Wellness Tests

By: Dr. Warren Riggle

Dogs and cats are living longer and healthier lives thanks to regular physical exams and wellness blood tests. Wellness blood and urine tests are a thorough way of assessing your pet’s general health. Dogs and cats cannot tell their family or their veterinarian the subtle signs of illness that humans express. When dogs and cats begin to show outward signs of illness, the health concerns are often so advanced that they are no longer treatable. “Survival of the fittest” is Mother Nature’s rule. If an animal is out in the wild acting sick, they will not survive for very long because a predator will attack them. For that reason, in most cases your pet will not show any signs of concern until they are very ill and suffering terribly.

Dr. Riggle's beloved Autumn who lived a long life thanks to wellness testing.

The first time wellness blood tests are run, we are able to establish a baseline for your pet. Repeating the tests yearly allows us to see trends and concerns while they are often still treatable. The chemistry profile we run has 25 tests that evaluate the glucose, kidneys, protein, liver, fat, electrolytes, muscle enzyme, and pancreas. The complete blood count evaluates the red blood cell count, white blood cell count, types of white cells, and platelets (involved with clotting). A heartworm, urinalysis, and thyroid test are included and additional tests can be added as needed, such as feline leukemia, feline immunodeficiency, and further clotting evaluation. 

I learned how helpful wellness tests are early in my veterinary career with my own Golden Retriever puppy. Autumn was really cute, happy, and full of energy.  When I ran the wellness tests for her around four months of age, I found her BUN (Blood Urea Notrogen) and creatinine, which are tests to evaluate the kidneys, were mildly elevated. When Autumn was having her ovariohysterectomy two months later, I biopsied her kidneys. The biopsy report showed she had a congenital kidney problem. Autumn’s kidneys were not functioning normally. The wellness tests allowed me to discover she had poor kidney function. Although this was not good news, it was much better to discover this early in her life when she could receive the needed treatment to keep her feeling good and to lengthen her life. With careful monitoring, a kidney diet, and medication as needed, we were very blessed to have Autumn as a special member of our family for 11 ½ years. 

Dr. Riggle's children, pictured years ago, with Autumn and other family pets.

There is so much that can be learned from the wellness tests:

  • Albumin: If this is low it can indicate a problem with the intestines absorbing protein into the blood stream, the liver processing protein or the kidneys losing too much protein.
  • Globulin: Can indicate a concern for inflammation or even certain types of cancer.
  • BUN, Creatinine, and Phosphorus: Evaluates the kidneys. These tests are very important for identifying early problems with kidneys, which can be managed to extend the length and quality of your pet’s life as in my dog, Autumn.
  • ALT, AST, Alkaline phosphatase, GGT, and total bilirubin: Help to evaluate the liver.
  • There are many things that can cause the electrolytes sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium to be high or low. An example is a hormonal disease Addison’s Disease (lack of adrenal hormones) that often shows high potassium and low sodium. This is a very treatable problem, yet is life threatening if untreated. 
  • When triglycerides and/or cholesterol are outside of the normal range, there are several reasons this can be happening. Glucose is very elevated with Diabetes Mellitus, which is treatable with insulin injections.
  • Amylase and lipase: Helps to evaluate the pancreas.
  • CPK: A muscle enzyme that, when elevated, indicates muscle inflammation
  • Evaluation of the number and types of white cells (neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils) is very helpful for understanding a wide variety of health concerns. Anemia (a decrease in red blood cells) is a fairly common finding. Evaluation of the shape, size and type of red blood cells helps to determine the cause of anemia, which includes blood loss, lack of red cell production, or red cell destruction by the immune system.                                               
  • Urinalysis provides helpful information about the urinary system.
  • Low and high thyroid readings are common in both cats and dogs, and both problems are treatable. 
  • Heartworms are a very serious problem and can be prevented with appropriate medication. 

Since a year in your pet’s life is equivalent to 4-5 years of a human life, wellness tests with your dog and cat’s annual exam can be helpful to prevent or slow down health concerns your pet may develop over their lifetime. As your pet ages, he or she may benefit from twice a year exams and blood work to monitor on-going problems. Your veterinarian at Animal Hospital of North Asheville will be glad to discuss specific recommendations for your pet to help them to have a long, healthy life.