5 Animal Diseases You Can Detect Sooner With Preventive Care Screenings
Although veterinary medicine has made tremendous advancements in recent decades, basic preventive care for pets remains the best protection from life-altering diseases. Still, convincing pet owners to spend money on routine diagnostic screenings can feel like pulling teeth, as they may not understand or appreciate that their seemingly healthy pet could have a hidden disease or condition.
Detecting disease in dogs and cats earlier can significantly impact their treatment course and outcome. Annual or semiannual blood, urine, and fecal screening diagnostics provide an early path to detection of some conditions and may reveal subtle changes or trends months or years before pets develop the clinical disease signs that alert their owners or veterinary staff to a problem.
Diagnostics are crucial for detecting a wide spectrum of pet diseases, and the following five examples will help you illustrate their importance to pet owners and provide your team with the data they need to discuss pet wellness screenings.
Experts estimate that one million U.S. pets are infected with heartworms, although infection isn't always readily apparent. Dogs can develop clinical heart failure from heartworm-associated damage or life-threatening caval syndrome when heavy worm burdens physically block the heart valves. Cats can be asymptomatic, misdiagnosed as asthmatic, or die suddenly from heartworm complications.
The American Heartworm Society (AHS) recommends routine annual screening for heartworm infection in dogs older than 7 months. Antigen tests have proven largely reliable in detecting occult infections, and on the rare occasion that an infection is missed, then next year's test will likely be positive. To underscore the importance of annual screening with a heartworm or combined heartworm and tick-borne disease test, help pet owners understand the heartworm life cycle and the potential for serious damage when infections aren't treated.
The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) publishes diagnosis and treatment guidelines that include the use of fecal antigen testing which can detect infection when eggs may not be present.. In young or small pets, heavy parasite burdens can lead to anemia, weight loss, and, in severe cases, death. Infected adults may deal with intestinal inflammation and chronic vomiting or diarrhea, and every infected pet can potentially spread disease to other pets or people.
Infection risk is high for any pet who leaves the home, so the CAPC recommends testing fecal samples for puppies and kittens at least four times in their first year and testing adults twice yearly. Parasites must first be ruled out in pets with chronic intestinal disease, followed by frequent testing and deworming. Regular parasite screenings keep pets healthy and thriving, prevent potential spread, and protect human family members.
Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative Lyme disease agent, is endemic in black-legged tick species in multiple states across the West Coast, Northeast, and Midwest, although Lyme disease is found in all 50 states in varying degrees of seroprevalance rates. In heavily endemic areas, up to half of sampled tick nymphs and adults harbor the bacteria, leading to 1.4% to 13.3% canine seroprevalence rates. Although some develop an acute or chronic illness, most infected dogs develop an asymptomatic, subclinical infection that persists for several years, which is why annual screening is so imperative to identify and treat this disease early.
Protein-losing nephropathy (PLN)-related kidney failure and persistent polyarthritis are possible in pets who develop chronic Lyme disease, so although most pets don't develop clinically-significant disease, the few who do can be severely affected. Routine screening tests for Lyme disease and tick-borne coinfections are inexpensive and can alert the veterinary team to latent infection that requires additional testing. Lab abnormalities in Lyme-positive dogs necessitate treatment for Lyme or other tick coinfections.
Chronic Kidney Disease
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common problem in aging dogs and especially cats, but clinical signs don't develop until most kidney function is irreversibly lost. The International Renal Interest Society (IRIS) staging system provides guidelines for diagnosis and treatment strategies that vary according to the pet's disease stage and CKD-associated complications, such as hypertension or proteinuria.
CKD treatments for stages one and two focus on protecting and preserving remaining kidney function, which allows pets to live significantly longer than those diagnosed in stages three or four. Later-stage treatment shifts to addressing clinical signs and quality of life, because little kidney function is left to preserve. Detecting CKD in the earliest stages is therefore critical to successful treatment outcomes, but can be achieved only with routine screening diagnostics, including blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA), and urinalysis. Including SDMA in routine screening detects changes in GFR earlier than traditional biomarkers BUN and creatinine; still, SDMA along with creatinine, BUN, and urinalysis provide a more comprehensive picture of total kidney health than a single analyte alone.1,2,5
According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), hyperthyroidism is the most common endocrinopathy in cats, with up to 10% older than 10 years developing the disease. Interestingly, this condition was rarely recognized until the 1980s, but the incidence has steadily increased with no clear understanding of why. Fortunately, as researchers work to find the underlying causes, multiple treatment options for effective disease management have evolved.
Without early intervention, hyperthyroidism, associated hypertension, and metabolic disturbances in cats can lead to comorbid heart disease, kidney disease, retinal damage, or blindness. Adding T4 screening tests to routine senior cat blood work has greatly improved detection rates and enabled treatment before these complications develop, hugely impacting quality of life and longevity.
You can significantly extend your patients' lifespans, improve their quality of life, and successfully treat potentially serious diseases when you prioritize routine preventive care screening tests for all your patients. Use these five examples to help pet owners understand the importance of disease testing, and they may be more likely to agree with your recommendations.