I recently went to a talk about preventative care blood testing and it really opened my eyes. I, like many other veterinarians, have a mild guilt complex about selling preventative services beyond the critically important – exams, life-saving vaccines and other disease prevention (heartworm, etc.) – to a patient that appears healthy on physical exam. I routinely offer the “best of the best” treatment options but I also offer practical (more affordable) options.
Overwhelming data was presented at this talk that tells me we should be doing more preventative care screening blood work – a lot more. The numbers were based off tens of thousands of laboratory results on animals of all ages and what they found, to me, was stunning: 1 in 9 “young, healthy” veterinary patients under the age of 7 had at least three significant abnormalities on routine screening chemistry panels and many of these required further investigation. This does not include things like heartworm positives, just chemistries looking at organ systems – liver, kidneys, GI, etc. There was a much higher percentage of senior patients that met the same criteria. Furthermore, this data doesn’t even look at complete blood count lab work which can tell us about infection, parasitism, and anemia, among other things.
What this tells me is we’re missing stuff, often for years, if we’re not doing routine blood work screenings. If you bring your young, healthy critter in to see me, will I insist you do blood work? No, but I’ll encourage it. At $70 for a young wellness panel on a dog or a cat, we can get invaluable early warning or a lot of piece-of-mind for a pretty darn reasonable price.
Additionally, doing regular screening allows us to track trends and start intervening before we have significant organ failure. My own cat, Loxy, at the age of 10, had steadily rising kidney and thyroid values. They weren’t out of the normal range but they had been going up for years. So, I started her on a renal diet, increased her water intake as best I could and have continued monitoring. At 18, her values still aren’t remarkably out of the normal range and I like to think that early intervention staved off what could have been much worse by this point.
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Liza Pfaff, DVM, PhD