Heartworm Testing (chs. 25-27)

Heartworm TestingDepending on where you live in the world, a heartworm test may not be necessary every year. Why do we do a heartworm test? This test determines if there are adult heartworms present in your dog. Heartworms are spread to a dog via mosquitos, so if you have mosquitos in your area then it is important to have your dog tested as heartworm is such a nasty disease.

Many vets will test for heartworm every year. In the past, if a dog who had adult heartworms circulating through his bloodstream was given a heartworm prevention medicine, the medicine had a high chance of causing the dog to suffer anaphylactic shock and potentially death. For this reason, it was very important for us to make sure that a dog was heartworm negative before we started heartworm medicine.

However, the newer medicines are extremely safe and are unlikely to cause a dog to get sick even if he is positive for heartworm. If this is the case, why bother testing at all? The reason why we still test is because the heartworm preventive medicines do not kill adult heartworms. Even if your dog is on a good heartworm prevention it is possible that you missed a dose, or the dog didnʼt swallow it, or for some other reason the medicine was not effective that month.

No medicine is 100% effective.

What we do in our practice is a heartworm test every 3 years as long as your dog has been on preventative medication each year. It is worthwhile to ask your vet if a yearly heartworm test is mandatory. (In some areas where heartworm is very common such as Florida a yearly test may be necessary). Some vets will allow you to test every three years. Some vets will allow you to sign a waiver saying that you declined a test this year.

For Animals With A Urinary Tract Problem

If your animal has any of the following symptoms, your vet will want to run a urine test:

  • straining to urinate
  • urinating in the house
  • increased thirst
  • increased volume of urine produced

In many cases you can save money by bringing in a urine sample rather than having your vet collect one in the office. To get a urine sample from a dog, simply put a small container underneath the dog when he or she goes to urinate. You can also try using a ladle to get a sample. It is important that the sample doesnʼt get diluted with rain or snow or that the animal doesnʼt step in the bowl.

For a cat, it can be more difficult but what you can do is empty out the litter box completely and lock the cat in a room with the empty box. Some cats need to have something “litter-like” in the box in order to urinate. You can try styrofoam packing chips (be sure they are not the type that dissolve in water), or any type of small plastic pieces such as leggo.

When you get the sample it is important that it gets to the vetʼs office within a few hours of taking it. In some cases your vet will need a sterile sample and will have to take the urine themselves, but in many cases you can save yourself a urine collection fee by bringing in a sample.

How Many Fecal Exams Are Necessary?

This is a controversial topic! The recommendation from parasitologists is that pet owners have a fecal exam checked for parasites 3-4 times per year. In most cases I do not believe that this is necessary.

I do think it is important to have fecal exams done on puppies and kittens as young animals can often be born with parasites and not show any clinical signs. I also believe it is a good idea to have a fecal exam done once a year for the first 2-3 years of life.

After this, the need for a fecal may be small. I would suggest a yearly fecal exam for the following patients:

  • animals that have had parasite problems in the past 
  • animals who are having recurrent diarrhea problems 
  • animals whose owners are immunosuppressed 
  • animals who live with young children 
  • animals who live in an area that is known to have a parasite problem (for example, if you have a cottage on a lake that is known to have giardia issues.)

It is a good idea to ask your vet if they feel that an annual fecal exam is absolutely necessary. You may be able to save some money by avoiding the fecal.

Article by Dr. Marie

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