Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue

To Barley--May you always remember to Think 12

by User Not Found | Jun 14, 2012

“Our thank you to NRGRR for giving us the privilege of loving Barley for the past 9 months. Barley was not a golden, but thanks to the great people on our Operations committee he was given a chance. He was one of the most special dogs that I have ever known, he loved everyone and felt it his duty to greet everyone he met. His life was cut short by 8 to 10 years due to neglect of his original owners. We thank you for all your kind words and thoughts. He has left us and his Golden sisters with a very empty heart and home.”

On the surface this may seem like another one of my posts about heartworm, but we lost a good dog this week whose life was cut short by this nasty PREVENTABLE disease.  Barley came to us from a shelter bone thin and raggedy hair.  We weren’t entirely sure he was a purebred golden, but there was no mistake he was in need.  When we brought him in almost a year ago, we were unaware of the challenges we would face with the severity of Barley’s heartworm disease.

We see many heart worm positive dogs, there’s no doubt about that.  However we are lucky in that most are caught early enough that they can be treated with immiticide.  This drug can effectively kill off adult heartworms with a series of three injections.  One is given, then thirty days later, two injections are given 24 hours apart.  These injections are given in the muscles of the lower back and aside from the effects of the medication to kill the heartworm, a muscular injection in this area causes a great deal of pain and soreness for most dogs.  This pain and inflammation from the injection alone can cause vomiting, fatigue and lack of appetite for sometimes several days.  The side effects of the heartworms dying are another issue.  Unlike intestinal parasites which can exit the dog’s body when they poop, there is no exit for worms living in the heart.  As the heartworms die, the dead worms can become lodged in the arteries causing obstruction of blood flow (thromboembolism) or artery damage.  The lungs must be able to withstand some lack of blood flow until the immune system cells can get rid of the worms, which is a process that takes several months.  Believe it or not, this is actually considered successful treatment!  The moral of the story is this process happens no matter what.  The good news is, by treating with immiticide, it happens within a smaller time frame, minimizing the long-term damage from these wormy demons.  Unfortunately for Barley, immiticide treatment can only be given to dogs who are healthy enough to go through it.  Barley had already developed a lot of inflammation in his lungs as a response to the high number of worms he carried.  If the heart is not working effectively, then it has to work harder which caused it to enlarge and become weakened.

Smaller numbers of worms (up to 50) reside in the arteries of the lungs.  When this number increases (the longer a dog has the infection), the worms move into the right chambers of the heart.  Did you know that dog’s can have up to 250 worms?  There is no way to know how many worms Barley carried, but we have to assume his load was heavy by the time he came to us.  The only thing to do was to help Barley fight off infection (pneumonia).  Giving him once a month heartworm prevention, we could prevent any new heartworms from developing but there was no way to kill the adults, we would just have to wait them out.  It is suggested that adult heartworms can live two years, but may die sooner with the use of monthly heartworm prevention.  Unfortunately Barley’s pneumonia kept coming back and recently, he had begun to develop an accumulation of fluid around his chest and abdomen. It’s likely that this was because his heart was not able to work properly.  Occasionally in dog’s with large numbers of worms, worms may not only be in the heart, but also in the vena cava, which is the large vein in the lower body between the liver and the heart.  Unfortunately there is no way to fix this situation but to surgically remove the worms.  Few dogs survive beyond 2-3 days with this condition and even fewer survive the surgery. 

I’d like to say that we won’t ever see a dog with a case of heartworm disease as bad as Barley, but sadly that’s probably not the case.  We will see far too many, one is too many.  A special heartfelt thanks to Barley’s fosters and our vets and staff who tirelessly worked to keep him healthy and give him the life he really deserved for the 9 months he was with NRGRR.  He was loved by many and will never be forgotten and we will see him again at the Rainbow Bridge where he is no longer suffering.  We can learn from his situation and use it to educate ourselves and others to Think 12 in 2012.  Perhaps his message will help people who say they can’t spend $5 or $6 dollars a month understand that it comes with a much greater cost.   

Cheers to you Barley.  


Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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