Finally, the wow factor, as Dr. Robbins refers to it, has bolstered many to look for abnormalities. I am glad to say "Wow!" when I find that liver
enzyme activities are elevated, leading to more tests such as ultrasonography, biopsies, or more blood tests. Why? I can sleep
much easier knowing that I have eliminated or discovered a reason for the abnormal values. It is better to tell a client that
the results are negative or normal than to wish you had done lab work in, for example, an apparently healthy 9-year-old golden
retriever with normal physical examination findings that required an emergency splenectomy a short time later because of a
slowly bleeding splenic mass that may have been discovered if you had first identified a hematocrit of 32%. We can all relate
to the "what if" and "if only" patients we have deemed normal that present a month later for a problem that may have been
detected earlier if diagnostic tests had been performed. Sure, we will all have some clients that are irritated at the amount
they have spent only to find out their pets are normal, but I believe the value is still present because the results have
established those patients' baseline values. Such information may become invaluable in the future as a timeline for identifying
I am not sure why Dr. Robbins thinks there is potential harm in wellness testing. Is he referring to testing that leads to
more invasive procedures? I would estimate (but have no data to support) that more harm occurs from vaccination reactions
(mild hives to fatal anaphylaxis) than does from bone marrow aspirates or liver biopsies. I don't see many harmful issues
from venipuncture unless it causes a hematoma (which may reveal a bleeding disorder).
I fully concur with Dr. Fred Metzger ("Doctor Debate: Wellness testing—more important than ever!" May 2011) in his statement
that vaccinating senior pets and not discussing wellness testing is unprofessional and unethical. I have yet to see, in my
17 years practicing, an older, historically well-vaccinated animal contract diseases such as parvovirus infection, distemper,
or upper respiratory viral infections. However, I have seen numerous cases of diabetes, hyperthyroidism, and urinary tract
infections in animals whose owners had perceived them as being normal and whose physical examination results did not indicate
any clinical manifestation of such disease.
I will continue to advocate for wellness testing in senior patients but fairly indicate that in my experience such testing
finds true problems in about 20% of those older patients tested. I urge clients to test. After all, they will suffer much
worse "what if" and "if only" anxiety should their pets present later with a disease that may have been detected earlier.
As Dr. Robbins stated, knowledge of disease prior to clinical illness may be perceived as extended longevity. I say, why not
let the owner believe that early intervention may have been beneficial. I believe that owners will always beat themselves
up should there be a problem that could have been detected earlier regardless of whether or not it would have changed the
outcome. That is just human nature.
Paula A. Schuerer, DVM, MBA, DABVP
Animal Ark Animal Hospital