Screening Tests

Early Diagnosis May Save You and Your Cat the Trauma of a Serious Illness

Hows your blood sugar? How about your cats? You cant tell by looking and what you dont know can hurt your cat.

The issue is the role of routine laboratory testing in feline medicine to screen for diseases before they are well on the way to endangering your cats life. As you might imagine, there are no hard and fast guidelines and there are probably as many different points of view as there are blood tests available.

Early detection
Why even suggest regular screening in a perfectly healthy cat? Cats, unlike their canine counterparts, are very good at hiding or disguising the clinical signs of illness. Did a hairball cause Fluffy to vomit? Or could her heaving be a sign of advanced kidney disease? By the time many cats tell their owner that theyre sick, the disease often is well advanced and more difficult, if not impossible, to treat effectively. The benefit of early detection is unquestionable.

Lets assume that Fluffy is an indoor cat. She receives her inoculations as suggested by her veterinarian; eats a complete, balanced, and nutritious cat food; and has loving and caring companions who pay attention to her and her habits. The odds that she would develop a serious and unrecognized disease as a kitten or young adult are small, but you never know.

Say you have a dog that lives in your home with your indoor cat (or another cat that goes outside). For example, because the dog goes outdoors, he might be  exposed to fleas that if brought home could infest your kitty, too. Aging further complicates the issue. A natural consequence of aging is the gradual loss in function or numbers of cells that make up the various organs. The loss of a few cells is of no consequence, but at some point organ dysfunction (kidney, for example) will occur. Early on, the cat will show no clinical signs of the dysfunction and it cannot be detected by physical examination.

A routine triad of screening tests includes the complete blood count (CBC), the chemistry profile, and the urinalysis. The CBC gives information on the production or loss of red blood cells in the body and the numbers and types of white blood cells in the cats blood. The chemistry profile gives information on the function of many different organs in the body, including the liver and kidneys, and the urinalysis does a little bit of everything. With a urinalysis, your veterinarian learns a lot about the cats kidney function and whether it may have diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes). Abnormalities in any arm of the screening test will prompt additional testing to define your cats problem completely.

What to do
Just like you, your cat can benefit greatly from a yearly physical examination, and while she is there, her veterinarian might suggest some routine laboratory tests. In the practice of Ilona Rodan, DVM, a cat less then 2 years of age gets quick in-office tests for anemia, dehydration, and kidney or bladder problems. As the cat ages, the frequency and intensity of the testing increases. Cats 2 to 7 years of age get a CBC, chemistry profile, and urinalysis on an annual basis while older cats are tested bi-annually.

For the geriatric cat, Rodan, who is a Diplomate of the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners in Feline Practice, suggests the inclusion of a thyroid and blood pressure evaluation to check the cat for hyperthyroidism and kidney disease. Your veterinarians program may vary somewhat from from Rodans, but the desired result is the same: to detect problems as early as possible. If you have concerns about too much or too little testing, ask questions. You are your cats very best advocate.

Many cats remain healthy for years and the screening tests often confirm that. Why then spend your hard earned money on it? Peace of mind. Not enough? Early detection is the name of the game. Diseases caught early can often be treated less expensively or more effectively than when the disease is more advanced. In the end, you not only save money, you may save you and your cat the emotional and physical trauma of a serious illness.