By Dr John Rand, D.V.M.
Most people understand the need to check their pets’ lab work when they are ill, but understanding the benefits of regular lab work for their dog, cat, bird might not always be so intuitive. You bring your pets to the veterinarian for their yearly check up. After a thorough physical exam, your doctor may give them a clean bill of health, yet he or she still recommends to check some lab work. Why?
Lab work checks for aspects of your pets’ health that we cannot see, hear, feel, smell or otherwise detect during a physical exam. We would all like to believe that our new (or old) dog or cat is as healthy as he or she may act, but many animals have congenital or hereditary disorders that they may not show outward signs of for some time. In fact, most animals will mask significant diseases for a very long time until a point where they can no longer compensate. By that time, though, the disease in question is often so far progressed that it may be impossible to treat. Early detection of disease – any disease – gives the best prognosis and chance for a cure.
General health screens usually include a blood sample to check the complete blood count, serum chemistry (for liver, kidney, pancreatic disease), heart worm status, tick-borne disease, and retroviral disease; and a stool sample to check for GI health and for parasites they may be carrying. More specific tests for certain ages, breeds, or predispositions can include checks for bleeding disorders, thyroid diseases, and urinary tract health.
So, you take your veterinarian’s recommendation and have a test run. He or she will call you within the following day or so with hopefully good news that everything came back normal. Was the money spent for naught? ABSOLUTELY NOT.
No one can predict when an emergency will happen. Falling off a couch, dog or cat fights, running into traffic, getting into the medicine cabinet, opportunistic bacterial or fungal infections, etc. Situations like these can require anything from sedation, to general anesthesia and surgery, or long term antimicrobial therapy. Having prior knowledge of your pets’ internal health status allows us to make more informed and safer decisions on procedures, medications, fluids, and monitoring.
You did the lab work last year. Why check it again? Four years, seven years, ten years to every human one – whichever number you like to throw around, we all agree pets age much more quickly than we do. Of course, normal lab work is great news. Any number of lab values may be within their reference range today. However, having the ability to look back to notice that a value has steadily changed over the year to where it is now gives us the perspective and context of its significance. This ability to have a baseline and spot trends early on in the course of a disease is what will help to prevent or stave off illness and improve their quality of life. Checking lab work when your pets are healthy helps us to keep them that way.
The Animal Clinic
3300 Tamiami Trail Suite 103
Port Charlotte, FL 33952