July 2, 2018

General Wellness & Prevention

FAQs about Heartworm Testing

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

I give my dog heartworm prevention. Why does he need a heartworm test?

Nothing is ever 100% perfect, and this includes heartworm prevention. It is possible for your dog to get heartworm disease, even if you give him heartworm prevention medication every month. However, if you give heartworm prevention consistently on the same day of every month year-round, the chance of your pet contracting heartworm disease is extremely low.

Heartworm disease is spread by infected mosquitoes

Both the doctors at Countrycare Animal Complex and the American Heartworm Society recommend that heartworm testing be done once a year. Annual testing allows us to be able to detect the disease in the early stages. In addition, if your pet is heartworm positive, we can start treatment earlier with less potential side-effects or problems.

Why are there different types of heartworm tests?

There are two types of heartworm tests: the traditional heartworm test and the 4DX test. The traditional test checks for heartworm disease. The 4DX test checks for heartworm disease as well as the 3 main tick-borne diseases: anaplasmosis, erhlicioisis, and lyme disease.

The type of test that is right for your pet depends your preference and your pet’s lifestyle. For dogs that are in areas of tick exposure or that frequently go hunting, camping, or for walks in wooded areas, we typically recommend the 4DX test.

What does a heartworm test involve?

Heartworm testing is a quick and easy, and it can be done during your pet’s regular semi-annual exam. A veterinary technician takes a small blood sample (only 3 drops!) and runs it through a test kit very similar to a pregnancy test. Within 10 minutes, you will know the results.

How can I remember to give the medication at the same time every month?

Sometimes life gets busy. There may be times when you forget to give your dog his prevention medication on the right day. If you miss your pet’s dose, give the prevention medication as soon as possible to get back on schedule. Every day missed between doses means that your dog may not be fully protected from heartworm disease, and that your pet has the risk of becoming sick.

It can be difficult to remember to give the heartworm prevention at the same time every month. To make this process easier, try some of these tips:
• mark it on the calendar
• set your phone to remind you every month
• use a smart phone app to sign up for notifications and reminders

My advice

Have a heartworm test performed on your dog each year. If the test result is positive, you can start treatment immediately. If the result is negative, celebrate the fact that your prevention medication is working! A “negative” result is the best result.

Dr. Heintz and her dog, MimiDr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.