Our pets cannot tell us in words when they aren’t feeling quite right and sometimes signs can be quite subtle and go unnoticed. On top of that, animals instincts tell them to hide signs of illness or weakness, so subtle changes may go undetected in early stages. Sometimes these changes can be explained away with things like “he is getting older” or “he is less active but maybe that is due to the new pet in the household, or a change in my schedule, or our recent move, etc..” Early kidney disease or thyroid problems for example may not show any real obvious physical symptoms in the beginning. Some of the more subtle symptoms may be attributed to aging and not recognized as the start of a problem. Early liver issues may not be obvious initially either. This is referred to as subclinical disease – a condition where the disease is present in the organ or body but not detectable by abnormal signs or changes in the pet.
     On top of this, some pets may naturally run a bit high or low on certain tests and in their case this is normal for them. This is a big reason we take your pet’s temperature every time they come in. Pets that are overly excited or nervous may have a higher than normal temperature (normal is 100.5 – 102.5) even though they are well. If your excited Labrador always has a temperature of 103.5 or 104 when he comes in for his annual exam, that may be considered normal for him. If we check his temperature when he comes in for a medical problem and it is 103.5, we are not as likely to be concerned. However if your pet’s temperature is normally around 101 when checked at his annual visit, a temperature of 103.5 or 104 when he is sick likely indicates a fever.
     A similar thing can happen with bloodwork. If your pet always has a slightly low white blood cell count for example on wellness labwork, that may be normal for them. This can help the DVM when doing bloodwork on your sick pet. Being able to compare what has been established as normal for your pet previously with wellness labwork can be very helpful in determining if abnormalities on bloodwork now may be cause for concern.
     Catching problems early, before your pet is obviously sick, can be very helpful to slow the advancing of disease in many cases. If caught and treated early, some issues can be managed and controlled much better than if not diagnosed until the problem is advanced. Hyperthyroidism in cats for example can cause weight loss and kidney problems if undetected. If treated early, medication or a prescription diet can be started to get the problem under control before weight loss or deterioration of kidney function occurs. In the case of kidney problems, early detection and intervention can greatly slow the progression of disease and in turn lengthen your pet’s lifespan.
     Each year when your pet comes in for their annual exam, we will offer and recommend wellness labwork. For cats and dogs under the age of 7, we recommend a Junior wellness panel. This checks highlights of general kidney and liver function, proteins, glucose, red and white cells, hydration and blood clotting. For cats, it also includes viral testing (Feline leukemia and FIV) or a heartworm test. The canine junior wellness panel is offered as an addition to your dog’s annual heartworm test and tick screening. For pets over the age of 7, a more comprehensive panel called a Senior wellness panel is recommended yearly (or twice yearly with some chronic conditions). This includes a larger chemistry panel (similar to the Junior wellness panel but with additional parameters to access organ function in more detail), a complete blood count, thyroid level and a full urinalysis. In older pets senior wellness testing can also be valuable for monitoring the status of ongoing health issues and for making sure that chronic medications (NSAIDS for arthritis, some anti-anxiety meds or thyroid medications for example) are not causing any problems.
     We have negotiated deep discounts with our outside laboratory to make wellness testing as affordable as possible. These discounts are only available as bundled services with your pet’s annual exam. In the case of the canine junior wellness panel, the cost is discounted in conjunction with the annual heartworm test and tick screening. The senior wellness panel (for dogs and cats) is bundled and discounted with your pets annual exam. The cost of similar panels when done separately is much higher than when done as part of a wellness exam.
     Doing wellness testing for your pet when they have their annual exam gives us more information that can be valuable in keeping your pet healthy. A physical exam can give us a lot of information, but it can’t often tell us if there are internal abnormalities or early organ dysfunction. Waiting until your pet is obviously sick and showing definite symptoms of illness can make it more difficult to slow the progression of disease and can be more expensive in the long run if emergency care is needed or further organ damage has occurred.
     Our goal is always to keep your pet as healthy and happy as possible. Wellness testing is another tool in our toolbox to help us achieve that goal!