills the microfilaria. That is the immature larvae or worms picked up when a mosquito bites and sucks blood from a dog. Heartworm disease is spread when a mosquito bites another dog, thus transmitting the larvae into the second animal.

Once it is cleared of the parasite, a dog is put on a monthly heart-worm preventive medication, which usually costs about $25 to $45 a year. Most pet owners would consider that a small amount if they were faced with a hefty $400 to $500 bill to treat heartworms.

"It's expensive and stressful for a dog to be treated, so it would be wise if all dogs were tested for heartworms and put on a preventive medication," Folland said.

He said Sandie will be tested a second time for heartworms in about six months. A second test is important, he said, because another round of treatment is required in about 25 to 30 percent of the cases.

Folland said Sandie is the third dog that he has diagnosed within the past five to six months with heartworm disease.

On the bright side, he said it is an "easily preventable disease."