I am often asked about annual blood work. Questions range from, “I'm here for a wellness exam. Why should I have it done when my pet is healthy?” to, “Is this just a way for vets to make more money?” My answer is usually the same. “Let me tell you about Bayta.”
My first cat, Bayta, would panic any time we entered a veterinarian's office. In 2003 when she was 15, veterinarians were starting to recommend annual blood work for senior pets. At her wellness exam I decided to have it done. After all, with my luck, if I didn't she would be sick in another week and we'd have to go through this ordeal again. I received the heartbreaking news that she was in renal failure. Also referred to as chronic kidney disease (CKD), the tests showed we were catching it early. I changed her diet, followed the doctor's orders, and we were able to slow the progression. She lived another 3+ years.
I lost my sweet girl when she was 18 ½. I didn't know until after she passed that the average life expectancy at the time she was diagnosed was 285 days. Less than 1 year. Because I had blood work done at her wellness, her veterinarian was able to diagnose the problem early, before she even had symptoms. I had more time with Bayta and she had a higher quality of life than she would have had without the early diagnosis.
Tests and Treatments
Veterinary medicine is always improving. From the tests we are able to perform to the medications and treatments, advances have been dramatic. This year Savannah was diagnosed in early stage CKD. Her test results are vastly different from Bayta's because of the new SDMA component in our tests and having a comparison with previous years' results.
Savannah has been diagnosed much earlier than Bayta was. This is important because Savannah does not like any change of her food. I am already transitioning her to a renal friendly diet. She is eating it. If I did not find out about her kidney problems until she was not feeling well, it would be almost impossible to change her food. Instead we are already taking steps to slow the progression of this incurable disease.
Blood work results from a healthy pet provide us with a baseline. We are able to compare the values in the future and track subtle changes. These changes can aide in the early detection of disease. It is typically less expensive to treat a problem that is detected early. More importantly, an early diagnosis almost always leads to a better outcome.
The blood work we recommend for most adult pets includes information on several systems. A complete blood count screens for anemia, inflammation, infection, stress, leukemia, bleeding problems, hydration, and your pet's ability to fight infection. The blood chemistry will provide information on various vital organs. It will tell us if the heart and lungs are functioning normally, the pancreas and intestines are working properly, the liver and gallbladder are removing toxins from the blood and are healthy, and the kidneys are filtering waste properly. In older pets we usually recommend adding a check for the thyroid and running an urinalysis. The additional information provided by these tests will assist the veterinarian in early detection of some common diseases frequently seen in older pets.
Are you still wondering if annual blood work is worth it? After having Bayta for two and a half good years past the average life expectancy of her diagnosis, there is no doubt in my mind. My question for you is, how much is a longer, higher quality of life with your pet worth?
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