Blood work offers your veterinarian a wealth of information about your pet’s health, and can be done quickly with minimal stress and cost. Our Westerville Veterinary Clinic team uses blood work to check your pet’s overall health, and to monitor trends during wellness visits, assess anesthetic candidacy, and look for causes when your pet is feeling ill. When your pet has a blood panel performed, you may wonder what all those numbers on the results page mean. Here are answers to your most frequently asked questions about your pet’s blood work.
Question: Why does my pet need blood work?
Answer: Blood work can be helpful in many different situations, including:
- Wellness — Running blood work as part of your pet’s wellness exam can detect problems in their early stages, and track trends over time.
- Medication monitoring — Pets on long-term medication therapy require blood work to ensure the health of the organs that metabolize these drugs.
- Disease diagnosis and monitoring — Blood work that provides a chronic disease diagnosis can also be used to monitor disease progression and treatment response.
- Acutely sick pets — Sometimes a physical exam alone does not provide enough detail to tell what’s wrong with your pet. Blood work gives us more information about why your pet may be feeling ill.
- Pre-anesthetic — We need blood work to know how well your pet’s internal organs are functioning, so we can adjust our anesthetic protocol, or defer anesthesia altogether, according to your pet’s needs.
Q: What does my pet’s blood work include?
A: Basic blood work for most situations includes a complete blood count (CBC) and blood chemistry panel (chemistry). If your pet is having a wellness screening, a thyroid level test is usually included, as well. Heartworm tests are included once yearly for dogs, and feline viral panels (FIV and FeLV) may be included as needed for cats.
Q: What can a complete blood count show about my pet’s health?
A: Your pet’s blood consists of a cell component, and a liquid component. A CBC counts and identifies the cell components of your pet’s blood, and can show hydration status, anemia, the presence of physiologic stress or infection, possible bleeding problems, and some types of cancer. Here are a CBC’s components:
- White blood cell (WBC) count — The CBC counts the number of white cells, and the number of each cell type present. White cells fight infection and their quantity and ratio provide clues about immune function.
- Red blood cell (RBC) count and hematocrit (HCT) — These tests count the number of red blood cells, and the percentage of cells versus liquid in the blood. A low count indicates anemia, and a high count may indicate dehydration or other illness.
- Hemoglobin (HGB) — Hemoglobin carries oxygen to cells throughout the body. Low hemoglobin is usually associated with anemia.
- Platelets (PLT) — Platelets are cell fragments that help with blood clotting. Low platelets indicate an immune problem or infectious disease, and may cause bleeding problems.
Q: What can a blood chemistry panel show about my pet’s health?
A: A chemistry measures components of the blood’s liquid portion that contains enzymes and organ function byproducts. Although the chemistry can provide a lot of information, cautious interpretation is required, because elevated or low values can mean different things for different pets.
- Kidneys — Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (CREA) are the main kidney values. Elevations may indicate kidney disease or damage, and also dehydration, intestinal bleeding, or other systemic issues.
- Liver — Aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase (ALKP), gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), and total bilirubin (TBIL) measure liver function. Elevations generally indicate liver dysfunction, but not the underlying cause, and many disease processes can cause liver enzyme elevations.
- Pancreas — Elevations in amylase (AMYL) and lipase (LIP) may indicate pancreatic inflammation.
- Lipids — Cholesterol (CHOL) and triglycerides don’t cause heart disease in pets, but elevations may still be problematic. Chronic elevations tend to be genetic, and may be treated with medications.
- Proteins — Albumin (ALB) and globulin (GLOB) are proteins in the blood. Albumin is made by the liver, and may be low if gastrointestinal, kidney, or liver disease are present. Globulins can be elevated because of infections.
- Electrolytes — Calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sodium (Na), potassium (K), and chloride (Cl) are electrolytes in which hormonal or metabolic disease, kidney disease, or dehydration can cause derangements, leading to serious heart arrhythmias, seizures, or death.
- Glucose—All body cells need glucose to function, but high or low glucose in the blood leads to major problems. Measuring glucose is important in diabetes and many other conditions.
Q: Does my pet need a urinalysis, too?
A: In some situations, your veterinarian may recommend a urinalysis along with your pet’s blood work. Urinalysis can provide a more complete picture of kidney function, and may also point to hormonal imbalance or blood pressure problems. Urinalysis is also useful when a primary bladder problem, such as an infection or bladder stones, is suspected.
Q: I see my pet’s blood work shows numbers outside the normal range, so why did my veterinarian say everything was normal?
A: The normal range of your pet’s blood work varies from lab to lab, and is determined from averages from many healthy pets. Some healthy pets will have values that fall slightly outside these normal ranges, but they are still considered “normal.” Also, blood work is not a black and white science—it’s more an art—and your veterinarian has been highly trained to interpret the true meaning of abnormal values. Sometimes, “abnormal” values are normal for pets of certain breeds and ages, or pets with specific conditions or on certain medications. Other times, an abnormal value is of little concern or consequence. Trust your veterinarian to interpret the results based on your individual pet’s health, and other factors involved.
Q: How often does my pet need blood work?
A: Yearly blood work allows your veterinarian to follow trends over time, and address or investigate changes as they arise. Blood work may be recommended more often if your pet has a medical or chronic condition, or needs to go under anesthesia.
Blood work is our most frequently used tool to monitor your pet’s internal health. Our team uses a fear-free approach, so we’ll ensure your pet has a low-stress visit and blood collection. If your pet is due for annual blood work, needs a pre-anesthetic work up, or is feeling under the weather, contact us and schedule a visit with your Westerville Veterinary Clinic team.
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