Why is my vet recommending this diagnostic test for my dog?

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Why is my vet recommending this diagnostic test for my dog? - a dog owner and veterinarian chat while a small dog sits on the owner's lap

Diagnostic and wellness testing are important tools used by veterinarians to keep your dog healthy and ensure they have a long, happy life. While our pets may not enjoy it, it’s important that dog owners follow their veterinarian’s testing recommendations and learn how to analyze the risks of declining testing. Keep reading to learn:

  • What are the different types of testing vets use?
  • How often do dogs get physical exams and wellness testing?
  • Can diagnostic tests help my sick dog?
  • What testing does my dog need before surgery?
  • Why is testing important?

As in human medicine, laboratory testing is important for preventive care and ensuring a dog’s health. Veterinarians cannot know what’s happening inside the body without tests to help. A vet may recommend many helpful tests based on your pet’s symptoms, age, and medical history.

What are common tests veterinarians use for dogs?

There are a variety of tests that veterinarians use to treat and detect diseases in dogs. Routine wellness tests are recommended for healthy dogs on a regular basis to help catch conditions and diseases early as well as minimize risks associated with anesthesia. They are often performed alongside an annual wellness exam to establish baseline values and see if there is any indication that your dog’s health is starting to drift out of normal range, which may be an early indication of disease. Meanwhile, diagnostic tests are performed when a dog is ill or injured to assist in making an accurate diagnosis. Diagnostic and wellness tests may include:

  • Blood tests: Standard blood tests include a complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry panel. CBC values show if your dog’s immune system is normal, while chemistry panels provide a snapshot of vital organ function, including the liver and kidneys.
  • Fecal tests: Fecal testing is most commonly used to test for tapeworm in dogs. In some cases, specialized fecal testing may be recommended to investigate cases of diarrhea, weight loss, or bacterial infection.
  • Urinalysis: Urine sampling provides detailed information about the urinary system, which includes the kidneys, bladder, and some types of hormones. In dogs, urinalysis is commonly used to check for urinary tract infections, toxins, and overall urinary organ health.
  • Diagnostic imaging: Any test that shows the inside of the body in a visual format is referred to as diagnostic imaging. Specific types of diagnostic imaging include X-rays, ultrasounds, and CT or MRI scans to visualize organs and bones. These tests are often used to show abnormalities in organ size or shape, damage to bones, and tumors.
  • Specific tests: Other specific testing such as heartworm antigen testing or testing for tick-borne illnesses may be recommended for at-risk dogs or those who are showing symptoms in endemic areas.

Many of these tests are done on a routine basis to catch health conditions early and establish a normal baseline for your pet.

What routine wellness tests does my dog need?

Different routine tests are recommended at different life stages and based on your dog’s overall risk as part of a health assessment. Testing recommendations may also fluctuate depending on the dog’s breed, lifestyle, and geographic location. Some medical conditions, such as diabetes, require ongoing testing to monitor for effectiveness of treatment, which ensures the condition is stable and no changes are needed to the treatment plan. Luckily, at-home tests and veterinary apps are available to help pet parents and vets monitor a pet from home.

Wellness tests for puppies

Puppies under one year of age grow and develop rapidly, so frequent physical examinations are necessary to monitor their progress. Puppies also require more frequent vaccinations than adult dogs.

It is recommended that puppies receive fecal tests to test for intestinal parasites every three or four months. Heartworm disease won’t show up on test results until a puppy is more than six months old, and healthy puppies usually aren’t tested for it or tick-borne diseases until after their first birthday. Baseline blood work, urine tests, and imaging are usually not required unless a puppy is sick or having surgery. Finally, genetic testing is available for curious owners.

Wellness testing for adult dogs

Adult dogs between the ages of one and seven have fully grown and developed but still benefit from routine wellness exams. Depending on individual risk, fecal testing is recommended one to four times yearly. Routine heartworm disease testing is recommended every 6-12 months based on risk, and tick-borne illness testing is recommended annually for dogs living in endemic areas. A baseline CBC, blood chemistry, and urinalysis test are recommended to establish baseline levels, which are useful for future reference as your dog ages. These tests can be repeated every few years until the dog gets closer to senior age. Orthopedic imaging may be beneficial for young giant breed dogs to catch any orthopedic problems early.

Wellness testing for senior dogs

Dogs more than seven years old benefit from more frequent wellness testing because they are more at risk for various health concerns, including kidney disease, heart disease, and diabetes. Wellness exams, heartworm testing, bloodwork, blood pressure, and urinalysis are recommended every 6-12 months or more, depending on their medical history and individual risk. The fecal testing schedule remains the same in senior years, with recommendations for four tests yearly based on individual and geographical risk. Your veterinarian may recommend additional tests based on your dog’s history and risk factors for specific health conditions.

What diagnostic tests help to identify a medical issue in dogs?

With an injury, illness, or other health issue, veterinarians will recommend diagnostic tests to help make an accurate diagnosis. “The right diagnosis is essential to provide proper treatment. Without diagnostic tests, veterinarians are essentially just guessing,” explains Dr. Jo Myers, a Vetster veterinarian. Even an educated guess can waste your time and money if the wrong treatment is provided, potentially making your dog sicker. Testing recommendations vary based on the presenting symptoms and the dog’s medical history. General recommendations often include blood tests, diagnostic imaging like X-rays and ultrasound, and urinalysis. The need for more specific tests like microscopic analysis of fluid or cell samples, parasite identification, or bacterial cultures is determined by the symptoms. It is important to remember that a diagnostic test is not a treatment. Instead, it is a tool to help find the problem and determine the course of treatment.

A dog experiencing a medical problem will likely not require every available diagnostic test. For example, a dog presenting with a possible broken bone won’t require a heartworm test or urinalysis unless other symptoms are also present. Don’t be afraid to ask your vet why they recommend each test and how to read the results. Some diagnostic tests can even be done at home with at-home testing kits you can receive from an online vet.

Does my dog need additional testing before surgery?

Pre-surgical blood tests are common before anesthesia, even for routine procedures like neuters and dental cleanings. They are especially important for senior dogs. Pre-surgical testing helps minimize risks associated with anesthesia and determine anesthetic agent choices. In addition, they can measure blood clotting ability, show signs of infection, and other important information your vet may need for the procedure.

Why is testing important for dogs?

Both diagnostic and wellness testing are important for the health of pet dogs. Wellness testing helps catch problems at their earliest signs, aid in early diagnosis, and screen for infectious diseases. In addition, routine testing can help minimize the risks associated with anesthesia and test for genetic conditions and carriers. Diagnostic testing is essential to make the right diagnosis when there are signs of disease or injury and determine the right course of treatment. In addition, diagnostic testing helps protect the health of the population by screening for diseases that put dog owners or other humans and animals at risk.

Some testing is legally required when a dog presents with specific symptoms. By listening to and following your veterinarian’s recommendations, you will protect your dog, your community, and your vet. If you have questions about the importance of medical testing, an online vet will be happy to help address your questions and concerns.

FAQ - Why is my vet recommending this test for my dog?

How often do dogs need fecal exams?

It is recommended that a dog receive a fecal exam one to four times a year, depending on their individual risk. Many vets can simply test a fresh sample brought into the clinic. Discuss the fecal testing protocol with your veterinarian at their hospital and follow their guidelines.

Do dogs need blood tests yearly?

It is recommended that young adult dogs around a year old receive a baseline blood test to determine what their normal, healthy levels are. With this known, it is easier for veterinarians to catch when changes occur. As dogs age, they should receive routine blood tests annually to closely monitor for any changes.

What is the difference between heartworms and intestinal parasites?

Heartworms and their young are found in the heart, lungs, and bloodstream. Intestinal parasites are found in the gastrointestinal tract and the stool. Due to this, heartworms are tested in blood tests, and intestinal parasites are tested in the stool.

Are veterinary tests worth it?

While testing can be expensive, reputable vets only recommend tests that they deem necessary. The overall cost of treatment may be lower when more time and money is spent on diagnostics to assist the vet in making the correct diagnosis. If a vet is simply guessing, time and money could be wasted if they guess wrong as the dog becomes sicker. Following your vet’s recommendations and asking why they recommend each test will help pet owners understand the importance of testing while allowing a veterinarian to best treat their sick pet.