Maximizing Veterinary Preventive Care: The Essential Role of Routine Diagnostics

As a veterinarian, you can't ask your patients how they're feeling or what symptoms they're experiencing—and although many owners are attuned to their pets, animals frequently do not exhibit signs when they're ill. Therefore, you must use other tools to detect your patients' health conditions.

In the past, veterinarians and pet owners have relied on vaccines and parasite preventives as the mainstays of veterinary preventive care, but annual or biannual wellness examinations and diagnostic screening tests are also critical. These protocols can benefit your patients, your clients, and your practice.

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5 Veterinary Diagnostic Tests You Should Be Running

While a thorough wellness exam is helpful in detecting many health problems, many diseases are only revealed through diagnostic tests. The following wellness tests can benefit every veterinary patient:

  1. Complete blood count (CBC) with reticulocyte parameters. Evaluating a patient's red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets can help assess their overall health, and including reticulocyte parameters in these reports can detect many issues in their early stages. Newly released reticulocytes reflect an animal's current condition, and they are excellent early indicators for conditions such as blood loss or inflammation before anemia develops.
  2. Biochemistry with SDMA. Symmetric dimethylarginine a critical biomarker for assessing kidney function in seemingly healthy patients. When the glomerular filtration rate declines, SDMA increases on average with 40% and as little as 25% kidney function loss. In contrast, creatinine does not increase until up to 75% kidney function loss. Including SDMA as part of a routine part of kidney health evaluation (along with creatinine and urea) can lead to early detection of kidney decline and have a positive impact for all patients, whether they're sick, well, juvenile, or geriatric.
  3. Complete urinalysis. In a study evaluating 3,177 fresh urine samples of reportedly healthy pets, 1 in 3 patients had one abnormal finding that warranted further workup, and 1 in 10 patients had two or more abnormal findings. This highlights why a complete urinalysis, alongside a biochemistry panel, should be included in a wellness screening examination for a more complete evaluation and interpretation of results.
  4. Fecal antigen testing. Testing for antigens—rather than looking for eggs in the patient's fecal sample—can identify parasitic infections before egg shedding, avoid false-negative results caused by intermittent egg shedding, and detect parasites when eggs are not present in the fecal specimen.
  5. Vector-borne pathogen testing. Testing annually for vector-borne diseases, such as heartworm disease, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis, and treating appropriately can help prevent disease spread and improve an affected animal's prognosis.

Senior and geriatric pets are at higher risk for thyroid disease than their younger counterparts, and they can benefit from thyroid panels to help detect and manage these conditions.

Benefits of Wellness Diagnostics

Regular exams and diagnostic tests are important for nearly every aspect of your veterinary business. Implementing diagnostic testing in your veterinary preventive care protocols will benefit:

  • Your patients: Preventive care diagnostics are clinically relevant for pets of all ages. A recent study by IDEXX evaluating wellness profiles (consisting of chemistry panel including SDMA, complete blood count, urinalysis and TT4 {in cats 7+ years of age}) found clinically relevant abnormalities across all life stages. Specifically, in young adult dogs and cats the study showed relevant abnormalities in 1 in 7 dogs and 1 in 5 cats (aged 1 to < 4 years and 1 to < 7 years respectively); for adult pets, 1 out of 5 apparently healthy mature adult dogs (aged 4 to < 9 years) and in 1 in 3 mature adult cats (aged 7 to < 10 years); and for senior pets, 2 in 5 senior dogs ( ≥ 9 years) and 3 in 5 senior cats (≥ 10 years).

  • Your clients: According to a survey by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute, 98% of pet owners consider their pet to be a family member. They want to be involved in their pet's medical care and overall wellness. Diagnostic testing can help educate your clients about health conditions possibly affecting their pets, improving their beloved companions' well-being and longevity.

  • Your practice: When your clients understand diagnostic testing's value, they are more likely to schedule regular wellness examinations, establishing client loyalty and the ability to provide their pets with individualized care. In turn, this loyalty and regular testing helps improve your practice's profitability.

Make a plan to implement wellness diagnostic guidelines in your practice to ensure your patients are receiving the care they need and deserve. Start by determining what your protocols should be and what they will cost to the pet owner. From there you can lean on your team to start educating pet owners on what to expect for costs and the value of the tests in the care of their pets.

Offering Better Care

Every pet who enters your practice—whether healthy or sick, young or old—can benefit from wellness diagnostics. To help improve compliance, be willing to adjust your protocols and pricing strategies as needed once you implement your plan. That is how you can offer peace of mind to your clients and better care to your patients.

Angela Beal

Angela Beal is a veterinarian in Columbus, Ohio who loves using her writing to help veterinarians live more fulfilling lives by helping make practice life more efficient and less stressful. Angela has a background in private practice and academia, and since 2020, she has worked full-time with Rumpus Writing and Editing, a veterinary-specific writing and editing company. Rumpus’ clients include veterinary practices and industry partners, including marketing companies, national corporations, consultants, and several international businesses. Learn more at The views and opinions in this piece are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of either The Vetiverse or IDEXX.

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