Dear Daisy Dog
My veterinarian recommends annual wellness lab work, including a heartworm test, for my 10-year-old dog. Since my dog takes her heartworm medication every month throughout the year, is an annual heartworm test necessary? Is the full wellness lab panel, which is costly, really needed every year?
You asked tough questions, so Mom called in a specialist.
She contacted Dr. Nancy Kay, a board-certified veterinarian who wrote the book "Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life."
Dr. Kay offers practical, easily understood information to help dog lovers navigate the sometimes overwhelming, confusing, expensive world of veterinary medicine.
She recommends yearly heartworm testing wherever heartworm disease is common, such as the southeastern U.S. However, she feels that annual testing of dogs receiving monthly heartworm preventive isn’t necessary in regions where the prevalence is low.
Of course, no medication is 100 percent effective in all patients, even the monthly heartworm preventives. Because of this problem, the American Heartworm Society (www.heartwormsociety.org) recommends annual retesting. Thus, your veterinarian’s advice about annual testing is in line with theirs.
Dr. Kay notes that annual blood and urine testing can uncover medical problems that might otherwise go unnoticed, even with a physical examination.
For example, she says, “It’s a no-brainer that the earlier cancer is detected, the better the outcome.”
The same is true for other diseases that are often identified only through lab work, including kidney and liver disorders.
For details of a study in which over 20 percent of apparently healthy dogs over seven years of age had abnormal lab results, see http://www.askthevetspets.com/d2007-04.asp.
Talk with your veterinarian about the costs versus benefits of annual lab testing for your dog.
For tips on conferring with your veterinarian about your dog’s health, see Dr. Kay’s website, www.speakingforspot.com.