Unfortunately, many vets treat or order additional diagnostics based on a positive test. This is often inappropriate. In the words of noted veterinary immunologist Ronald Schultz, “Treat the dog, not the test.” In the mind of many practitioners, a test that creates more doubts and questions than it resolves is worse than neutral.
If you want your dog tested for heartworm, and not for Lyme, ehrlichiosis, or anaplasmosis, that should be your right. Should we be on the lookout for these diseases? Absolutely. But whether or not veterinary clients should have to pay for this surveillance with tests of unproven value is a debatable matter. And as long as your veterinarian is selling the test, he is hardly an unbiased party.
Author disclosures: First, I have owned a small (i.e., not enough for anyone to care if I use my proxy votes) number of IDEXX shares for years. Second, IDEXX has been generous, assisting me with research that I hope will benefit both people and dogs in developing nations. Finally, my ownership of IDEXX shares reflects the fact that I believe their science is sound. This article concerns what marketing departments and veterinarians choose to do with the tools scientists provide.
Richard Lerner is a veterinarian and epidemiologist. He left small-animal practice early in 2009 and now works with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on food safety issues, especially those regarding animal agriculture.