One of the most important things we recommend during your dog’s annual exam is heartworm testing and prevention. Even so, many people still decide to go without these potentially life-saving measures. So, just what is the big deal about heartworms anyway, and why are veterinarians so concerned with it? I will attempt to answer these and other common questions below.
Q: My dog is an inside dog, and only goes outside to do his business. He is never around other dogs, either. Doesn’t this mean that he is not at risk for heartworms? Wouldn’t testing and monthly prevention be worthless?
A: Unlike other worms, heartworm is different in that it is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito instead of by other dogs or infected areas. Mosquito control is difficult and a dog can be bitten at any time, even if it is only outside a few minutes. Not to mention those pesky mosquitos that get inside the house every once in a while. Therefore, testing and prevention is still very important for your indoor only dog.
Q: I put flea and tick prevention on my pet, and also give it a de-wormer. These things will prevent heartworms as well, right?
A: Flea and tick products that you buy from a pet store or supermarket are not able to prevent heartworms. Similarly, de-wormers that you purchase are only effective against gastrointestinal parasites, not heartworms. Therefore, just using these products alone will not protect your pet from heartworm disease. Only licensed veterinarians are able to sell products that prevent against heartworm disease, or write a script for them. If you did not get it through a veterinarian, or if you did not get it with a prescription, it will not protect against heartworms. There are some heartworm preventatives that also control fleas and ticks all in one. But again, these are only available from your veterinarian or with a prescription.
Q: Isn’t heartworm testing and prevention expensive?
A: People are usually quite surprised to find out just how affordable heartworm prevention products are. Your veterinarian has access to many different products at varying prices, and can help you pick the one that fits your budget. Treating heartworm disease itself is very expensive, and you could probably buy many years worth of preventative for the cost of treating heartworm disease. The heartworm test itself is usually very inexpensive and you will have the results within minutes.
Q: My dog is on monthly heartworm preventative, so why should I get an annual heartworm test?
A: By performing an annual heartworm test, we are making sure that the monthly preventative is doing its job and that it is working effectively. Also, many companies that manufacture the heartworm preventative back their product with a guarantee. In other words, if you have had your pet on preventative consistently, and your pet comes up positive for heartworms, the company may pay for the medical treatment needed to rid your dog of heartworms.
Q: Can’t I skip the heartworm test and just start my dog on preventative?
A: You should not start heartworm preventative without first knowing whether or not your dog has heartworms. Certain heartworm preventatives can be dangerous for your dog if started when there is an already a heartworm infection.
Q: What about my cat? Does my cat need a monthly heartworm preventative as well?
A: Yes! Although heartworm disease is not common in cats, they can still get it. Just like we discussed with dogs, even if your cat is indoor only, he should still receive monthly preventative for the same reasons. Heartworm disease in cats is even more difficult to treat than in dogs, and usually not even possible. Therefore, even though our feline friends are at less risk than our canine friends of getting the disease, it is a much bigger problem if they do.
All in all, treating heartworm disease is difficult, lengthy, expensive, and complications are common. Late stage heartworm disease often results in the death of the animal. This is why veterinarians are so concerned with heartworm disease, and why we are always talking about testing and prevention. As veterinarians, it is our job to not only treat diseases and conditions, but also to prevent disease in the first place, if possible. We are fortunate enough to have a safe, effective way to protect our furry pals from this potentially devastating disease, and we hope you will allow us to keep your pet protected by annual testing and monthly preventative.
Dr. Jenna Johnson, DVM.