Preventive Care: Establishing the Importance for New Pet Owners

Routine preventive care that includes blood work and urinalysis is critical to understand the health of our patients who cannot describe their symptoms, feelings, and worries. This is why it's extremely important to begin preventive care conversations with new pet owners from day one. Here's how.

Set Clear Expectations with Pet Owners

Set new pet owners' expectations early through clear and consistent communication. The first visit with new puppies or kittens is the best time to start this conversation, so owners know right from the start what they should be doing to keep their pets healthy and up to date on vaccinations, preventives, and routine screening. Explain how you'll be recommending regular blood work at yearly wellness exams to establish and maintain a diagnostic baseline for the pet. More on that below.

Recognize and Share the Value of a Minimum Database

Many veterinarians, especially those new to the field, find it hard to recommend a battery of tests that can amount to hundreds of dollars charged to the client for a seemingly healthy pet. But, when you recognize the valuable information that comes from them, it will be easier to convince your clients to agree to an annual minimum database for their pets no matter their age.

  Elevate patient care without overwhelming staff. Learn how.​

Plus, it's not prudent to wait until a pet is mature or geriatric before recommending annual minimum databases (including a complete blood count, chemistry, and urinalysis). While it may end up costing a pet owner more over the life of the pet, setting the expectation early for what preventive screening costs may help owners plan financially each year. Even more importantly, when started early in life, routine screening can provide a baseline for the interpretation of changes over time.

Finally, there are certainly congenital diseases that can be easily identified—and sometimes, corrected—by diligent screening early in life. This can include abnormalities, such as portosystemic shunts, as well as more rare conditions, such as congenital hypothyroidism.

Use Data to Explain How Starting Early Can Reduce Risk

New data by IDEXX suggests that 1 in 7 dogs aged 1-3 years have clinically relevant abnormalities on their minimum database. And by the time these dogs are 8 years old, that statistic rises to 1 in 5, and by 10 years old, it's nearly a third. For cats, these numbers are even higher, with 15-20% of cats having clinically relevant abnormalities in their younger years (ages 1-6), rising to nearly one-third by age 8-9 and approximately half by 12 years of age.

Because these abnormalities rise as pets age, it makes it all the more important to have early baseline values to compare to and help monitor trends over time. We can all remember a case of the old cat who comes in azotemic but has no previous kidney values to consult, leaving us wondering whether this is acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, or acute-on-chronic disease. Thus, the value of getting an early baseline is critical in determining a course of action.

Finding Support

To help with the specifics, American Veterinary Medical Association and American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has written guidelines recommending the minimum database of routine testing to be done in healthy pets, with indications for which tests should be done at which life stages. If you're worried about the costs incurred by new pet owners, check out the AAHA who have collaborated to create monthly payment preventive healthcare plans for private practices. Starting early with new pet owners, encourage trust in the utility of this baseline screening and you'll see the benefits of early diagnosis and intervention.​  Elevate patient care without overwhelming staff. Learn how.​

Erin Lashnits

Dr. Lashnits is a clinical assistant professor in small-animal internal medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine. She received her MS in biology from Stanford University, DVM from Cornell University, and PhD in comparative biomedical sciences from North Carolina State University. She spent a few years in general practice and emergency medicine before completing her internal medicine residency at NC State University. Dr. Lashnits’s current research focuses on the epidemiology of zoonotic vector-borne diseases and other infectious diseases affecting underserved veterinary populations in a One Health context. 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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