Dog Health: What Tests Your Vet Should Run and When

7 min read

By Caitlin Ultimo


If you’ve ever found yourself feeling a bit overwhelmed at your dog’s annual vet visit, you are not alone. That moment when your vet hands over a long list of tests and says it’s up to you to decide, can be very stressful. You may be worried you’ll prioritize the wrong tests, missing out on the ones that are most important. And if you tally up everything on the list, it could leave you with a hefty bill. Most pet owners would gladly pay top dollar to ensure their dog’s health, but do they really have to?


No matter if it’s your dog’s first-ever veterinary visit or a standard annual exam, plan to arrive equipped with the knowledge of essential tests your vet should run based on your dog’s age and overall health.


Tests for Puppies


Get your new puppy’s health off to a good start by running these tests at his first visit and puppy follow-up exams:


Physical examination. This exam will be worthwhile to establish a healthy baseline for your puppy. “A puppy visit is not just about getting that shot injected,” says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, staff doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center. “One of the most important and also overlooked tests is a physical examination.” An important test at any age, the physical exam will cover looking at your puppy from his nose to tail, checking his vital signs, evaluating his body condition, listening to his heart and lungs, feeling his lymph nodes, assessing his eyes, ears and teeth as well as checking for any bone and joint abnormalities.


Fecal test. During your puppy’s series of vaccinations, you’ll most likely be asked to provide a fecal sample. “A fecal intestinal parasite analysis should occur at the very first visit and at subsequent visits if required,” says Dr. Susan Konecny, RN, DVM and medical director at Best Friends Animal Society. “Intestinal parasites are extremely common in puppies and can be transmitted through mother's milk.” Additionally, not all intestinal parasites are visible to the naked eye, so a microscopic analysis of the stool is necessary.


Heartworm test. “If [a puppy is] greater than six months of age, we recommend a heartworm antigen test,” says Dr. Stephanie Liff, DVM and owner of Pure Paws Veterinary Care of Clinton Hill in Brooklyn, N.Y. Heartworm can be transmitted through your pet's blood via an infected mosquito bite and will cause damage to his heart and lungs if left untreated. In most practices, veterinarians will generally run the heartworm test in conjunction with a panel of tick-borne diseases including Lyme disease, Anaplasma and Ehrlichia.


Blood tests. Your veterinarian will want to run a pre-anesthetic evaluation before your puppy is spayed or neutered. This could be a variety of tests, but the basics will check for anemia, adequate white blood cells and normal kidney and liver function. “This should be done to make sure your pet can have general anesthesia as safely as possible,” Konecny says.


Tests for Adult Dogs


Generally, an adult dog  should have yearly wellness visits. At these appointments, a physical examination will still be an essential component as well as the following tests:


Fecal test. Vets will often suggest that you bring along a sample of your dog’s stool to the visit. “Identification and treatment of intestinal parasites keeps your dog healthy and protects human family members since some intestinal parasite can affect humans too,” Hohenhaus says.


Heartworm and tick-borne disease tests. Similarly to puppy tests, tests for heartworm and tick-borne diseases will normally be recommended to be run together, especially in areas where ticks are common. “Heartworm infection is a serious medical condition that is easy to prevent, hard to treat and even harder to treat if left undiagnosed for a period of time,” Hohenhaus says.


Blood tests. “I like to establish a normal baseline for each individual patient, but we also do occasionally catch abnormalities too,” Liff says. The normal wellness blood panel for an adult pet can include the evaluation of your dog’s red and white blood cell counts (CBC), kidney, liver, and other organ functions and electrolyte and protein levels. “Conditions that these tests can identify are numerous and may include diabetes mellitus, early renal disease, hypothyroidism or anemia,” Konecny added.


Urinalysis. A test that perhaps wasn’t run in your dog’s puppy stage, “a urinalysis can help to identify many things, including a urinary tract infection, a loss of concentrating ability [often seen with kidney diseases] or potential stones in the urine,” Konecny says.