Thank you to all the vets who discussed the results with us and gave their input to the article! Especially thankful for the long brainstorming with Sylvia Efa, a vet student at Liverpool University! :)
The Checkpup wellness test kit gives you input on the dogs’ health just by sending in some hair! They analyze insights about 20 essential areas of the dog’s health, including metabolism, energy levels, sugar and carbohydrate tolerance, stage of stress, immune system functioning, glandular activity, and toxic metal exposure.
The results are based on the mineral ratios determined by hair analysis done by a CLIA Certified Laboratory. The results are then given a score and analyzed using Checkpup’s vet-developed algorithm.
The testing and registration process is user-friendly and straightforward. To start, use the activation code in the package to register on the website to create your dog’s profile.
After signing up, there is a detailed, lengthy questionnaire that’s recommended to fill out at the same time you are collecting the hair sample to ensure the behavior, environmental, and health questions are answered at the same time the sample was taken. These answers will be weighted in the Systems Check section of the results.
To remove any contamination from the fur that could influence the result, you should bathe and rinse the dog thoroughly and ideally collect the hair 12-24 hours later. Cut the hair as close to the skin as safely as possible. I choose to cut from the belly area since that’s where it is the least visible, but you can take the sample from anywhere.
If you have a dog with longer hair, the hardest part of the whole process is to cut the hair short enough to fit in the marked area of the scale. I recommend doing that while you still hold onto the hair tight after cutting, not when the freshly washed dog hair was placed on the scale and started flying around. :)
You want to be sure that the hair is short enough to fit in the little circle and also that you collected enough hair to tip the small paper scale that comes in the package.
The package contains a prepaid, labeled USPS envelope that you will use to send in the sample. For some reason, ours took weeks to arrive back to Checkpup, but that was the issue on USPS’s side. Once the package arrives back, you should receive the results within three weeks through the website.
Checkpup analyzes four areas and categorizes results in the Good, Caution, and Attention sections. This gives you an excellent high-level overview before digging into the detailed information they provide on each of these.
When you click on one of the four categories, it shows the different values related to that category and explains the results in detail.
For example, the Wellness Check section contains information on energy level, thyroid performance, inflammation, immune system, adrenal stress, autonomic balance, and blood sugar handling. The mineral levels that determine these states are listed in the results; for example, blood sugar is determined as Ca/Mg, Thyroid performance is Ca/K, and Energy level is Na/K ratio.
When clicking on one of these areas, you will see the test result, its meaning, and why it is important. To determine the next steps, they list Possible Contributing Factors, Risks & Possible Consequences and Guidance & Recommendations on how to improve that area. These recommendations relate to diet, rest, exercise level, stress factors, and more.
There is certainly a lot of detailed, in-depth information under each of these sections that you can read through to get a better understanding.
After reading through the information in all four categories, you can check the Health Action Plan. Here they highlight the top areas to work on from all the detailed recommendations on the other pages, and you can mark the items “done” on the details checklist.
There is also an Optimal Diet section where Checkpup lists which foods to avoid and what could be beneficial to the dog, going into details on protein types, fats, and carbohydrates. The end of this section is your supplement guide that gives personalized recommendations on supplements and natural remedies.
Mia has known health issues, so I chose to test her over Zulu, who would have probably gotten good results in most categories. I was interested to see how her health problems and medications potentially influence these results and to understand better how she is doing.
The good news is that Mia’s carb/sugar handling and protein digestion are good, and her immune system works well based on these results.
The most significant finding was that Mia’s electrolytes are extremely low, creating the “Four-Low state” you also saw on the screenshots. More specifically, her calcium, magnesium, zinc, and B-vitamins levels seem to be low. The results also showed metal exposure (especially high Mercury levels), and some signs of potential Nervous System & Endocrine System unbalance.
The most common reason for heavy metal exposure is through the water, so we tested the water quality in our home (both the tap and filtered water we drink), and it didn’t show the presence of any heavy metal, which is good. Another easy way for dogs to test high on these is to collect pesticides and herbicides while walking, and exposure to car exhaust can also contribute to a higher than healthy level.
After talking with multiple vets, it’s also possible that Mia’s liver/kidneys are not working well since her meds are known to cause problems with these over time. She may be only exposed to an average level of toxins that her body should be able to filter out if it would work properly.
The hair analysis is also a lot more sensitive than bloodwork, so I had a hard time figuring out what a “very high” score means without knowing the reference values and Mia’s exact results. The presence of Mercury is a worrying result either way and so far, we couldn’t find any significant source in the environment that would justify the high level. However, we must remember that this test shows cumulative results from the last few months.
After talking with multiple vets, they were all confident that the science is there behind hair analysis. We must remember, though, that they work differently than bloodwork, which only shows momentary values. A hair sample shows “historical data” from the last 3-4 months, and Checkpup can determine minerals and toxic metals at levels up to 10,000 times smaller than a blood test can.
I am unsure that there is an extensive enough dataset on dog hair samples to draw solid conclusions and have a valid reference value across different breeds and different hair types on the same level as these exist for blood work. Checking many areas is a great way to get a holistic understanding of how the dog is doing. However, a vet check-up might still be necessary to understand the potential underlying issues, correlations with known problems, and medications or other causes of some of the values.
One of the vets we talked to also mentioned that when we see high metal levels, there is a difference between one very high exposure vs. a low-level, constant exposure over time, even though they show up the same way in the hair analysis, which is something to keep in mind when analyzing the results.
These results are definitely a good conversation starter with a vet to understand how your dog’s lifestyle, medical history, and medications can influence some of these results and discuss the next steps. I found many of the recommendations on the website a little vague, although it’s true that most dogs can benefit from regular exercise, reduced stress, more fresh food, etc.
Taking the results at face value and starting to administer supplements without consulting a vet can cause just as many issues as not knowing the dog lacks something. Supplementing the correct dosage with the proper ratios and quality of minerals/vitamins is crucial. Checkpup does highlight that “You can harm your dog if you supplement inappropriately, and too much of a supplement can be toxic and/or fatal to your dog. Be sure to check with your vet to determine the correct dosages for your pup.”
To be fair, Checkpup is in a difficult position since simply stating results, and healthy ranges without giving recommendations on the next steps would probably create a push-back from users, but they also (understandably) try to avoid giving medical advice. There is certainly tons of good, easy-to-understand information on all the areas that can be used to create a healthier environment and routine for your dog; I would just be careful making significant changes only based on these results.
One of my concerns was that some of these values could be “absorbed” into the hair from the environment while swimming, walking, etc., creating false results. When I talked to Checkpup about this, they said, “the only metal we have ever seen that was super high was Arsenic due to swimming on the West Coast. We bathed dogs then collected samples again after they were dry and it was not there. But that was only twice in thousands of dogs that swim regularly.” I also brought this up when talking to vets, and they confirmed that this shouldn’t be a concern if the dogs were bathed before cutting the hair.
One last thing to keep in mind is that this test gives the best result when the dog was on the same diet for months and had no significant life changes recently, so that you can receive meaningful results for your current life state, feeding routine, etc. Repeating the test 5-6 months after the first test is also recommended to track progress.
To summarize, testing hair samples is an accurate and meaningful way to understand the dog’s general state. You can get valuable whole-body information about your dog’s wellness from the recent time period instead of only having a screenshot of the moment when you took blood for testing. I expect the reference values and the analysis will get even more accurate as more people send in more samples. Checkpup constantly improves the way they display and explain the data, so it’s the most helpful for owners, and you already get a vast amount of information and knowledge on the different factors while going through the results.
Based on the discussions with vets, the Checkpup results can give valuable input to the dog’s health and can point to the direction of more testing when a value is outside of normal ranges. However, I don’t think this will or should replace the holistic approach and knowledge of a vet who is aware of your dog’s history and health problems. These can significantly alter the best course of action when understanding and improving these results.
Knowing that your dog’s system is unbalanced gives you a chance to proactively prevent a problem instead of only treating the dog when they already have symptoms, or the disease is fully developed. This is definitely a new approach compared to traditional medicine, and some vets might not be open to interpreting the results or looking into what they mean. However, the vets I talked to were all interested in learning more about the Checkpup wellness test and brainstorming on how interpreting these results can supplement the traditional medical approach.