By: Molly Streich, VT
I have 2 dogs, Lexie and Kenzie, who live with my parents back in Oshkosh Wisconsin. Lexie is an 11 year old Lab and Kenzie is a 4 year old Lab. My parents have always just taken their pets to the vet for vaccines or when the pet is sick; no heartworm preventative, nothing extra. When I started going to school to become a veterinary technician, I knew that I couldn’t completely change their way of doing things. However, I insisted that if nothing else I would at least annually draw blood on Lexie and Kenzie for heartworm testing and more extensive blood work. It has been almost 5 years since I graduated from the veterinary technician program, and every year I’ve stayed committed to annual early disease testing on both dogs. Each year Lexie and Kenzie’s heartworm tests were negative and their Wellness blood work showed all normal levels. However, this year our world was shaken and I realized more than ever before how important early disease testing is.
Early disease testing can include running a yearly fecal flotation or drawing blood for a heartworm test, but it is more commonly it involves running more extensive blood work that includes a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and chemistries that look at your pet’s internal organ functions. We at Town and Country Vet highly recommend yearly heartworm testing and fecal floats along with Wellness blood testing, especially for senior pets. Testing yearly, and starting young, gives us a better chance at finding any potential problems or illnesses early before they become more severe. If every year the tests come back negative and normal, then that is a relief and great news. But what if the tests are not negative or normal?
In July, I planned on doing a full dental cleaning on Kenzie. So I drew blood for her annual wellness testing, including a heartworm test. Running a CBC and chemistries is especially important before a pet undergoes anesthesia. This confirms that their internal organs are functioning properly and helps ensure that anesthesia is as safe as possible. But Kenzie’s heartworm test result didn’t come back as planned. She tested positive for heartworm! Complete shock! She wasn’t showing any symptoms; she wasn’t sick. How could this be possible? We verified she was positive by running multiple tests.
We quickly started Kenzie on heartworm treatment. This involved many months of limited to no activity. A four year old Lab not allowed to play fetch or run around is one of the most depressing things ever. Heartworm treatment also involved strong antibiotics and three injections of an arsenic compound to kill the heartworms. These deep muscle injections caused Kenzie to be extremely uncomfortable and had the potential of making her even sicker. Even with the benefit of having employee discounts working at Town and Country Vet, the treatment injections alone cost more than a couple years’ worth of heartworm preventative. Kenzie is still slowly getting back to normal activity levels. Hopefully by Christmas, she will be her same crazy Lab self. My family and I are now giving both dogs’ year round monthly heartworm preventative pills. We never want to experience heartworm disease again.
Unfortunately, that was not the last time our world would be shaken this year. In October, I drew blood on Lexie for her annual early disease testing. We were very relieved that Lexie’s heartworm test came back negative. However, the chemistries on her blood work showed early stages of kidney disease. We’ve started her on a prescription kidney diet hoping to keep her levels low. Luckily, we discovered this disease early. Lexie hasn’t shown any signs of illness and hopefully with starting treatment early we won’t see any sickness from her for a long time. Later this month, I will draw more blood on Lexie to retest her kidney values. Hopefully the prescription diet has helped. If not, then there will be more treatment to be started.
Although some terrible news came from early disease testing my own dogs, I am so thankful that I’ve committed to testing each year. Without these annual tests, both of my dogs could have become severely ill before we knew anything was wrong or what was wrong. We were able to catch each disease early enough to allow us to start treatment early. Because of early disease testing, both dogs are still reasonably healthy and I’m hoping they will stay that way for many years to come.
Next time you are in to the clinic for a routine clinic, make sure to ask about early disease testing options. There are several packages of tests which make it more affordable to check your pet for early evidence of disease.