Heartworm Testing, Is It Really Necessary?

Heartworm Testing, Is It Really Necessary?
Do you really want to see this parasite inside your dog?

Q: Gimble has been on heartworm preventative year-round for about his entire life, since we adopted him as a six-month-old puppy. He’s now 6-years old. My veterinarian refused to give us more heartworm preventative unless we do the testing. She said, ‘What if we missed a month?’ Well, we didn’t. And I checked on he Internet, and even if we had – there would be no real problem. So, we went down the street to another veterinarian, who said the first veterinarian was right, but we’re the customer – and she’ll do what we want. Are we wrong? S. C., Nashville, TN

A: The test you are referring to is a blood test which can identify adult heartworm. Your question is how can my dog have heartworm if I have been religiously using the preventative? It’s a reasonable question.

Dr. Sheldon Rubin, past president of the American Heartworm Society explains while the preventatives are excellent, and extremely effective (nearly 100 percent), they are not perfect. More likely than product failure is human error. People may forget to give the product (even if you don’t). Or the chewable may not be swallowed, and instead dropped behind the sofa. Also, people don’t always apply the topical product correctly. It happens, it really does

Still, why have veterinarians become so adamant about the heartworm test?

Rubin says that It turns out that it’s possible that if a heartworm preventative is given to a dog with heartworm disease, there could be a serious reaction due to the rapid killing of circulating baby heartworm in the blood stream. Also, a dog with heartworm must be treated, and early identification makes it easier to treat (with fewer side affects),  less expensive to treat, and there’s less suffering for the dog.

Rubin, who is based in Chicago, also notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has requested the American Heartworm Society recommend that veterinarians conduct annual heartworm testing.

Rubin says it’s not about the customer being right. Veterinarians should be first the best advocates for pets. He suggests owners sign a waiver indicate they are aware of the risks of not testing, not so much for legal reasons but really as an educational tool. Fact is, you may owe your first veterinarian an apology.

The definitive resource for all things heartworm is the American Heartworm Society.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services


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