The Importance of Heartworm Tests

Q: “Does my dog really need a stool sample checked every year and a heartworm test? Why would he have heartworms if he is on medications every month to prevent them?

A: The short answer is yes. The reason your veterinarian is recommending annual testing is not only for your pet’s wellbeing, but also for the safety of you and your family. I frequently hear this question.

Why You Should Have Your Dog Regularly Tested for Heartworms

It may sound unnecessary to check stool samples for pets who never go outside, are never exposed to other animals, or are not showing any problems.

It may be helpful to learn more about what your veterinarian is looking for when testing these samples. Stool samples are checked for microscopic eggs that parasites will pass into the gastrointestinal system. You can not see these with the naked eye.

If you are not seeing any evidence of worms in your critter’s sample, that does not mean they do not have intestinal parasites. Adult worms are seen only when they are dying or traveling outside the body.

Not only can these parasites cause illness in animals, but some can be spread to the humans that care for them. For example, hookworms are most commonly transmitted to people when the larvae penetrate the skin and migrate through the tissues.

This causes pain and inflammation in a condition called cutaneous larva migrans. Roundworms can infect people if the microscopic eggs are accidentally ingested. When the larvae migrate through the body they can travel to the eye causing blindness and problems in the retina, or through the body organs causing illness and pain.

Other Types of Worms and Parasites Your Pet Can Have

Some parasites can encyst in your pet’s body and hide for years. They can become active again later. Puppies acquire hookworms through their mothers as the encysted parasites “wake up” during pregnancy and lactation. Animals that never leave the house can still be clever hunters. Ingesting roaches is another way to transmit these parasites.

Annual heartworm testing for your dog is also very important. Keeping your furry friend on year-round heartworm prevention is critical to a long healthy life.

The heartworm prevention kills the larvae before they turn into adult worms. The heartworm test is testing for adult worms. There is always a chance for error when giving medications. Have you ever forgotten to take your own prescription medications, let alone giving them to your pet? Is it possible that heartworm pill was dropped and Fido didn’t actually swallow it? It is essential that heartworm disease is caught as soon as possible as it can be deadly if an infection goes undiagnosed.

We are lucky to live in such a gorgeous area with wonderful warm weather. Unfortunately, this makes our region here in Florida have one of the highest rates of infection for all of these parasites mentioned.

Your veterinarian should be recommending the best care for your pet. If you have any questions about why anything is needed, please make sure to ask.

Dr. Tiffany Beischel is a local licensed veterinarian who is happy to answer any questions you may have about your pets. Feel free to call her at (386) 663-3989. 

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