Reading your dog’s blood work
Blood work? Yes, blood work. Bet you thought a visit to the vet was just for emergencies or vaccinations? Don’t worry, you’re not alone, a vast majority of dog parents rarely know when or how often their pooch should have blood work done, let alone do they know how to read that jumbled list of acronyms and abbreviations that outline their pup’s state of health.
How does the blood-system work
Let’s all be honest, how much do we even understand about our own human blood work? Our own results are sometimes complicated and overwhelming, so trying to fathom the mysterious writings on your dog’s blood panel might feel much less fun than a trip to the dog park. It’s no wonder most of us choose to do that instead of schedule our dog’s appointment.
The unique thing about humans though is that we have the ability to speak up about our ailments. So our doctor can then order blood work and do the necessary tests long before those small aches and pains turn into more serious problems. But unfortunately, until our dogs learn to use words instead of woofs to express themselves, we’ll need to depend on their blood work to reveal changes in their physical health to help us sniff out more dangerous possible ailments in our pets, such as kidney disease, diabetes or even cancer.
In their October 2017 Dog Watch Newsletter, Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine revisited the importance of ordering your dog’s blood work and understanding the results. They recommended that your dog have blood work done at least once a year, most especially for those dogs that have reached the ripe old age of six (42 in doggie years).
Though the $100 price tag on a blood panel might send you running in the other direction thinking, “My Fido’s immaculate and in perfect health; he doesn’t need this,” remember that prevention is key for good health. Spotting a problem in its early stages will probably save you much more monetarily in the long run, thereby making the $100 seem minuscule in comparison; not to mention saving your beloved pet from potential suffering.
Dog Watch Newsletter recommends that your dog have blood drawn to analyze for two separate tests that include the Complete Blood Count (CBC), and a Blood Chemistry Panel. The CBC, which is also referred to as the hematology test or hemogram, takes a close look at a dog’s red and white blood cells as well as other blood components including platelets and plasma.
“The chief function of canine blood, like that of human blood, is to carry oxygen and nutrients to the body tissues and to transport carbon dioxide and wastes away from them. It also serves in such processes as cell development, tissue repair and the warding off of infection,” explains the article. You can imagine how much the CBC can reveal about your dog’s physical health.
Yes, it’s awe-inspiring to think about how our and our doggies’ bodies work!
DOG CBC DETAILS (as delineated by Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine):
- A packed cell volume (hematocrit) reveals the concentration of red blood cells in the plasma. A low red cell concentration might indicate that the animal is anemic — either its bone marrow isn’t producing the cells in sufficient number or they are being lost or destroyed. A high red cell concentration could mean that the animal is dehydrated.
- A red blood cell count measures the actual number of red cells in a given amount of blood and discerns any abnormalities in their shape, size or color. The amount of hemoglobin — a substance within red cells that transports oxygen throughout the bloodstream — is also assessed.
- A white blood cell count evaluates and counts the number of leukocytes, all of which are produced in the bone marrow or other tissues and play various roles in attacking and destroying disease-causeng organisms. A high white cell count may indicate, for example, that an animal is harboring an infection, is under extraordinary stress or is affected by a serious and chronic illness, such as leukemia.
- A platelet count measures the concentration of thromboses, which are disk-shaped blood cells that promote blood clotting.
Lastly, as described in the article, the CBC will also measure the protein levels in your dog’s blood plasma. Analysis of the results will help your veterinarian determine if there are problems with your dog’s liver, kidney, or if they are suffering from gastrointestinal malfunction, infection, inflammation, or cancer.
On to test number two – the chemistry panel. DOG Watch explains that “The chemistry panel focuses on the chemical components suspended in the clear, watery content (serum) of the blood after it has been separated from the cells and from certain proteins that are needed for clotting… the presence of a dozen or more substances is evaluated in order to assess a wide range of health-determining factors.”
The chemistry panel will help you and your vet see if there are any problems with your dog’s organ function, his hormone levels, or any problems with his blood’s electrolytes. As DOG Watch explains, abnormalities in blood levels could point to possible disease in your pet. The following are a few examples of potential things to watch out for:
- High levels of creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) may indicate kidney failure.
- High levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP) or alamine aminotransferase (ALT) may indicate liver damage.
- Elevated amounts of amylase may indicate kidney or pancreatic disease. It may also be an allergic reaction that takes place so ask a vet before jumping to any conclusions yourself.
- Abnormal calicum levels may indicate the presence of tumors, kidney disease or other disorders.
- High levels of blood sugar (glucose) may indicate diabetes.
- Low levels of potassium may explain an animal’s chrnoic lethargy or lack of muscle control.
The chemistry panel is extensive and a bit more detailed explanation of each item tested can be found here.
Still confused? If all else fails, remember that your veterinarian is your handy portal to all things dog. What did we all learn in elementary school? No question is too silly to ask, and that also applies to our canine companion’s blood work. It’s always better to ask the “silly” questions than to assume or stay ignorant of very important information about your dog’s health. If your vet seems hesitant or rushed to answer your questions, then it’s time to find a new veterinarian. Both you and your pet deserve a health care professional willing to take the time and care necessary to help you optimize your pet’s life.
If your dog is completely healthy after the results have been received not only is it wonderful news, but you now also have the blood work results to use as a basis for future comparison. If your dog should ever fall ill, your vet will have a good sense of what her blood work should look like when healthy and will have the best tools to get your pup back to good health.
Understanding the results of your pooch’s blood work will help you be a more knowledgeable pet parent, more able to take preventative measures for your pet’s health, and better equipped to meet your pet’s physical needs.