Heartworm Testing for Pets

Testing is crucial to protect your pet's health and preventing life-threatening heartworm disease.

Heartworm infection is transmitted through an infected mosquito bite to your dog or cat. Heartworms can survive up to 5-7 years in dogs and 2-3 years in cats, and they can go undetected for months. Some symptoms, such as coughing, itching, and tiredness, are not specific and can make the diagnosis more challenging. The consequences of heartworm infection can be severe and life-threatening, leading to heart failure and blood blockages. Fortunately, heartworm disease can be prevented and treated in dogs through regular testing. For cats, prevention is possible with frequent testing and being on prevention medication; however, treatment options are not specific, and there is no cure. For more information, contact our dedicated team at 705-885-7387.

How often should my cat or dog be tested for heartworms?

Annual testing is absolutely necessary to protect your cat or dog. It takes a while for your body to produce the protein that the test will find - at least 7 months for the infection to be diagnosed. Dogs should be tested at the following times:

  1. A puppy under 7 months of age can start preventive medication but should be tested 6 months after their initial visit and 6 months thereafter to make sure they are heartworm-free.
  2. If your dog is older than 7 months, they should be tested before they start taking preventives. They need to be tested 6 and 12 months after starting prevention, then annually after that.

Cats aren’t good hosts for this parasite, so they are less likely to have adult heartworms. Therefore, they should be tested before they start preventive medication and retested as the veterinarian sees fit.

Why is it important to prevent heartworms in dogs and cats?

Heartworm is a silent, life-threatening disease. You won’t see any important symptoms before it becomes dangerous. For cats, it’s important to prevent the infection because there is no cure, and veterinarians can only control part of the symptoms. When your cat or dog has heartworms, important organs like the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and blood vessels can get damaged. In severe cases, a heartworm infection can cause death if it’s not treated. Your loyal companion may have the following symptoms once infected:

  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Fainting
  • Bloody or coffee-colored urine
  • Pale gums
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent coughing

The severity of symptoms worsens with the duration of infection and the number of worms present. Don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment to get them tested. Reach out to us at 705-885-7387.

What happens if my dog tests positive for heartworms?

Catching heartworm disease early can make treatment easier for your dog. The veterinarian will first treat their symptoms, then create a plan to flush out the worms.

There are 2 parts to the treatment; one to take care of the adult worms and the other one to get rid of the smaller worms. The adult worms are usually more dangerous, and surgery may be required, but when conservative treatment is an option, up to three different oral medications may be needed, and your veterinarian may suggest you avoid exercise or walks for a few days. For the second part of the treatment, the drug may be injected subcutaneously once a month for a few treatments.

After the whole treatment, your dog will be tested again. Once treatment is complete, your dog will be started on a heartworm preventative to reduce the risk of contracting them again.

Return to Dog & Cat Services