Pet Library: Your Guide to Pet Blood Tests

If you’ve ever brought your pet in for a routine check-up or illness, chances are the veterinarian has wanted to start with “blood work”– also referred to as a blood “screening” or “panel”. That’s because just like in humans, the cells and chemicals present in your pet’s blood can give the doctor a wealth of clues about what’s happening in various organs of the body. Animals tend to be stoic when it comes to pain and are unable to verbalize their symptoms, so blood work is vital to determining a diagnosis and assessing your pet’s overall health.

There are several types of blood screenings your vet might request, depending on your pet’s age and/or what symptoms are present. Below is a brief description of the most common types of blood testing and their purpose.

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

The CBC is a routine blood test that acts like a snapshot of the red and white cells in your pet’s blood and can reveal many conditions such as whether he or she is anemic, dehydrated, or has an active infection. The CBC screens for:

  • Red blood cells, which carry oxygen
  • White blood cells, which fight infection
  • Hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells
  • Hematocrit, the proportion of red blood cells to the fluid component in blood
  • Platelets, which help with blood clotting

Blood Chemistry Panels

In addition to the CBC, your vet may also decide to run a more specific blood chemistry panel based on symptoms, breed, or the animal’s age. These panels can give more specific information related to a diagnosis and can also be helpful in determining the progression of a disease.

Some of the most common blood chemistry panels are:

  • Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) and Creatinine – measures the health of a pet’s kidneys
  • ALT and Bilirubin these are substances that indicate liver health. When a pet’s liver is not functioning properly, these levels might increase.
  • Glucose – used to help diagnose diabetes in pets
  • Electrolytes – this screening measures a pet’s potassium, sodium, and chloride levels, which can be affected by a wide variety of illnesses and conditions, including dehydration, kidney failure, and Addison’ s disease
  • Thyroxine (T4) – this test can give your vet information about a dog’s thyroid function
  • Calcium – tumors, thyroid issues, and kidney disease are just a few of the conditions that alter calcium levels

Testing for Common Diseases

There are also diseases specific to dogs and cats that require a blood test to diagnose. They include:

  • Heartworm (dogs) – A potentially deadly parasitic disease, heartworm is spread by mosquitoes and has been confirmed in all 50 states. A heartworm blood test looks for specific heartworm proteins called antigens, which are released by adult heartworms into the dog’s bloodstream. The test is simple and usually inexpensive.
  • FeLV/FIV (cats) – Both feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are both capable of causing a cat’s premature death if undetected. An FeLV test looks for the virus present in the blood; an FIV blood test will show if specific antiviral antibodies are circulating in the blood.

The Importance of Preanesthetic Bloodwork

Blood screening prior to surgery is not only a lifesaver, it’s also now considered the standard of care for veterinary hospitals. Still, many owners don’t understand the importance of these preoperative tests, especially when they have a young, healthy pet.

While the chance of a problem being detected in a healthy pet is small, issues do appear and can be life-threatening if the pet undergoes anesthesia. Normally, a CBC with a few basic blood chemistry panels is all that’s needed, and the cost tends to be reasonable.

If you have any questions about blood testing for your pet, or want to schedule an appointment, don’t hesitate to give us a call at (000) 000-0000.