Health assessments show pet disease risks

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Testing of 7,800 dogs revealed that nearly a third had abnormal findings on laboratory analyses that could indicate risk of disease, such as renal disease, endocrinopathies, or anemia, according to officials from Zoetis.

The company announced its findings in August. Laboratory testing was performed on dogs presumed to be healthy in visits to 264 veterinary practices in a 5 1/2-year period ending in late December 2012.

“A similar number of dogs were found to have health risks based on the accompanying health risk assessment questionnaire,” the company announced.

The survey questionnaire is similar to risk assessments in human medicine that are based on self-reporting. The laboratory tests and surveys were administered in conjunction with visits to veterinary clinics.

Zoetis sells the tests, surveys, and analysis of results to veterinarians through its Pet Wellness Report service. The company has been selling the service to veterinarians in most areas of the U.S. and expected to make it available in remaining western areas in October.

More than a quarter of pet owners surveyed indicated their pets appear to have periods of stiffness, lameness, or reluctance or difficulty in some activities, according to information from Zoetis. That increased to more than two-thirds among owners of dogs ages 13 and older.

About one in 10 pet owners also do not administer heartworm preventives, and three in 10 missed doses or administered off the schedule, according to Zoetis. Dogs brought in for yearly examinations were about four times as likely as those that were not to receive regular dental examinations.

Dr. Robert P. Lavan, an epidemiologist and an associate director of outcomes research for Zoetis, said some data from the surveys were surprising. For example, he was surprised that many pet owners recognized lameness and signs of osteoarthritis, particularly in young dogs. In addition, owners’ answers to questions about heartworm prevention revealed that about 3 percent of dogs that have yearly veterinary clinic visits and receive heartworm preventives during all 12 months of the year were positive for heartworms, as opposed to 10 percent of dogs that received neither.

Veterinarians using the service were instructed to assess only healthy dogs.

Dr. Lavan said test results can provide warning signs. For example, a seemingly healthy dog with high concentrations of digestive enzymes associated with pancreatitis may prompt a veterinarian to ask the owner whether the dog had been vomiting or if the owner has noticed signs of abdominal pain.

“A pet wellness report or a health risk assessment is not a diagnostic tool,” he said. “It raises flags. It does not diagnose. That’s a veterinarian’s job.”