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Heartworm Testing ...Just because?

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  • Heartworm Testing ...Just because?

    Do you test for heartworms? When? Why? If they tested positive but have been on preventative, following treatment, would they resume preventative (that proved less than effective)?

    Backstory: Last night, a new-to-me vet examined Joey when I brought him in for seasonal/pollen allergy. I knew what Rx I wanted. She was hesitant but after hearing his history (and confirming by reading his record), she caved in to the antihistamine-steroid combo.

    I was asked about two other vaccs. I declined all except rabies, which isn’t due for another 4 months. Vet was visibly scared to let me leave without it. I was a little hurt she didn’t trust me to get rabies when it’s due.

    The Real Question:
    She asked to test for heartworms. After his adoption, he has never been tested. He has been on preventative for 8 years but I admit sometimes I’m a week late. He has lived as an indoor pet in Southern CA, MD, and VA. He is maybe 11yo (huge guess) and in all ways healthy except for those *$^@^%@! allergies.

    I asked what treatment would be for him. She said the standard treatment is at a critical low, on backorder, and being controlled by the American Heartworm Society. We would have to treat with less than ideal, long-term alternatives . She added the test also checks for Lyme’s and one other tick-born disease.

    I declined.

    I tech-ed at small animal surgery. Parasites was not something we dealt with.

  • #2
    I live in a high risk area and have mine tested every year even though they are all on HW preventive. It doesn't cost much and takes just a minute to have the blood drawn. I look at it as cheap insurance.
    "My biggest fear is that when I die my husband is going to try to sell all my horses and tack for what I told him they cost."


    • #3
      If a dog has been on preventive, and tests positive, what does that really mean? Obviously the prevention wasn't fully effective, but neither is it hurting him. Do the heartworms at that point pose a risk, or, since the animal is on/will be on preventives, will that act as the "slow treatment" and fix him up anyway?
      The CoTH CYA - please consult w/your veterinarian under any and all circumstances. - ET


      • #4
        I do test for heartworms. I decline a lot of the vaccines because I tend to think that overvaccinating (which I believe yearly vaccines is) can be harmful. I wouldn't have vaccinated for rabies 4 months early either. The bloodtest for heartworm only hurts the pocketbook, so I do that.
        My understanding is that a dog can become positive while on preventative if they do something like throw it up in the yard of have massive diarrhea right after it is administered. If my dog got heartworm while on preventative, I might switch to a different type of preventative. I doubt that your dog would be positive if he's had the preventative administered regularly.
        I have heard that if you give a dog with heartworm the preventative while the dog is positive, it can kill the dog. My vet requires a yearly test before you purchase the heartworm. Some people have probably had a problem with it, but I am okay with that. My understanding is that if a dog is treated for heartworm, they have to be kept on crate-rest so that they won't exert themselves. I would want to know if I needed to do that, even if the chance is small.


        • #5
          Originally posted by JB View Post
          If a dog has been on preventive, and tests positive, what does that really mean? Obviously the prevention wasn't fully effective, but neither is it hurting him. Do the heartworms at that point pose a risk, or, since the animal is on/will be on preventives, will that act as the "slow treatment" and fix him up anyway?
          If a dog has been on preventative and tests positive, then the majority of the heartworm preventative manufacturers cover the cost of heartworm treatment for the animal. Also you said "it's not hurting him," but actually...it is. Many dogs never show any signs or symptoms of HW infestation until it's too late.

          If a dog has been on preventative and tests positive, then chances are the preventatives are not going to kill the existing heartworms and won't act as a "slow kill treatment."

          I live in Georgia. I pay the $30 per dog to have them both tested for heartworms. They are both on preventative (year-round.) However, why take the chance? It's a minimal monetary investment into the longevity of my dog.
          If wishes were horses then beggars would ride...
          DLA: Draft Lovers Anonymous
          Originally posted by talkofthetown
          As in, the majikal butterfly-fahting gypsy vanners.


          • #6
            I think it's more that vets want to prevent resistance, if you have a dog on meds that has an infection, it's time to change up the treatment.

            However, my brother had a very senior dog (16), vet tried to insist on testing. My brother said, let's just say she's positive, what will we do? Vet said nothing, treatment would kill the dog. Vet still insisted in testing, brother got a new vet. Vet never did explain why it was necessary, other than she was requiring it for new heartworm meds.


            • #7
              We tested once every year to get our preventative scrip refilled. I see no reason not to. It's not an invasive procedure, so it's definitely worth it to me to pay a few bucks to get the test and be sure the preventative is working. And having adopted a dog that had heartworms and had to go through treatment for them, I'd rather be safe than sorry.
              The Western Adventures of Loki, a Florida Swampdog in Los Angeles


              • #8
                With all of the vet clinics I've used, docs wouldn't give you a new Rx for heartworm preventative without an annual HW test - for the dogs. (Cats are different - I think because they don't have a reliable, inexpensive test for them?) And I know that most of the good online pharmacies (based in the States) won't sell HW meds to you without an Rx from a vet.

                As far as testing positive, as far as I recall (and this justifies the no-test requirement for the cat), an animal can have heartworms, but you would still want to continue (or start) them on Heartgard (ivermectin) because, while it doesn't kill off adult heartworms, it does kill them in the egg/larval stages. You aren't curing the problem, but you are keeping it from getting worse. One of the big concerns in treating for heartworms is the big die-off - if all the worms die at once, they can cause blood clots.

                At least that's what one of my vets told me when I asked her about putting my cat on heartworm meds. (And for the record, he does get Heartgard every month, even though he doesn't go outside - just because he's an indoor cat, doesn't mean that I can keep every mosquito out of the house!)

                My dogs? Tested every year (first of September), and get their HW meds every month, year round. I have a friend who's dog underwent HW treatment (years ago) - it was tough on her and the dog, and I don't want any of my dogs to have to go through it.

                Just curious, though (and don't answer if you don't want to) - How are you getting your HW preventative without a prescription from a vet?


                • #9
                  My dogs are also on year-round preventative (Heartguard Plus) but also get tested yearly.
                  Reason #1-My vet requires the yearly test in order for me to buy the next years worth.
                  Reason #2-I have heard of dogs testing positive while having been on yearly preventative.

                  It's a simple blood test that is done in-house and is fairly inexpensive.


                  • #10
                    Our vets see so many HW positive dogs that I don't blame them for wanting regular testing.
                    I think ours have asked to test my dog every three? years.

                    The vets are also up to date in all vaccination protocols and don't always vaccinate for everything and not always at once, make appointments for different vaccines several months apart.
                    Then, we have used the same small animal vet for 25+ years, they know our animals and management very well.

                    My dog has had reactions to vaccines, so maybe her protocol is different than another dog's needs may be.
                    The vets have been debating if to vaccinate her for rattlers or not, wondering about it, since she has been bitten twice now, each time by accident, she was not aware of the snake.
                    We may go ahead and use that vaccine next year, three years after her last severe bite.

                    I think that you need to work with the dog you have and your vet, hard to say to others what to do over the internet.


                    • #11
                      I live in a low risk area and heartworm testing/meds are a money maker for the vet.

                      I worked last year at a place that was all about making money and the OP's post sounds familiar.
                      “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey


                      • #12
                        I have all of my dogs tested yearly when they go for their annual checkups. My vets (as well as any others I know) won't provide preventatives without an annual blood test. If there's a resistance problem, or if a client isn't telling the truth as to administering the preventative, the preventative can kill the dog if it does, in fact, have heartworm.


                        • #13
                          You would be amazed at the number of owners who absolutely insist that their dogs are on HWP year-round and have never missed a month.... But they have.

                          Ditto poster above who mentioned that positive test in light of monthly prevention = manufacturer paying for treatment.


                          • #14
                            Hey - I fully admit that I've been one of them. I went through a year when I was in & out of the hospital, etc., & frankly neither my husband nor I remembered the damn pills. While I was sheepish, I did admit same to my vet, but I would have done the annual test anyway.


                            • #15
                              Years ago when I was younger my dad was upset that the vet we had used for 8+ years refused to refill the hw scrip without a blood test. My dad was super diligent about the meds and was willing to sign whatever release he needed to take liability if something went wrong. The 4th vet he contacted (over an hour away) would do it, and we used that vet until my parents moved out of the region.
                              I suppose we didn't know about resistance issues then. I test our dogs once a year and probably will always... but definitely understand wanting to save some money. My parents took their two dogs for their annual vaccinations* and it was over 300 per dog! How?! We spent just over 300 for our SIX dogs, and we're just one state over (but in a rural area)....
                              Sorry... Tangent rant over!
                              I should say that, to me, saving 30 bucks isn't worth losing my dog. But the $$$ shock can be a lot to take in at the vet regardless!

                              *including heartworm testing... My parents now have the test done.
                              Last edited by bits619; Oct. 28, 2011, 12:04 PM. Reason: Added *


                              • #16
                                In coastal SC, we test yearly... we require HW testing yearly to either buy from us or script out for preventative. If you've missed a month or two... then WE will continue to sell it to the client until the next HW test is due or retest 6 months after the missed preventative (whichever comes first).
                                I will say my own dog skipped testing this year only because 3 of us tried to get blood on her, including the vet, and NONE of us could hit her little corgi veins that day lol. I work at the clinic and vet knows I wouldn't miss doses AND I didn't need to buy any has I still had plenty at home.
                                Custom Painted Brushes: spcustombrushes@gmail.com


                                • Original Poster

                                  I appreciate all of the input. It sounds like most test regularly and come up negative. I know the treatment plans for pound hounds with a heavy load from when I fostered... is the protocol the same for a healthy dog on preventative? ((I understand that's more a question for the vet. Sorta thinking out loud.))

                                  Hearing the treatment protocol of choice is being restricted and is not possible to obtain right now...why test now? for my healthy pup who is on preventative and is here for allergies? Has anyone else heard heartworm treatment is backordered/being restricted? I'm curious if it's regional demand, manufacturer problem, etc.

                                  Going back for a follow-up in three weeks. I'm happy to ask for the blood test if the restriction has been lifted and treatment is possible should he test positive. He better not!

                                  As far as being prescribed preventative without a blood test...vets in MD and VA refilled it no problem. He hasn't had a blood draw in a few years: when he did, we ran a full profile pre-op before he had a bump removed (not cancerous ).


                                  • #18
                                    Maybe the vet wants to do the test because he would tell you to stop giving the perventative or give a different dosage if the dog was positive? Did you ask the vet? I would also think that if treatment was hard to get, it's probably temporary. If a dog came up positive, I guess at least the vet would treat your dog sooner once it became available.


                                    • #19

                                      If you click on the banner at the top, heartworm management during adulticide unavailability, you'll find more information. We've found one vet who was able to treat a small dog in our rescue group, and i've heard through the grapevine that vets are getting another treatment but I haven't investigated that yet at all.


                                      • #20
                                        To answer your other questions, I'm not sure why your vet was so concerned with testing asap. Maybe you mentioned to her that your dog hadn't had her blood drawn in 5 years and that worried her (rather than if you said it'd been a year or two). Maybe she has recently seen a few heartworm positive dogs in her office so it's at the forefront of her mind. She may also have heard that treatment was going to become available and wanted to know how much to request?? There's also the chance she was trying to make some money from providing more services.... I'm really not sure. I mean it could be something we haven't thought of, I'd be curious enough to ask next time, just to find out if there was another unknown reason :-) heck I'm wondering if I'll call and pester my vet (we work with them a ton with rescue work) to see if they would insist on a test in a similar situation as yours!
                                        Last edited by bits619; Oct. 28, 2011, 03:40 PM. Reason: Auto correct.