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Nellie Rae and heartworms

Alison has a thing for short, squatty, smooshy faced creatures – we all know it, and she freely admits it! Nellie Rae has been one of her most recent squatty, smooshy pups who came to us just a few short months ago. She was one of those ones that as soon as she saw her picture from the rescue group we work with, she knew she wanted to help her! She is so cute and sweet, I can’t say I blame her at all and I was definitely on board for helping Miss Nellie!

Nellie Rae had a rough go before she got to us – she ended up at the shelter because she had a prolapsed uterus, and needed an emergency surgery and spay before she could even be transported up from Alabama. Luckily, she did great and recovered well and we were able to get her on transport. We work with this awesome transport company that is essentially a freedom ride every week for dogs from southern shelters to their northern partners.

As a side note – people often ask why northern rescue groups take so many dogs from the south? It’s a variety of reasons really, but the most notable is probably the much lower rates of spay and neuter of pets in the south. All of these intact dogs and cats create so many unwanted litters of puppies and kittens, and many end up in shelters then looking for help. Older or adult animals with major medical issues (like Nellie), will end up in the shelter too if their owners cannot afford care or emergency surgeries for them. These shelters are also overloaded with too many animals, not enough space, and not enough funding. This combination of problems leads to many wonderful dogs in rural southern shelters who were being put to sleep because there was not enough local interest to get them all adopted. By partnering with northern rescues who are able to take some of these wonderful dogs, they have been able to dramatically decrease their euthanasia rates, which is a win-win.

So Nellie made her way to us, and upon examination when she arrived, we unfortunately found a pretty loud (grade 3/6) heart murmur. We took xrays and ran some bloodwork, and found that she had some mild heart enlargement, and unfortunately was heartworm positive. The thing that is tricky about heartworm disease is that there is this awful gray area where they can be exposed, infected, and test negative….but then if tested again 1-3 months later, they are positive! This has to do with how heartworms grow – it takes approximately 6 months for them to grow to the point where they have adult worms living in the heart, and will test positive. In that time period, is exactly when Nellie was tested at the shelter, and unfortunately then when we examined her and tested again about 6 weeks later, she was positive. We also had her evaluated by our cardiologist, and she confirmed the changes in her heart do appear to be related to her heart worms, so we were to proceed with treating them, and plan to check in on her heart about 6 months after treatment with fingers crossed that some of the abnormalities are improved once the worms are gone! As of right now, she is still on heart medications, and unless her heart function is dramatically better, she may need to stay on heart medications for the rest of her life.

What we always fear with heartworm disease is that the worms living in the heart will cause changes and stress on the heart due to affecting how the heart works/pumps. In Nellie’s case, we got her started on the treatment right away, and she has done wonderfully. The treatment itself is tough – it requires a full month of a pre-treatment to get them ready to be treated, and then the treatment is a series of 3 injections of a specific medication that targets killing the worms, separated by a month, with a month of rest after each injection. So all in total, it takes about 3 agonizing months to treat them, and in that time they have to be strictly cage rested, as too much activity while we are killing the worms can cause them to break apart and lodge in their blood vessels or other severe reactions that could even lead to death! This is why heartworms are so scary – not because they are necessarily hard to kill, but because of where they live, killing them is dangerous!

Nellie has just finally finished her 3 months of treatment, and went up for adoption a few weeks ago. We are delighted to report that she just left this past week for her forever home! Though we are reaching the end of her story with us, it is just the first chapter in the rest of her life! It has been a long process, but she has been a trooper through all of it, and was a delight for her foster mom, Alison, and her family. I believe in my heart that everything happens for a reason, and Alison saw her picture all those months ago, because Nellie needed us. Based upon how quickly those worms were affecting her, I think if she was adopted out and that infection was missed, she would have progressed to full heart failure, and I don’t think she would be with us much longer. I am so thankful we could help her, and I can’t wait to see her thriving in her new home – happy, healthy, and loved.

If you take nothing else from Nellie’s story, please keep your pets on heartworm prevention. Even skipping a few months can lead to infection, and won’t always fully protect our pups! Though historically PA has been a state that saw few heartworm cases, our numbers are going up each year as mosquitos become more prevalent, and our winters more mild. It is a simple, inexpensive monthly dewormer that is safe and effective, and could save your pup’s life! Happy life Nellie!

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