What is wellness testing?
Wellness testing is a program of check-ups and blood tests designed to detect early or hidden disease in pets that appear to be healthy. In older dogs, it is also used to monitor stable, but ongoing health problems.
Why should I do wellness testing?
Dogs are very good at masking illness and disease that may be present. If a disease can be detected early on, before a pet shows signs of illness, then steps can often be taken to manage or correct the problem before permanent damage occurs. Wellness testing is particularly important in senior (and geriatric) dogs, since there is a greater chance that an older animal will develop disease or have an ongoing but stable condition that needs to be monitored.
When is wellness testing done?
Wellness testing should be done on a regular basis. Many pet owners combine wellness testing with their dog’s annual visit to the veterinarian for physical examination, vaccination, and heartworm testing. Your veterinarian may recommend more frequent testing depending on your dog's age or specific health concerns. Monitoring your older dog's health on a regular basis makes it easier for your veterinarian to detect minor changes that signal the onset of disease or deterioration of an existing condition.
What is involved in wellness testing?
There are four main categories of wellness testing for senior dogs: complete blood count (CBC), biochemistry profile, urinalysis, and thyroid hormone testing. Comprehensive testing is recommended for senior dogs, due to the higher risk of underlying disease.
Complete Blood Count (CBC). This blood test gives information about the different cell types in the blood. These include red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues; white blood cells, which fight infection and respond to inflammation; and platelets, which help the blood to clot. The CBC provides details about the number, size, and shape of the various cell types, and identifies the presence of any abnormal cells. It is a routine test used in all stages of health and illness and can indicate the presence of many forms of disease (for more information, see handout “Complete Blood Count”).
Biochemistry Profile. This is a panel of tests that provides information about the organs and tissues of the body, and helps to detect diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, and other disorders (for more information, see handout “Serum Biochemistry”). If minor abnormalities are found on the biochemistry profile, your veterinarian may suggest that the tests be repeated in a few days, weeks, or months. If the abnormalities are more serious a more extensive diagnostic workup may be recommended, including an expanded biochemistry profile, blood pressure assessment, and imaging tests including radiographs (X-rays) or ultrasound.
Urinalysis. Urinalysis is a routine test that reports the physical and chemical properties of a pet’s urine (for more information, see handout “Urinalysis”). Urinalysis provides information about how well the kidneys are working and identifies inflammation and infection in the urinary system. It can also help to detect diabetes and can be useful in the diagnosis of cancer within the urinary system. Urinalysis is part of a complete assessment of the kidneys and urinary system and should be included in routine wellness testing. It is particularly important for senior and geriatric dogs because of the higher occurrence of kidney disease in older dogs.
Thyroid Testing. The thyroid gland acts like a thermostat and sets the metabolic rate of the whole body (for more information, see handout “Thyroid Hormone Testing in Dogs”). The most common thyroid disease in the dog is hypothyroidism, which occurs when the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. Hormone levels should be tested routinely in older dogs, especially if there is unexplained weight gain, lack of energy, recurring skin or ear infections, or hair loss on the body and tail.
Wellness testing is a simple and effective way of monitoring your older dog's health. Early detection and correction of medical problems help to ensure that your pet will be healthy and active for as long as possible.