The Importance of Lab Work for Dogs


Understanding Blood Tests for Dogs

Blood tests allow us to learn information about your dog's health. This includes a CBC (complete blood count), and blood chemistries that analyze chemical components in the blood.

Because chemicals found in the blood stream can also correlate with specific organs, lab work for dogs can help determine more than just blood count. For example, if a blood test for a dog shows a deficiency in albumin levels, then a veterinarian knows to examine the 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.

Canine blood tests serve as a very valuable tool for helping to detect, identify, diagnose, and even treat illness or disease.

When will a Veterinarian recommend a Blood Test for my Dog?

The following situations can result in blood work being ordered for your dog:

  • On the first veterinary visit: We recommend puppies have blood tests to rule out congenital diseases, for baseline information, and for pre-anesthetic testing prior to spay or neuter
  • Annual Wellness Exams: Blood work, along with other bodily fluids such as urine, can help identify conditions the examination portion of a physical cannot
  • If a dog seems not quite right: Blood tests are suitable for a dog that is not displaying any overt signs of illness, disease, or injury, but is acting abnormal
  • Pre-surgical tests: 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 that may be metabolized by the liver or kidney
  • Senior Wellness Exams: Dog blood tests are usually recommended for mature, senior, and geriatric dogs as part of their periodic wellness exams

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 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 needle or core biopsy of lumps or masses on your dog's body to look for cancer cells

Understanding Canine Blood Tests

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

A CBC is essential for dogs that have symptoms such as 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.

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 corpulscular 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 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

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 aminotansferase (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 Glutamy 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 a 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

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