By Kevin Erickson, DVM
While Kulshan Veterinary Hospital is always there to treat your sick or injured pets, our ultimate goal is to ensure that your pet enjoys a long and healthy life. A big factor in achieving this goal revolves around our preventative health care recommendations.
Most pet owners realize that their pets are prone to develop many of the same conditions that affect humans including diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, heart disease, cancer and hormonal imbalances. Unfortunately, pets are programmed to hide many of the symptoms of these diseases so pet owners frequently don’t realize that their pets are ill until the disease process is advanced.
Annual preventative health care exams provide an opportunity to focus on your pet’s general health. Unlike a visit related to a wound or illness where the exam is focus on a specific problem, the annual exam is a time to focus on things that impact your pet’s general health. This includes an overall physical exam, discussing diet and parasite prevention, and reviewing your pet’s routine. We are looking for early clues of developing disease such as changes in food and water consumption, urination and mobility.
Pet owners are most familiar with the benefits of the physical exam. It’s easy to visualize tartar accumulation, lameness or a lump. Unfortunately, many of the early signs of illness are not detectable simply via the physical exam. Therefore, screening diagnostics, most typically lab work, is recommended.
While the cost of lab work may seem excessive for a pet that appears healthy and normal, the statistics tell another story. Eighteen percent of middle-aged and older cats and twenty-three percent of senior dogs that appear healthy on physical exam have underlying disease. Additionally, five percent of young pets that appear healthy have some underlying disease. The longer this disease goes unattended, the more advanced it is when detected and the more limited the options for successful treatment.
Blood testing is also routinely recommended for pets that are on medications for the treatment of ongoing health issues such as arthritis, allergies and hormonal abnormalities. Regular medication use frequently results in a better quality of life but is not always tolerated by your pet’s body. Again, early detection of changes in organ function provides for a better overall management of the problem.
So, let’s take the mystery out of the disease screening lab work that is most frequently recommended as part of a pet’s annual exam.
The typical screening tests look at for anemia, infection and inflammation, kidney disease, liver disease and diabetes. Screening for thyroid function is also included when appropriate.
The Complete Blood Count (CBC) looks at red and white blood cell levels. Red blood cells (RBC) are critical in carrying oxygen to the tissue and removing carbon dioxide. Anemia is present when the red blood cell numbers are too low to effectively carry out this function. Determining the cause of anemia and correcting it is critical to good health.
White blood cells (WBC) play a major role in the immune system. Knowing a pet’s baseline level (their normal healthy level) is critical for interpreting changes when they are dealing with an infection or inflammation noted by elevated levels.
Kidney function is screened by evaluating the Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) and Creatinine. If elevated, evaluation of a urine sample is frequently recommended to provide further input into kidney function.
Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT) and Alkaline Phosphatase (Alk Phos) are used to evaluate liver function. Elevations of ALT can be related to liver damage or disease. Elevations of the Alk Phos can indicate liver swelling or decreased bile flow. An elevated Alk Phos can also be seen with certain bone diseases including arthritis.
Blood glucose levels are most typically used to assess for diabetes. A slightly elevated level may only be an indicator of stress (particularly in the cat) whereas a high level is more indicative of diabetes. When an elevated blood level is noted, the urine is checked for glucose as well to help differentiate stress increases from diabetes increases.
Thyroid function is typically screened by measuring T4 levels. In dogs, hypothyroidism is the most detected condition whereas in cat hyperthyroidism is most common. In some dogs, the screening test is not conclusive so additional testing is necessary.
Similar to the clarity produced when more pieces of a puzzle come together, lab results are added to the data gathered during the annual exam to give us a better picture of your pet’s overall health. Our hope is that all the evidence points to a health patient, but when that is not case, it allows us to make recommendations aimed at addressing any health issues that are detected. These recommendations may include diet changes, lifestyle modifications, further diagnostics and/or the use or discontinuation of medications.
Lab values are quite dynamic and change as your pet’s health changes. Because pets age more quickly than humans do, we typically recommend lab work every other year for our younger patients and yearly for our older patients and/or those on chronic medications or those having existing medical conditions. Monitoring lab values allows us to monitor organ function over time and help us to make better recommendations to maximize your pet’s health.
Providing you and your pet with the best health care recommendations are the driving force behind Kulshan Veterinary Hospital’s preventative health care program. We know that your pet is an important member of your family and want to help you provide it with a long and healthy life.
The doctors and staff of Kulshan Veterinary Hospital look forward to serving you and your pet for a long time and welcome questions about their overall health and lab work at their next annual exam.