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From the American Heartworm Society:
All dogs should be tested annually for heartworm infection, and this can usually be done during a routine visit for preventive care with your  veterinarian.  Following are guidelines on testing and timing:
  • Puppies under 7 months of age can be started on heartworm  prevention without a heartworm test (it takes at least 6 months for a  dog to test positive after it has been infected), but should be tested 6  months after your initial visit, tested again 6 months later and yearly  after that to ensure they are heartworm-free.
  • Adult dogs over 7 months of age and previously not on a preventive  need to be tested prior to starting heartworm prevention.  They, too,  need to be tested 6 months and 12 months later and annually after that.
  • If there has been a lapse in prevention (one or more late or missed  doses), dogs should be tested immediately, then tested again six  months later and annually after that.
Annual testing is necessary,   Heartworm medications are highly effective,  but dogs can still become infected. If you miss just one dose of a monthly  medication—or give it late—it can leave your dog unprotected. Even if you  give the medication as recommended, your dog may spit out or vomit a  heartworm pill—or rub off a topical medication. Heartworm preventives are  highly effective, but not 100 percent effective. If you don’t get your dog  tested, you won’t know your dog needs treatment.
Cats:   Heartworm infection in cats is harder to detect than in dogs,  because cats are much less likely than dogs to have adult heartworms. The  preferred method for screening cats includes the use of both an antigen  and an antibody test (the “antibody” test detects exposure to heartworm  larvae ). Your veterinarian may also use x-rays or ultrasound to look for  heartworm infection. Cats should be tested before being put on prevention  and re-tested as the veterinarian deems appropriate to document continued  exposure and risk. Because there is no approved treatment for heartworm  infection in cats, prevention is critical. 
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeling on heartworm  preventives states that the medication is to be used by or on the order of a  licensed veterinarian. This means heartworm preventives must be  purchased from your veterinarian or with a prescription through a pet  pharmacy Prior to prescribing a heartworm preventive, the veterinarian  typically performs a heartworm test to make sure your pet doesn't already  have adult heartworms, as giving preventives can lead to rare but possibly  severe reactions that could be harmful or even fatal. It is not necessary to  test very young puppies or kittens prior to starting preventives since it  takes approximately 6 months for heartworms to develop to adulthood. If  the heartworm testing is negative, prevention medication is prescribed.

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