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Visits to the vet are more than just for emergencies or vaccinations. They’re also for in-depth checkups, which can entail conducting blood tests if there’s any suspicion that there might be something wrong with them. While these tests can have a long list of important details in their results, understanding them can be a cinch with our easy guide.
- Dog blood tests provide valuable insights into a dog’s health, aiding in early detection of potential issues.
- Understanding Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Blood Chemistry Panel empowers pet owners to actively participate in their dog’s healthcare.
- Regular blood tests can save on future healthcare costs and ensure a healthier, happier life for your beloved pet.
If you’re somewhat of an obsessive pet owner like me, you’ve probably fallen in more random google search rabbit holes about your dog than you can count. Dog health, in particular, gets researched quite a bit more than other topics, although judging our dogs’ health solely through observation can be challenging. That’s where dog blood tests become invaluable, providing insights into their internal well-being. Veterinarians depend on these tests for accurate diagnoses and to detect early signs of illnesses. With timely identification, many of the diseases dogs experience can be effectively treated and managed. But what if I told you that it’s important for you to know how to read your dog’s blood work too?
Now, you might be asking, “why should I learn all of this if I have my veterinarian to look at my dog’s blood work for me?”. Well, understanding dog blood tests gives you more informed insight when it comes to your dog’s health. For example, it could give you an idea of what aspects your veterinarian may be overlooking – not even professionals are infallible, after all – and could thus be grounds for you to seek a second opinion.
How do dog blood tests work?
Dog blood tests work much the same way as blood tests for people. That said, blood results can sometimes be complicated and overwhelming. It helps to start with understanding the fundamentals, such as what functions blood serves in your dog’s body, and how we can detect ailments such as diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, liver disease, and others by checking how your dog’s blood chemistry and complete blood count diverges from established ordinary levels.
How your dog’s blood functions
Just as with us humans, or any animal for that matter, the primary role of canine blood is to convey oxygen and nutrients to the body’s tissues while removing carbon dioxide and waste products from them. It also has a crucial function in various processes, including cellular growth, tissue regeneration, and immune defense against infections.
These myriad important functions are why a Complete Blood Count (CBC) is instrumental in assessing your dog’s overall physical well-being. For dogs experiencing symptoms such as decreased appetite, weakness, or fever, a CBC becomes an essential diagnostic tool.
The Full Panel Blood Test For Dogs
Vets recommend 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.
Dog blood work is a dog’s complete blood count. It includes the number of red and white blood cells, as well as hemoglobin levels. A dog’s white blood cells are an important part of their immune system. If there are too few or too many white blood cells. This can indicate that your dog has an infection or disease. Make sure your dog’s blood test includes all of the following information so that your vet has a clearer picture to go on.
DOG CBC DETAILS (as delineated by Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine):
- A packed cell volume (hematocrit/HCT) 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 blood cells that transports oxygen throughout the bloodstream — is also assessed.
- Hemoglobin and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (Hb and MCHC) measures the oxygen-carrying capacity of red blood cells, while mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (MCHC) assesses the concentration of hemoglobin within these cells.
- A white blood cell count (WBC) 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-causing organisms. A high white blood 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.
- Specific white blood cell types are also counted, such as lymphocytes/monocytes and granulocytes (L/M and GRANS).
- Specific white blood cell types are also counted, such as lymphocytes/monocytes and granulocytes (L/M and GRANS).
- A platelet count (PLT) meas
- +ures the concentration of thromboses, which are disk-shaped blood cells that promote blood clotting.
- Eosinophils (EOS): Special white blood cells that could suggest allergies or parasitic conditions.
- Reticulocytes (RETICS): Immature red blood cells. Elevated levels indicate regenerative anemia.
Fibrinogen (FIBR): Provides crucial data about blood clotting. Increased levels may indicate pregnancy in dogs, around 30 to 40 days.
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.
The chemistry panel portion of dog blood tests examines the chemical constituents present in the clear, watery portion (serum) of the blood after separating it from the cells and specific clotting-related proteins. This assessment involves evaluating the presence of numerous substances to gauge various factors that determine overall health.
By conducting the chemistry panel, you and your veterinarian can identify potential issues concerning your dog’s organ functionality, hormone levels, and blood electrolyte balance. Any abnormalities detected in the following blood chemistry levels might indicate the presence of underlying health conditions in your pet:
- Albumin (ALB): Helps evaluate hydration, hemorrhage, and intestinal, liver, and kidney disease.
- Alkaline phosphatase (ALKP): Elevations may indicate liver damage, Cushing’s disease, or active bone growth in a young dog.
- Alanine aminotransferase (ALT): Determines active liver damage but does not indicate the cause.
- Amylase (AMYL): Elevations indicate pancreatitis or kidney disease.
- Aspartate aminotransferase (AST): Increases may indicate liver, heart, or skeletal muscle damage.
- Blood urea nitrogen (BUN): Determines kidney function. Increased levels (azotemia) may result from kidney, liver, and heart disease, as well as urethral obstruction, shock, or dehydration.
- Calcium (Ca): Changes can indicate various diseases such as tumors, hyperparathyroidism, kidney disease, and low albumin.
- Cholesterol (CHOL): Used to supplement diagnosis of hypothyroidism, liver disease, Cushing’s disease, and diabetes mellitus.
- Chloride (Cl): An electrolyte typically lost with vomiting or illnesses like Addison’s disease. Elevations often indicate dehydration.
- Cortisol (CORT): Measured in tests for Cushing’s disease (low-dose dexamethasone suppression test) and Addison’s disease (ACTH stimulation test).
- Creatinine (CREA): Reveals kidney function and helps distinguish between kidney and non-kidney causes of elevated BUN.
- Gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT): Indicates liver disease or corticosteroid excess.
- Globulin (GLOB): Often increases with chronic inflammation and certain disease states.
- Glucose (GLU): Blood sugar. Elevated levels may indicate diabetes mellitus, while low levels can cause collapse, seizures, or coma.
- Potassium (K): An electrolyte typically lost with vomiting, diarrhea, or excessive urination. Increased levels may indicate kidney failure, Addison’s disease, dehydration, or urethral obstruction, while high levels can lead to cardiac arrest.
- Lipase (LIP): Indicates pancreatitis.
- Sodium (Na): An electrolyte often lost with vomiting, diarrhea, kidney disease, and Addison’s disease. This test helps indicate hydration status.
- Phosphorus (PHOS): Elevations are often associated with kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and bleeding disorders.
- Total bilirubin (TBIL): Elevations may indicate liver or hemolytic disease. This test helps identify bile duct problems and certain types of anemia.
- Total protein: Indicates hydration status and provides additional information about the liver, kidneys, and infectious diseases.
- Thyroxine (T4): A thyroid hormone. Decreased levels often signal hypothyroidism in dogs.
To determine if your dog has abnormal blood chemistry or complete blood count, simply compare their blood work results with established normal values that you can look up online.
Understanding dog blood test results
If your dog receives completely positive results indicating good health, it is not only great news but also provides a valuable reference for future comparisons. In the event your dog becomes ill in the future, these blood work results will give your veterinarian valuable insights into what a healthy dog’s blood work should look like and enable them to provide the best possible care to bring your pup back to good health. For those seeking more information about dog blood work, continue reading.
Being better prepared with this information allows your veterinarian to better understand and meet your pet’s physical needs. According to Hitt, statistically, about 1 in 20 tests may show abnormal results without being truly relevant. For example, a dog might have higher-than-normal liver enzyme values for extended periods and still be healthy.
Hitt emphasizes that the significance of an abnormal test result can only be properly assessed by considering the patient’s overall health, medical history, and the extent of the value change. If a test result is deemed significant, further tests may be required to confirm the issue’s importance or gather additional information related to the concern.
When visiting the veterinarian with a sick dog, it’s wise to be proactive and inquire whether a blood chemistry evaluation would be helpful, just as you would want such tests for yourself. Additionally, expect that a blood chemistry profile will be necessary before any elective anesthesia or surgery. Often, elective procedures are postponed until previously unnoticed medical problems are evaluated.
Many animal hospitals now offer annual Older Pet Evaluations, where blood and urine testing play a crucial role in assessing the patient’s health. If your dog is eight years or older, scheduling an annual physical exam with laboratory tests can be highly beneficial and rewarding.
Common dog blood work results and what they might mean
- High levels of creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) may indicate kidney failure, or otherwise poor kidney function.
- High levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP) or alanine aminotransferase (ALT) may indicate liver damage.
- Elevated amounts of amylase may indicate poor pancreatic or kidney function due to disease. However, it may also be an allergic reaction that takes place so ask a vet before jumping to any conclusions yourself.
- Abnormal calcium 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 chronic 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.
When in doubt, remember that your veterinarian is your reliable source for all things related to dogs. No question is too silly to ask, especially when it concerns your canine companion’s blood work. It’s far better to inquire about anything, even if it may seem “silly,” than to remain unaware of crucial information about your dog’s health. If your vet appears hesitant or rushed in answering your inquiries, it might be time to find a new veterinarian. Both you and your pet deserve a healthcare professional who is willing to dedicate the time and care necessary to optimize your pet’s life.
How important is it to conduct blood tests?
While we humans have the ability to speak up about our ailments, our dogs unfortunately can’t. 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).
Blood panels for dogs may cost upwards of $100, and this might initially seem discouraging. However, it is essential to recognize that preventive measures play a crucial role in maintaining your pet’s good health. Detecting any health issues early on can lead to substantial cost savings in the future and prevent potential suffering for your beloved pet. Considering the long-term benefits, the $100 investment in a blood panel appears relatively minor.