Wellness: The Importance of Preventative Care

Poodle mix at VetI am always reminded of this difference between animals and humans when I take dental radiographs. We can see only what is above the gum line, but most dental disease happens under the gums. I can’t believe how a tail-wagging dog will come in as if nothing is wrong, but then we take radiographs and we can see tooth root abscesses. Now, anyone who has had a root canal will remember that excruciating and unbearable pain prior to the procedure. That pain was due to a tooth root abscess, the same thing that seemingly had no effect on that dog. It does though, just as much as us, but they handle it better.

Let’s face it; dogs are tougher than us. Animals have the same pain receptors that we do, but a higher tolerance, and they hide disease and pain better. The thought is if animals would show pain in the wild, they would be preyed upon, so they have evolved to hide the pain. Hiding pain and discomfort is true of so many diseases affecting our pets, which is why it is so critical to prevent disease rather than waiting to treat it.

Dogs are tough, but cats…they are unbelievable! The health of our feline patient is often compromised because cat owners are increasingly passing on preventative care. It has become a national problem. In a study completed in 2013,The Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study, along with the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), found that 52 percent of cats in the U.S. had not been taken to the veterinarian in the past year for necessary workups and only half as many cats receive annual exams as dogs. This is sad.

Instead of treating cats early in disease processes, many cats come in for their first diagnostics when the cats can’t hide it anymore and the owners see the signs. By this time the patient is often at an advanced stage and little can be done. Cats simply can’t or won’t tell us when they are in the earlier stages of disease where intervention can make a huge difference. Many diseases, such as kidney and liver disease, if caught early, can be treated by simply changing food. Hyperthyroidism is easily treated in cats with a medication we apply to the pet’s ear. Heart disease in dogs has changed dramatically with Pimbobeden, a new medication allowing dogs to live years longer, but we need to start treatment as soon as we can.

I get a physical exam yearly. I have been going to see Dr. Stone for about 15 years. He would never examine me and say “you’re ok” without blood work. And I can tell him what is not feeling right. Your pet can’t say anything and does everything they can to have you think everything is just fine. For this reason, most vet clinics now offer a preventative blood panel, similar to the blood tests Dr. Stone does for me, and your doctor for you. We always hope that the blood work comes back normal, and if it does, we have a baseline on what is normal for your pet. Each lab has its own set of normal values for each test performed. For you statistics people, these “normal values” are based on a bell curve. On a bell curve 80% of the population fits under the curve, in the normal range, with 10% of the population on either the high side or low side of the “normal values.” We want to know what is normal for your pet and will compare each year’s preventative panels to pick up elevations in your pet’s values. A single panel could be in the “normal lab limits,” but abnormal for your pet. It’s so simple, but yearly blood work is invaluable for picking up early signs of disease, when it is treatable and even possibly reversible.

So when your vet brings up these preventative panels, I hope you now see the value in them and not just the dollar signs. They really can make a huge difference in the health of your pet. Don’t think of it as cost added. Think of it as years added to your pet’s life.

Dr_RiggsDr. Rex Riggs grew up in Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron. Dr Riggs is co-owner of Best Friends Veterinary Hospital in Powell, Ohio. He is also on the board of the North Central Region of Canine Companions of Independence, a board member of The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Society and Small Animal Practitioner Advancement Board at The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Riggs lives in Lewis Center, OH with his wife Nancy, their dogs Maggie and Ossa, and cat Franklin. Outside of work, Dr. Riggs is an avid golfer and cyclist, and enjoys travel and photography.

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