Heartworm disease mainly affects dogs but sometimes affects cats. It’s found in warmer and temperate climates and it caused by the bite of a mosquito. It affects dogs in all 48 continental states, and Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and Guam. It is not usually found in Alaska because the weather isn’t consistently warm enough for the worm to grow in the mosquito and cause disease in dogs. It is also found in wild animals such as wolves, coyotes, and foxes. In North America, heartworm disease is most easily spread in July and August.
Heartworm is caused by a worm called Dirofilaria immitis. It has a life cycle where the mosquito picks up the early worm stage called Larva 1 from the blood of an infected animal and then the worm goes through several stages in the mosquito and is spread to a new animal when the mosquito bites it. It then takes at least six months before the dog can be tested to show that it has heartworm. The worms can grow to be 10 inches long and there can be many worms. They live in the heart and lungs of dogs and cause severe damage. Testing is done annually to prevent this damage so treatment can be initiated quickly.
There are several products that can prevent heartworm. These medications should be given monthly year round. The medications also contain a preventative for intestinal worms, such as roundworms and hookworms. Giving the medication continuously is best even in northern climates that do not have mosquitoes year round. It also helps to get in a routine. Even forgetting one month of prevention can cause heartworm to develop.
Heartworm can be treated safely in most dogs, but it has some risk and is expensive. Once a dog tests positive, we will do additional testing to see if there has been some damage. Radiographs sometimes show damage to the heart and blood vessels. The heart can enlarge on the right side of the heart where the worms live. This x-ray picture is called a Reverse D because the heart looks like a backwards letter D.
Blood work is done to see if there is any organ damage. There is a strict protocol for treating heartworm in dogs that is recommended by the American Heartworm Society. On the first day of treatment the dog is started on heartworm prevention monthly. Prednisone, an anti-inflammatory, is started for several weeks to prevent lung damage. An antibiotic, doxycycline, is started to help with complication that can be caused by a bacteria that lives in the worm, called Wolbachia. The dog must be kep very quiet, no running at all while it is being treated. As the worms die they can block the blood vessels to the lungs and cause very serious lung disease and even death.
On day 60, the medication that kills the adult worms, called melarsomine is injected into the dog’s back muscle. Prednisone is started again to protect the lungs. The next month, two shots of melarsomine are given a day apart. Prednisone is started again. The dog must be kept very quiet for 2 months after this last injection to prevent thromboemboli of the dead worms from affecting the lungs. This is a very important part of the treatment as the dog can die from the dead worm breaking off in large pieces in the lungs. During the fourth month, the blood is tested for microfilariae (immature worms). If the immature worms are present, a medication is given. We must wait 6 months before testing for heartworm again to make sure the worms are gone.
Advocates of raw diets argue that raw diets are better for cats and dogs, but the purported benefits of raw diets are either not supported by research or are not due to the diet being raw per se (see "The Raw Truth, Part 1", located under Westgate Pet Clinic's "our veterinarian's page" under Dr. Karlin).
Since there are no demonstrated benefits and there are risks associated with feeding raw diets, the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) and AAHA (American Animal Hospital Association) have both issued statements against feeding raw diets to cats and dogs. The main objections to feeding raw diets relate to concerns about bacterial contamination and concerns that raw diets may not be complete and balanced.
To make matters worse, it was determined that the outbreak was caused by a strain of canine influenza not previously seen in the United States. This new strain, H3N2, was thought to have originated in Asia.
For the past decade, the only known canine influenza virus type was strain H3N8. This strain of influenza has been traveling around the United States and causing outbreaks of infection for many years.
The new H3N2 strain of influenza did make its way to Minnesota and confirmed cases were found in dogs residing in Detroit Lakes and St. Paul.
Up until recently, the only canine influenza vaccine that was available was for the H3N8 strain. Westgate Pet Clinic was previously recommending vaccinating dogs for H3N8, with the hopes that it would provide some protection against the H3N2 strain.
Westgate Pet Clinic now has the H3N2 strain of influenza vaccine available. This vaccine needs to be boostered 3 weeks after the initial vaccine, and then yearly after that.
- Dr Perry Takes extra time to make sure my pet is comfortable, answers all of my questions, and works with me to find the best solutions for us. He also genuinely cares about my pet's well being. My dog gets better health care than I do :( (10/2016)
- Courteous, friendly front desk. Dr Hershey: "Best Veterinarian in the world" (10/2016)
- We have been coming to Westgate for almost 40 years. We always feel that our pets are getting the best care and everyone always calls back and answers all of our questions. Only wish we didn't have to visit so often lately. (11/2016)
- My cat Maggie was a day patient for nearly a week when she was recovering from pancreatitis. I really appreciated that the techs noticed she was anxious and made her a little cardboard box fort to hide in. And they snuggled her every day. Thank you! (12/2016)
- I started going to Westgate when I lived a block away and still go there even though we've moved away. They have always shown so much care for our beasties, from the hissing and spitting "turns feral at the vet" cat to our scarediest scaredy cat. (1/2017)
- Seen the same day as call was placed. On time visit. Friendly staff. Dog felt safe/comfortable throughout visit.(2/2017)
- Courteous and professional staff. When I had to have my beloved kitty put down, everyone was amazingly compassionate and kind. They did everything imaginable to make an awful experience bearable.(2/2017)
- Dr. Hershey is great. She listens to and addresses my concerns, she always remembers my dog's detailed health history, and she never makes me feel rushed. I highly recommend Westgate and Dr. Hershey. (3/2017)
- There is no better care in the Twin Cities. Westgate has the nicest people and the best doctors. At 12 and 13, my dogs are still living happy and wonderful lives. Westgate offers great services like acupuncture as well. (3/2017)
- Westgate's staff & Dr Hageman are consistently FABULOUS. I am ever grateful they are in my life & my pets' lives. Dr Hageman is truly a sleuth when it comes to identifying & fixing problems & is the finest cat whisperer this side of the Mississippi! (3/2017)
- We LOVE Dr. Melvin and Westgate! We are with our 2nd dog with Dr. Melin and can't say enough about his professionalism and knowledge. He's very thorough and always makes us feel at ease about our concerns. Thanks Dr. Melin!!!! (04/2017)
- Doctor Hageman was exceptional with our pet. She is incredibly kind and shows such tender care with the pets she treats. It is almost as though she has a sixth sense with animals. Our cat was much calmer with her than she is with other vets. (5/2017)
- We've been bringing Oscar to Westgate for over a decade and all the amazing doctors have been so caring and compassionate. We count on them to keep him in good health, especially now that he's a senior gentleman! Hurray for Westgate!! (5/2017)
- Westgate doctors and personnel know our dogs, understand various treatment options and always have their health as priority one. I never worry that I am being talked into something expensive, because you have proven that profits are not the focus. (5/2017)
- The staff is always friendly and helpful. They remember my pets! Also, Dr. Perry is gentle with my animals and is extremely knowledgeable. We wouldn't go anywhere else! (6/2017)
- Totally professional yet very friendly and loving to my dog...doctor is especially nice to Remy and seems to genuinely like him and takes time with him...feel valued and also trust that Remy is getting very good vet care. (6/2017)
- Always have had a good experience at Westgate. Been taking my dogs there since I moved into the neighborhood back in 1991. (7/2017)
- Love this Vet Clinic. Whenever my pups have health issues they are so great at fitting us in the same day. And the Vet calls us the next day to check on my pup. My pups have seen several different Doctors at the clinic & everyone has been wonderful! (7/2017)
- Dr. Perry is exceptional in his thoroughness, including a follow-up call I received this morning from one of the Clinic staff. I continue to recommend this Clinic to everyone I can! (7/2017)
- We have been coming to Westgate with our dogs since about 1991 and have always had great experiences. Injuries/ illnesses/ infections/ surgeries: very pleased with everything and our dogs have never minded coming in! (7/2017)
- We have been coming to WPC since Bowie was a puppy; he is now 12yrs old! You all have been a part of our family since before puppy "school"; we are so very thankful to have you close-by as we love our Bowie through his "puppy of a certain age" years. (7/2017)
- I walked into Westgate Pet Clinic more than 25 years ago, because of their reputation and a very sick dog who needed great care... Dr. Porter was amazing, and my continued relationship speaks volumes regarding the great care my pups recieve today! (7/2017)
- From the receptionists to the technicians to the vets, they are the BEST. Been going there for 18 years. Wouldn't take my pet anywhere else. (9/2017)
- Westgate Pet Clinic has given excellent service to our kitties for many, many years. We wouldn't think of going to any other vet services. The doctors are great especially Dr. Karlin and Dr. Perry. The technicians are professional and welcoming. (9/2017)
- My long term commitment (26 years?) to Westgate as our Veterinary Clinic speaks to the high regard I have for the care my pets and myself receive from all employees. I have always been pleased with the services we have received. Thank you! (9/2017)
- Staff is always professional and friendly. Dr. Mirodone not only is a great veterinary physician, she really takes the time to understand what is going on with your pet and tries to find the very best solution. (9/2017)
- Professional, kind, knowledgeable, patient, willing to answer any questions.(10/2017)
- All of the staff are wonderful! (10/2017)
- We have had nothing but great experiences at your clinic! Dr. Karlin is compassionate and makes our dogs' trips to the vet as comfortable for them as possible. (10/2017)
- The vets and techs at Westgate take the time to explain what is going on and to provide options when they are available. I like the large waiting area too so my dog, who is shy, can have some safe space. (10/2017)
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