Thursday, April 19, 2012

What's With All These Tests?

I've heard many pet owners lament at various tests their veterinarian wants to run, especially when their pet isn't visibly ill.  I think owners shrink from asking too many questions on what each test is for and why, and they leave feeling uninformed and feeling a little like "they are just trying to get more money".  I can't blame them for feeling that way, if a doctor doesn't explain the 'whys' and/or the owner doesn't ask them.

I promise you, your veterinarian and their staff aren't trying to suck more money out of you.  Everyone entered this field due to love for animals.  If your doctor senses you are open to "more" tests, it's because you seem super committed to your pet's health and they'll recommend everything that *they* would do.  There are no 'secret tests' held to the side for owners willing to spend more money.  

There are a lot of tests out there (thankfully), but there are some basic tests your DVM will want to run when your animal is in good health.  There are key reasons to agree to these tests:
  1. Animals can't talk.  They can't tell us when they are sick.  Plus, they hide it well, especially cats.
  2. Establish a good base line.  If you only test organ function in your animal when they are sick, where were they a year ago?  For example: how progressive is this illness, and how will the doctor know that without history?
  3. Be proactive.  Don't wait for them to become sick, monitor their bodies yearly.
  4. Animals age differently than us.  Remember, your 4 year old dog isn't "4".  If it's a large breed, they are sometimes considered seniors at age 5, while most dogs are at age 7.
  5.  Prevention is cheaper and smarter. If you think a $100-$200 bucks once a year is expensive, wait until they are truly sick. 
Pretty much all clinics offer "packages" to help reduce the overall cost and run more tests.  If your animal is older, typically your doc wants to run a "senior profile".  While I have seen varying tests included in the various packages, here are some basics:

  1.  CBC.  This stands for Complete Blood Cell Count.  Within this test, your animals blood is being evaluated.  Primarily they are looking at red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.  This is absolutely essential to look at prior to any procedures.  This will (to name a few) rule out anemia, infections, and clotting disorders.
  2. Heartworm.  This test is a separate test, and it naturally rules out if your animal has heartworm.  Never be quick to assume your pet doesn't need one because you don't see mosquitoes.  Perhaps their mom was positive when she was pregnant!
  3. Chemistry panel.  This is where we are looking at the enzymes in your dog's blood.  Organs like the kidney and liver produce enzymes, which are found in the blood stream in certain levels.  Changes in those levels can indicate the health of vital organs in the body.  Included in this test is blood glucose levels which rules out diabetes.  If your pet is on medication, this is key to ensure the liver and kidneys are handling the stress certain drugs can place on them.
  4. Thyroid.  This test is extremely important in cats and in older dogs especially.  Older dogs are at risk of developing hypothyroidism, which is a very treatable condition but extremely important to rule out, especially in older dogs with weight gain and changes in their hair coat quality.
  5. UA.  Urine analysis.  I think people don't realize how much you can learn from examining your pets urine!  While this can rule out things like crystal formation in the urine, it also speaks novels to kidney function, and we can learn more about that function than just by enzyme levels alone.
  6. Fecal.  While most owners feel confident their dogs don't have "worms" because they visibly inspect their dogs output, there are critters you can't see.  Giardia, a protozoa, cannot be seen with the naked eye and many animals can be asymptomatic.  
Never be too shy to ask why.  These are very basic tests, and sadly yes, they are all separate tests.  I merely touched on very basic, simplified things these tests can reveal, in the hope that owners can better understand why they are all important.  Your veterinarian will walk you through when they think these tests are necessary, based on the age and health of your pet.  Your doctor understands how all these tests together reveal how your animal's body is working in concert.

When your doctor says "I'd like to run..." I know your purse will flinch at those words, but listen to them.  Prevention is the goal, and prevention is cheaper than waiting for our beloved animals to become sick.  I sense a lot of owners are already stressed a little bit even being there, and even the exam costs can seem like a lot.  When you're already feeling overwhelmed, it's quick to shut your mind off and say no.  Ask your veterinarian what each test is for, and if you're so inclined, as them to review the results with you in greater detail.  You'll walk away feeling like the "Owner of the year" when you realize what a great thing you are doing for them by being proactive.

-Shannon Murphy

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