The Importance of Blood Tests
Charlie lays here in my living room…intravenous catheter in place and he’s wearing “the cone.” A last minute addition to my weekend on a problem I have been trying to figure out for the past week. Because I am a veterinarian, I’m lucky that I can care for him at home in this manner. I wonder how many other people would have noted Charlie’s problem but not realized that it goes deeper.
It was late on Monday night last week when I had Charlie outside for his bedtime bathroom break. Having a senior pet and having been through a lot in the past year, I am checking over my pets a few times a week but only in the sense of a quick check over. So how could I have missed a slight swelling of Charlie’s privates and inguinal lymph nodes? It was an incredibly subtle finding and Charlie has been acting completely normal – eating his food, acting playful, going to the bathroom normally.
The following day I got some blood tests done (just 4 months after his last check) and the results came back with changes in his kidneys & liver values. The liver enzymes were not surprising given the biopsy I had previously gotten from Charlie but the kidney values were borderline consistent with kidney disease (often referred to as failure). We checked a urinalysis and started him on some antibiotics in case of pyelonephritis (kidney infection) even though it wouldn’t cause the noted swelling. Three days later (on the Saturday), I rechecked his blood and the kidney values had gotten worse despite Charlie still acting normal.
Why is this important?? No, I haven’t figured out what is going on with Charlie yet and I do have my fears for something more sinister. As veterinarians, we recommend annual wellness blood testing on your pets, particularly those in their senior years. There is only one reason we do this: to find diseases early and prevent your pet from suffering or getting sicker. A physical exam can only reveal so much. We use the finest medical machinery achievable as it is important to look for the best equipment for your laboratory so that testing is done to its highest possible level for the intended results.
In many cases, changes in organ function will show up on a blood test before you see anything at home. This is how health problems seem to happen so fast. In actuality, the problem has likely been brewing for awhile and your pet’s body has been compensating until it cannot keep up with hiding the illness. This is where Charlie is now – a mostly normal clinical normal patient with abnormal blood results. The longer a patient goes with subclinical disease, the more behind the 8-ball we get when you do see something and attempts to treat the problem are made.
I’m just like you – I LOVE my pets! And we don’t want anything to happen to them right? So when your veterinarian recommends wellness testing, think about it long & hard before you say “he seems healthy so we don’t need that.” We are only advocating for them and want you to be able to spend as much healthy time with them as possible.
Disclaimer: All blog posts are my own opinion and do not reflect that of my current or previous employers.