Performing Wellness Testing Can Prolong Your Pet's Life

Sep 1, 2015

Pets are living longer! Why is this you may ask?

  • Proper intake, balanced complete nutrition
  • Appropriate body weight and physical activities (avoid both underweight and overweight, tone muscles and enhanced heart and respiratory function and skeleton health)
  • Parasite and infectious disease control (monitoring, preventives, vaccines, hygiene etc.)
  • Lifestyle management and caregiving (no free roaming, a leading cause of death due to vehicle accidents, reduced falls, toxin exposure, fights etc.)
  • Veterinary oversight and counselling about the above-listed factors to ensure optimal health and wellness planning

Many clients ask why routine wellness testing such as checking stool for parasites, running blood panels to check for hidden blood count changes, heartworm, Lyme disease, and organ function, or more specialized tests are needed. 

Caregivers, our veterinary clinic clients, are responsible for the health and welfare of their pets. This requires them to expend time and money to help ensure that their pets live long and healthier lives. 

Veterinarians and their team members must be a part of any pet care plan, to ensure appropriate (and not excessive, inadequate or inappropriate) health prevention and interventions occur. Studies are carried out to determine what sort of regimen for health care monitoring returns the "biggest bang for the buck" to allow clients to carefully invest in the health and disease prevention for their favourite furry friend. Your veterinarian can advise you regarding optimal wellness plans, and associated testing, as it is customized for each individual patient.

Check for Intestinal Worms and External Parasites Annually 
Checking for intestinal worms and external parasites annually for healthy animals is essential since many of these are able to pass between people and pets (zoonotic). Contrary to general thinking, one usually does not see worms coming out! That only happens when very heavy infestations occur. There may be no signs of diarrhea, weight loss or unthriftiness, or perhaps clinical signs may develop. And most surface parasites are too small to see with the naked eye! 

Recommendations for Pets with Health Problems or Senior Pets
For pets with ongoing health problems, or for seniors, those in >7-9 year range in cats and most dog breeds (note giant dog breeds have short lifespans, so are considered seniors earlier), your vet will recommend annual (or more frequent) bloodwork and urine sampling. This may seem like an unnecessary expense until you realize cats and dogs age ~5 years for every year of our life so this frequency is like you getting tested every 5 years, and so is not really a frequent event if you consider this difference in aging rate due to shorter lifespan! 

Many health conditions are silent, and your pet cannot talk to tell you where it hurts, so again, contrary to popular opinion that if the cat or dog looks fine, they must be fine, testing allows us to pick up conditions before they are advanced and sometimes before irreversible or deadly, providing opportunity to resolve them, or at least manage them to improve lifespan or quality of life. If everything is fine on the test -great! This provides a baseline of what is normal for your pet so if something goes awry, comparisons can be done to determine how much change has occurred and so is still money well spent. 

Many caregivers are concerned about having anesthesia performed on their senior pet. Due to the physical and metabolic changes associated with animals as they get older, there is sometimes a risk involved with anaesthesia and surgery that is over and above what there would be for a younger cat or dog.  However, this risk is dependent not only on the condition of the patient, but on other factors as well, such as the type of induction or anaesthetic agent to be used, the kind of surgical procedure/length of the procedure to be performed, and the combined experience  of anaesthetist, post-op team, and the surgeon. 

Modern safe and effective agents for sedation and anaesthesia, well-trained care teams, properly maintained equipment and close monitoring intraoperatively result in very little-to-no increased risk over baseline for senior pets, so your veterinarian will carefully assess any possible pet risk factors and discuss these ahead of any procedure. Pre-op testing is part of that careful assessment! 

Pre-op Testing
This will involve:

  • A complete history and thorough physical examination to make sure the patient is in good physical condition. Special attention is paid to the heart and lungs since they influence tolerance of procedures. 
  • Heart and Lungs diagnostics are frequently a part of the pre-op evaluation in senior since approximately 30 per cent in dogs over 12 years of age have changes in these systems. Heart disease is often silent in cats. This is why your veterinarian will recommend testing in advance of a procedure for older pets. All senior pets can benefit from a pre-op Lead II ECG, chest x-rays, and possibly ultrasonography will be recommended if a heart and/or lung problem is identified. 
  • A laboratory evaluation ahead of the procedure, consisting of a complete blood count, urine analysis and biochemical profile for senior pets especially. This evaluation is important in all patients of all ages though. Some conditions that occur in pets can have an effect on function of various organs of the body. For example, sometimes liver enzyme activity changes , perhaps affecting the ability of the liver to detoxify certain anaesthetic agents and drugs. Likewise, undetected kidney disease can lead to protein loss which could delay tissue healing and functional changes that decrease the breakdown and excretion of some drugs by the kidneys.
  • The use of intravenous fluids before, during, and after anaesthesia allows the patient to recover faster and feel better after the anaesthesia. It also provides an easy route of administration for medications and also ensures quick venous access in the case of a medical emergency. 

The wellness tests are invaluable tools to assist the veterinary health care team keep tabs on "Tabby", make sure "Whitey" is well! 

The appropriate use of such monitoring tools can make the difference between a diagnosis made too late to help versus picking up a problem early, providing for valuable opportunity to enhance the welfare of your pet. 

Discuss a plan with your veterinarian to ensure you do not miss out on this set of valuable health care tools. 

(revised August 2015)