As veterinarians, we are at a disadvantage relative to our human medical counterparts, in that our patients cannot always tell us how they feel or what is wrong with them. Still, our goals are always to 1) relieve pain and suffering, 2) treat ill pets and 3) whenever possible, prevent a pet from getting ill in the first place. The life saying that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” certainly holds true to veterinary medicine, and when we cannot prevent disease from happening, we try our best to help pet owners detect disease early – before it becomes a major problem for our furry friends.
You will often hear your veterinarian recommend that your pet be examined every 6-12 months – this gives us an opportunity to see how your pet is doing at home, find out about changes in their behavior and perform a comprehensive physical examination that may detect early signs of a disease. A good history and physical examination can detect a number of diseases early, but some changes in the body are more subtle and not as easily identified by a veterinarian’s eyes, fingers and stethoscope. For a better look at what is going on inside your pet, you will often hear your veterinarian, or their support team, recommend annual wellness diagnostic testing.
The “Young” Annual Profile:
Young pets (< 7 years of age) get sick too! Typically, wellness testing of young pets is less extensive, but includes:
Screening for heartworm and tick-borne diseases
Assessing blood counts (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets) for signs of bleeding, infection, or bone marrow disease.
Assessing chemicals in the blood (“chemistries”) that can tell us information about liver health, kidney function and protein metabolism.
”Normal” values for some of these tests are based on statistics – they are the values that 95% of apparently healthy pets produced on the same test. Sometimes our pets didn’t read the book on what’s “normal,” so testing even a healthy pet can give us an idea of what is “normal” for them! Still, if we find out that your pet is not fitting the norm, it gives you the opportunity to make sure that there isn’t something wrong.
The “Senior” Annual Profile:
Pets >7 years of age are considered “senior” citizens. Although you can still see humans in their 80s and 90s running marathons, it is not uncommon as we age for our bodies to not work quite like they used to. The same is true in our pets. Kidney and liver disease are seen more commonly, and our metabolisms may not run like the well-oiled machine they used to. To account for this, “senior” testing is usually more comprehensive:
Screening for heartworm and tick-borne diseases – older pets can still get them!
Assessing blood counts for signs of bleeding, infection or bone marrow disease
More extensive blood chemistry testing to have more precise information about the kidney, liver, and intestinal function and to screen for metabolic diseases.
Testing of the urine (urinalysis) and thyroid (T4) for metabolic diseases
Ask your veterinarian about annual wellness testing. We have a number of tools at our disposal to diagnose disease in our pets, and catching disease early helps us to keep them healthy and happy longer!