People often wonder “Why do veterinarians (and MDs) want all these tests?” Every test we recommend has a purpose. Animals cannot tell us their history or explain their symptoms. Below are our recommendations for routine wellness testing and the reasons they are needed.
“Why does my pet need heartworm testing? I give the recommended heartworm preventatives every month.” The American Heartworm Society (AHS) recommends at least once yearly testing for dogs. This is because heartworm medication works by retroactive protection. For example, if you dose your pet at the beginning of the month, the dose covers any infection your pet might have been exposed to the month before, instead of the current month. So if you miss a month and don’t notice right away, enough time can have passed for the baby heartworms to mature past the time where the medication works. There is no commercially available test that can detect the babies until they become adults so there is a period where the heartworms are neither susceptible nor detectable. If we test your animal every year, we can catch them before they cause extensive damage to the vessels of the heart and lungs and are still treatable. The doc will talk to you about testing your pet but we also have lots of mosquitos in California and heartworms are becoming more prevalent. Also many people in our area travel extensively. The AHS recommendation for testing cats is more complicated and we need to decide what heartworm testing is appropriate for your cat.
“Why does my pet need a fecal check” There are many parasite control products out there that cover intestinal parasites but not every intestinal parasite. Our veterinary team will review the label of your product with you and discuss what it covers. Even the most comprehensive products often don’t cover protozoal parasites or tapeworms. The veterinary team starts by visually examining the stool sample. Then they do a fecal flotation that concentrates the parasite eggs so they can be examined under a microscope. This allows us to identify the types of parasites and tailor the deworming protocol to your specific pet. We recommend fecal testing every six months and more often if your pet is experiencing gastrointestinal upset, like vomiting or diarrhea.
“What are wellness blood tests, and what do they test for?” Wellness screens include complete blood counts (CBC), serum chemistry profiles and other tests geared to specific patients. A CBC lets us check the number of red and white blood cells, showing us anemia and flagging things to watch for, like increases in white blood cells, which can indicate infection. We also measure clotting cells called platelets. This is especially helpful if your pet needs any type of dental procedure or surgery. Serum chemistry panels open a window on several organ systems and help detect diseases such as diabetes and kidney diseases. Abnormalities can trigger additional testing, allowing us to identify disease processes early, when many diseases are more treatable. Even if your pet seems normal (pets are notorious for hiding any weaknesses as their genetic makeup says this is how you stay alive in the wild), this type of testing is critical for continuing good health.
The appropriate tests for your pet are based on species, age, gender and lifestyle. Also baseline testing is important for your pet’s overall wellness. When you plan ahead for your pet’s routine testing, you’re making an investment in their longevity and this is also why a veterinarian’s pet are usually very long lived.
It is especially a good idea to fit in a wellness visit to your doctor every year if you have a pet insurance plan that includes a wellness package. There is no reason to skip you wellness visit when the cost is covered already. This may help your pet stay healthier and avoid big ticket surprises in the future. Wellness plans with your pet insurance can work together to keep your pet and your budget happy and healthy.