Test is Not a Four Letter Word
For pets, regular tests can be real lifesavers
For most pet owners, dogs and cats are more than just animals. They offer comfort during life’s challenges, friendship during the good times, and almost always serve as a reminder to enjoy the simple things in life. And over the years—perhaps most importantly—pets become family.
This special connection that develops between pets and their owners often means that it can be devastating when a pet is diagnosed with a serious illness. Fortunately, diagnostic testing offers you and your veterinarian a way to identify potential health problems early, intervene to treat the illness, and, hopefully, prolong your pet’s happy life.
Why Is Regular Testing Important?
Much like the “check engine” light in your car, diagnostic tests serve as an important signal to your veterinarian that a pet may suffer from an underlying health problem that isn’t clearly visible by physical examination alone. It’s important for dogs and cats, especially as they age, to get regular diagnostic testing as part of their annual wellness exams.
Diagnostic tests play a crucial role in early detection of illnesses. The sooner a problem is found, the sooner your veterinarian can begin work to develop a treatment plan. This early intervention will not only improve the likelihood of a better outcome, but it will also improve your pet’s quality of life and cut down on treatment expenses.
Which Pets Should Be Tested?
The most obvious group of pets that need diagnostic testing is dogs and cats that seem sick or just aren’t acting like themselves. For these pets, it’s essential that your veterinarian conduct a complete diagnostic workup as soon as possible.
However, this isn’t the only group that can benefit from diagnostic testing. It’s also important to regularly test healthy pets. Some illnesses cannot be detected through physical examination alone, and a sick cat or dog may not exhibit any noticeable symptoms.
In addition, regular diagnostic testing allows veterinarians to establish what is considered normal for your individual pet. While each test comes with a normal range of scores, these ranges do not always take into account specific breed, size, age, or past health history. The best way to determine whether your pet is sick is your pet’s own baseline score when he or she is healthy.
For example, hematocrit is a red blood cell test used to detect anemia in animals. Imagine your dog has consistent hematocrit scores year after year. Then, one year, the results suddenly take a significant drop. This could signal a problem even if the most recent score is still within the test’s normal range.
Establishing baseline test results and getting diagnostic testing in general becomes more important as dogs and cats age. Pets 7 years old and older should receive diagnostic testing annually to help identify any potential health problems. In addition to the regular round of diagnostic testing, these pets may benefit from additional testing. Your veterinarian will be able to customize a program suited to your pet’s age and breed.
What Tests Are Needed?
Most veterinarians recommend several tests to establish the health of your pet. A complete blood count is a solid way to assess your dog or cat’s overall health. This test looks at red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, and it can help identify signs of infection or anemia.
Some illnesses cannot be detected through physical examinations alone, and a sick cat or dog may not exhibit any noticeable symptoms.
A biochemical profile is another essential diagnostic tool that looks at how effectively organs, such as the kidneys and the pancreas, are functioning. The profile also helps veterinarians examine factors such as blood glucose level and the amount of calcium and phosphorous in the body. This data can be invaluable, as high levels of glucose can indicate diabetes, while high calcium levels have been linked to certain types of cancer. This can allow for early disease detection, which makes it easier for the veterinarian to treat the hidden problem.
Veterinarians also conduct an electrolyte panel, which studies sodium, potassium, and chloride levels in your pet. Electrolytes are a key part of nerve and muscle function. This test can also help determine if there are any problems with the blood’s ph level, which can be another sign that a pet is ill.
Even your pet’s waste offers valuable information. One crucial test is the urinalysis, which looks at your pet’s urine. A urinalysis is often necessary to help interpret blood test results, and it can help identify possible health problems. Fecal exams, which analyze your pet’s stool, should be performed at least once a year to help your veterinarian identify whether your dog or cat is harboring parasites that could affect your pet—and even your other family members. Depending on where you live—and where your pets play—more testing for both internal and external parasites may be warranted.
Other tests relate to your pet’s lifestyle. For example, it’s especially important for cats that go outdoors to be tested for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus.
Senior pets need a few more tests. As pets age, they are more at risk for developing illnesses and health complications. Diagnostic testing provides a way to identify these potential concerns before it’s too late. When your pet is 7 years old or older, your veterinarian will suggest yearly testing to stay ahead of any health problems. Here are some recommendations for senior pets:
- Thyroid testing: Senior cats are prone to elevated thyroid activity (hyperthyroidism), while dogs may have decreased thyroid activity (hypothyroid). Both diseases are easily treated. Adding a thyroid test, also known as a total T4, to the diagnostic workup can help veterinarians ensure they’re starting treatment as early as possible.
- Kidney concerns: Kidney damage is a serious and often fatal condition for senior pets, especially in cats. To prevent and detect possible kidney damage early, a urine protein-creatinine ratio test should also be added to your senior pet’s testing regimen.
- Annual testing: Senior pets—really, all pets—need a complete diagnostic workup each year to prevent and identify life-threatening illnesses. So be sure your mature cats and dogs see the veterinarian every year to get the care and attention they deserve.
A Healthy Outcome
After all these diagnostic tests are completed, your veterinarian hopes that nothing is found. Why? Because that means your pet is healthy. And that’s the most vital test for cats and dogs to pass, year after year.