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Is Diagnostic Testing Always Necessary?

For us, every time it seems that a client comes to us for help, a common complaint is their veterinarian runs numerous tests and treatments. Symptoms vanish for a while only to return. End result - it may actually be the tests!

Look at how the system works. You visit the vet, they draw blood and give you medication for your pet based on the symptom. The blood is sent to an off-site laboratory to be analyzed, with the results in a few days.

The blood test reveals a limited breakdown of blood chemistry with very broad ranges. These broad parameters cannot distinguish the difference between normal or abnormal because of the restricted information provided. A good example of this is the varied results depending on the animal’s diet. Blood chemistry can vary greatly between a dog eating kibble and fresh food. Unless a nutritional evaluation is also provided, the results can be greatly skewed.

Another component that is overlooked is the physiological and psychological condition of the animal. If the pet is stressed, excited, or even had a very recent meal, results can again be skewed.

Another factor is the limitations of these tests. Many do not show most nutritional challenges, pathogens, or specific problems. An example, we may show an increase in white blood cells that could indicate anything from infections to cancers and a vast array of other challenges, however this can be misleading.

Another question that needs to be addressed is the chemical values compared to previous tests, looking for changes and variations. Let’s say multiple tests show “normal” values but have gone from a low normal to a high normal. Without a proper comparison, we wouldn’t see a changing situation.

We must understand that blood tests are an invasive procedure and while we view them as generally safe, side effects can occur. The same concerns are present with other diagnostic procedures such as x-rays, MRI, and various scans. While all of these tests can be tools for specific challenges, they should not be considered routine. For example, we know the dangers of x-rays, yet most vets do not take into consideration how many previous x-rays your pet has been exposed to.

The point is this, before agreeing to a full work-up of testing, ask what we are looking for and how will this test help in finding a conclusion and also ask about the possible challenges that this test could cause.

As always, we leave you here with many questions to ask your vet that will hopefully enable a full understanding of the whys and hows of diagnostic testing.

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