Understanding Dog Blood Tests
A blood test or lab test allows us to learn information about your dog's health which can only be found from collecting a sample of blood and having it analyzed. This includes a CBC (complete blood count) and blood chemistries that analyze chemical components in the blood.
A CBC for dogs identifies and quantifies white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets in a given amount of blood. This includes analyzing the shape and condition of the cells for health and functionality. This information is helpful in learning more about your dog's immune system (white blood cells) and oxygen-carrying capacity (red blood cell count).
Additionally, blood tests for dogs can also identify:
- Endocrine Levels
- Digestive Enzymes
Because chemicals found in the bloodstream can also correlate with specific organs, lab work for dogs can help determine more than just blood count. For example, if dog blood tests show a deficiency in albumin levels, then a veterinarian knows to examine a dog's liver because albumin is produced in the liver
Lab work for dogs also can detect and help identify complex problems with body systems. For example, blood tests for dogs can detect abnormal hormonal-chemical responses to environmental and internal stimuli, which alerts a veterinarian to a potential issue with the patient's endocrine system
So when understood in this way, canine blood tests serve as very valuable tools in a veterinarian's toolkit for helping to detect, identify, diagnose and even treat illness or disease.
When Will A Veterinarian Recommend Dog Blood Tests?
The following situations can result in dog blood work being ordered:
- On the first veterinary visit: We recommend puppies have a blood test to rule out congenital diseases, for baseline information and for pre-anesthetic testing prior to spay or neuter
- During semi-annual wellness exams: This is recommended if your veterinarian suggests it as part of a thorough physical examination because dog blood work, along with other bodily fluids like urine, can help identify conditions the examination portion of a physical cannot
- If a dog seems not quite right: Canine blood tests are suitable for a dog that is not displaying any overt signs of illness, disease or injury but is acting abnormally
- Pre-surgical tests: Dog blood work is used to determine the efficiency of the liver and kidneys, which helps a veterinarian select the safest dose of anesthesia. Tests can also help determine the surgical risk level in infirmed, elderly or injured patients
- Prior to starting a new medication: Particularly for new medication may be metabolized by the liver or kidney
- During senior wellness exams: Dog blood tests are usually recommended for mature, senior and geriatric dogs as part of their periodic wellness exams. These are extremely beneficial, as we often see senior dogs return to a more youthful state of being when blood tests identify an issue that can be easily treated
Although we can choose to have any type of dog blood work or culture analyzed for your dog, some of the most common lab work for dogs we perform are:
- Urinalysis: We evaluate your dog's urine to reveal hydration status, infections, kidney or bladder disease, diabetes, and other health conditions
- Fecal Exam: We evaluate your dog's stool sample for color, consistency, as well as the presence of blood or mucus. We then examine it under a microscope for intestinal parasites, fungus, or protozoa
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): We analyze your dog's blood to assess features of the blood, including red and white cell count, immunity status, and the measure of hemoglobin, which is the actual substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen
- Blood Clotting Times: We test your dog's blood for bleeding disorders
- Blood Chemistries: We identify the status of your dog's internal organs, and also gauge their health before anesthetizing for surgery
- Cytology: We collect samples of sebum and cellular debris on the skin and in the ears to determine if infection is present. In addition, we may perform a needle or core biopsy of lumps or masses on your dog's body to look for cancer cells.
We recommend discussing lab tests for dogs with your veterinarian, in order to make an informed decision as to whether or not your canine friend can benefit from dog blood work.
Understanding Canine Blood Tests
Understanding dog blood tests is second nature to us. However, we understand that the same might not be said for you. This is why we always fully explain the results of canine blood tests with a patient's human caretakers. After all, arresting and treating whatever a blood test indicates takes an informed and concerted team effort. If we are ordering dog blood work, it will most likely be in the form of a Complete Blood Count, or else a Blood Chemistry (serum) test.
The Complete Blood Count, or CBC, shows a veterinarian your dog's hydration status, anemia, infection, blood clotting ability and immune system response. A CBC is essential for dogs that have symptoms like fever, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, pale gums or loss of appetite. If your dog needs surgery, a CBC can also detect bleeding disorders or other unseen abnormalities. Specifically, a Complete Blood Count provides detailed information including:
- Hematocrit (HCT): This test measures the percentage of red blood cells to detect anemia and hydration
- Hemoglobin and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (Hb and MCHC): These are the oxygen-carrying pigments of red blood cells
- White blood cell count (WBC): This test measures the body's immune cells. Increases or decreases in the WBC indicate certain diseases or infections
- Granulocytes and lymphocytes/monocytes (GRANS and L/M): These are specific types of white blood cells
- Eosinophils (EOS): These are a specific type of white blood cells that may indicate allergic or parasitic conditions
- Platelet count (PLT): This test measures cells that form blood clots
- Reticulocytes (RETICS): These are are immature red blood cells. High levels indicate regenerative anemia
- Fibrinogen (FIBR): This test provides important information about blood clotting. High levels may indicate a dog is 30 to 40 days pregnant
Blood Chemistries, or blood serum tests, evaluate a dog's organ function, electrolyte status, hormone levels and more. These tests are important to evaluating the health of older dogs, dogs with signs of vomiting, diarrhea or toxin exposure, as well as dogs receiving long-term medications and general health before anesthesia.
- Albumin (ALB): This is a serum protein that helps evaluate hydration, hemorrhage and intestinal, liver and kidney disease
- Alkaline phosphatase (ALKP): Elevations in this test may indicate liver damage, Cushing's disease or active bone growth in a young dog
- Alanine aminotransferase (ALT): This test may determine active liver damage, but does not indicate the cause
- Amylase (AMYL): Elevations in this test indicate pancreatitis or kidney disease
- Aspartate aminotransferase (AST): Increases in this test may indicate liver, heart or skeletal muscle damage
- Blood urea nitrogen (BUN): This test determines kidney function. An increased level is called azotemia and can be caused by kidney, liver and heart disease as well as urethral obstruction, shock or dehydration
- Calcium (Ca): Changes in the normal level of this test can indicate a variety of diseases. Tumors, hyperparathyroidism, kidney disease, and low albumin are just a few of the conditions that alter serum calcium
- Cholesterol (CHOL): This test is used to supplement diagnosis of hypothyroidism, liver disease, Cushing's disease, and diabetes mellitus
- Chloride (Cl): Chloride is an electrolyte that is typically lost with symptoms like vomiting or illnesses such as Addison's disease. Elevations often indicate dehydration
- Coristol (CORT): Cortisol is a hormone that is measured in tests for Cushing's disease (the low-dose dexamethasone suppression test) and Addison's disease (ACTH stimulation test)
- Creatinine (CREA): This test reveals kidney function and helps distinguish between kidney and non-kidney causes of elevated BUN
- Gamma Glutamyl transferase (GGT): This is an enzyme that indicates liver disease or corticosteroid excess
- Globulin (GLOB): This is a blood protein that often increases with chronic inflammation and certain disease states
- Glucose (GLU): Glucose is blood sugar. Elevated levels may indicate diabetes mellitus. Low levels can cause collapse, seizures or coma
- Potassium (K): This is an electrolyte typically lost with symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea or excessive urination. Increased levels may indicate kidney failure, Addison's disease, dehydration or urethral obstruction. High levels can lead to cardiac arrest
- Lipase (LIP): Lipase is an enzyme that may indicate pancreatitis
- Sodium (Na): Sodium is an electrolyte often lost with signs of vomiting, diarrhea, kidney disease, and Addison's disease. This test helps indicate hydration status
- Phosphorus (PHOS): Elevations in this test are often associated with kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and bleeding disorders
- Total bilirubin (TBIL): Elevations in this test may indicate liver or hemolytic disease. This test helps identify bile duct problems and certain types of anemia
- Total protein: This test indicates hydration status and provides additional information about the liver, kidneys and infectious diseases
- Thyroxine (T4): Thyroxine is a thyroid hormone. Decreased levels often signal hypothyroidism in dogs
In order to determine which dog blood tests can best benefit your canine friend, we recommend scheduling an appointment with your veterinarian today.