WELLNESS TESTING IN THE GERIATRIC CAT
(AGE 8 and older)
What is wellness testing?
Wellness testing is the term given to a group of tests that are performed specifically to detect signs of early disease in a pet that is apparently healthy. The results are kept as a part of the pet's medical record and may be very useful in the future as a comparison should tests need to be repeated.
Here at the Fredonia Animal Hospital, your cat will spend the day with us. You will drop him or her off early in the morning. For optimum laboratory results, food must be withheld after midnight. However, water should be available.
A discharge appointment at the end of the day will be set up for you so the doctor can go over results with you and answer any questions you may have.
Why do wellness testing?
Pets cannot tell you how they are feeling, and as a result, disease may be present before you are aware of it. If a disease or condition can be detected before a pet shows signs of illness, we can often take steps to manage or correct the problem before irreparable damage is done. Wellness testing is particularly important in the geriatric pet, since there is a greater chance that underlying disease may be present.
When is wellness testing done?
Wellness testing is usually done once yearly for senior pets. Many pet owners choose to combine their cat's annual exam and vaccinations with the wellness testing. The veterinarian may recommend more frequent testing depending on your cat's age or specific health concerns. Monitoring your cat's health status on a regular basis makes it easier for the doctor to detect minor changes that signal the onset of disease.
What is involved in wellness testing?
The first step is crucial, and it involves you! Upon making an appointment for a senior wellness profile, a questionnaire will be mailed to you (you can also find it on our website under the "senior pet" tab at the top). Your answers to these questions about your cat's daily routine, habits and apparent health are a very important tool for the doctor to use when interpreting the diagnostic results. If you do not get this questionnaire in the mail, one will be given to you on the morning you bring your cat in. It should only take a few minutes to complete before you leave.
There are four main categories of wellness testing for the senior/geriatric cat:
1. A full age specific exam;
2. Complete blood count and biochemistry profile (comprehensive blood panel);
3. Thyroid Hormone testing; and
4. Electrocardiogram (ECG)
Within each category, the veterinarian will determine how extensive the testing should be. In younger senior cats without noticeable health complaints, these four areas of testing may be adequate. However, in the older geriatric cat, more comprehensive testing may be recommended.
COMPREHENSIVE BLOOD PANEL
complete blood count (CBC)
This simple blood test analyzes the cellular components in the bloodstream. These include red blood cells, which carry oxygen to the tissues; white blood cells, which fight infection and respond to inflammation; and platelets, which help the blood to clot. The CBC provides details about the number, size, and shape of the various cell types, and identifies the presence of any abnormal cells.
This is a series of tests performed on serum, which is a component of blood. These tests provide information about how well the various organs of the body are working, and help to detect the presence of some metabolic diseases. There are tests to assess the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, tests to identify the presence of diabetes, and so on. If minor abnormalities are found on the biochemistry profile, the doctor may simply recommend that you repeat the tests at a later time. Depending on the abnormality, this may be in a few days, few weeks, or a few months. In some cases, a more extensive diagnostic work-up may be recommended, including an expanded biochemistry profile, specific tests and/or imaging (x-rays).
The thyroid gland is like a "thermostat", and it "sets" the metabolic rate of the whole body. Thyroid disease is common in aging cats and cats that are eight years of age and older should be tested for thyroid function as part of a routine wellness testing.
The most common thyroid disease in the cat is called hyperthyroidism, which develops when the thyroid gland produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormone. High levels of thyroid hormone cause a marked increase in the metabolic rate, which puts a strain on the heart and other organs. The typical signs of hyperthyroidism in the cat are unexplained weight loss, increased appetite, restlessness, increased thirst and urination, vomiting, and/or diarrhea.
The small electrical impulses normally generated by the heart are amplified 3,000 or more times and recorded by an ECG machine. An ECG can detect minor disturbances in the heart beat and allows us to diagnose many types of heart disease.
An ECG is a simple test to perform. Your cat is usually placed in a comfortable standing or lying position and electrodes are painlessly attached to the elbows and knees. A jelly or liquid is applied to improve electrical conduction between the cat and electrodes. The ECG unit merely records the electrical impulses from the cat and there are no unpleasant sensations nor is there any danger to the pet.
Wellness testing is a simple and effective way of monitoring your older cat. Being able to see your cat's health in this way lets you and your doctor make seemingly minimal changes to their life - such as a prescription diet or arthritis medication - that provides measured comfort, wellness and years to your cat's life before symptoms become evident.
Testing with normal results give you and your cat's medical team peace of mind for the time being. But these current normal results may play a critical role in the future. Should your cat become ill and need diagnostics, the results will be compared to the geriatric tests. A "low-normal" last time compared to a "high-normal" when ill could show an extremely significant change, one we would never see without that previous geriatric testing.
Early detection and correction of medical problems help to ensure that your cat will be healthy, comfortable and active for as long as possible. Call for an appointment or to ask more questions!