The pervasive approach to looking after our pets tends to be the treatment of contemporaneous health issues, which is of course essential, however it does not represent a holistic approach to veterinary care. A wellness approach means that our animals are treated not only for the concerns they present with but otherwise, too; in other words, even when they are healthy. This is in order for vets to establish baseline health levels, detect signs of disease (and monitor them), and prevent burgeoning disease through early intervention.
Diagnosis should not just occur at the time of the patient’s presentation, when their owner has noticed symptoms and brought their pet in to their vet for care. Preventative vet care should be commonplace. Pets should have the opportunity to have their general wellness assessed, where possible, prior to the onset of avoidable or treatable diseases, just as we do. In addition to seeking medical help when ill, most of us are assessed by our doctors more broadly and more consistently; we’ll have our fever checked, our blood pressure assessed, our skin looked at for skin cancers. In short, a preventative approach is central to human medical care. Why not our animals, too?
We have the opportunity to undergo diagnostic testing in regard to hereditary disease or disease that we may be at risk of. As such, an aneurysm may be caught before it has the chance to burst, or a heart defect might be discovered that necessitates treatment in order to keep the patient healthy, when otherwise she might not have been. This rarely happens with our pets, even though diagnostic testing and a wellness approach to veterinary care improves pets’ quality of life and their longevity. If vets implement lifelong healthcare plans and wellness programs for pets, they are provided with the best and most comprehensive care possible for their life stage and their owners with more knowledge and choice when the time comes for treatment.
Indeed, it’s important that vets ensure pet owners are aware of the benefits of early detection and preventative care for their animals. Cat owners in particular do not attend the vet often (in the US in 2006 cats went to the vet on average 1.1 times per year in comparison to dogs’ 2.3 times) and as such, cats miss out on the sort of assessment and treatment that is essential to early diagnosis. In addition, the paucity of vet time means that they do not have the sort of overarching healthcare plans that are integral to proper veterinary healthcare. There is an assumption in regard to cats that they ‘do not need medical care’ (Feline Life Stages Guidelines) as they are perceived as “self-sufficient” and their illnesses hard to detect.
Ailments Go Unfound
What might surprise pet owners are the findings of a study by Dell’Osa and Jaensch (2016). Of 406 clinically healthy middle-aged dogs tested, only 55 were without abnormalities, and 25 dogs showed changes representative of the need for further evaluation or of significant disease. Of 130 cats in the same age category, only 26 had no abnormalities present. Most abnormal results were minor but for 25 of the 130, the results of their testing panels warranted further evaluation or showed significant abnormalities like “anaemia, inflammation, and evidence of liver, kidney and pancreatic disease”.
It is unlikely that an animal being seen by a vet once or twice a year is going to have such abnormalities detected and receive the requisite early treatment. Pets presenting with symptoms of more serious disease likely would have been diagnosed earlier had they had a routine check by their vet – as the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) suggests – as part of their ongoing health plan. Particularly as animals age they are more prone to degenerative diseases; “routine and periodic testing” (Dell’Osa and Jaensch, 2016) would ensure these are caught early and the animal’s quality and possibly length of life is improved.
Twice for Life
If one also considers the voicelessness of dogs, cats, and other pets in conveying their experience to their owners, the necessity of regular face time with a vet is blatant. Pet owners may be blind to subtle behavioural changes in their pets and may miss symptoms their pet is experiencing that aren’t blatant, things that may require the professional eye of a vet or the diagnostic capabilities of testing procedures for their discovery and, subsequently, their treatment.
For this and myriad other reasons, wellness testing and routine vet checks are recommended by a variety of organisations from the AVA, as mentioned above, and Australian Small Animal Veterinarians to the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Association of Feline Practitioners.
Dell’Oso, D, Jaensch, S (2016). Prevalence of clinicopathological changes in healthy middle-aged dogs and cats presenting to veterinary practices for routine procedures. Australian Veterinary Journal 94 (9).