Your veterinarian has quite a few tools at their disposal to keep your pet healthy, with blood testing one of the most important. Blood work is a quick, non-invasive method to obtain information about your pet’s internal organs and overall health status, and can be used to screen apparently healthy pets for early disease signs, or find illness causes in sick pets.
But, what do those numbers actually mean for your pet? Blood work tells only part of the story, and must be interpreted by your veterinarian in light of exam findings and other diagnostic information. At Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital, we partner with you in your pet’s care, and this blood work overview will help you understand your pet’s next blood test results, and empower you to make informed decisions according to your veterinarian’s recommendations.
What does pet blood work include?
For most clinics and situations, standard blood work includes a complete blood count (CBC) and serum chemistry panel (i.e., chemistry). The CBC counts the blood cells and determines their health and functionality, while the chemistry measures enzymes, waste products, and other substances in the liquid blood portion that give clues to overall organ system health.
Your pet’s blood work may also include a thyroid level to screen for low levels, which is common in dogs, or high levels, common in cats. Heartworm and tick disease screening is added to yearly panels for dogs, and cats may be periodically screened for infectious diseases like heartworm, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), or feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Urine may also be tested at the same time, to evaluate kidney function and hormone balance, and to screen for high blood pressure.
While numerous other specialized blood tests are available, most annual, sick pet, and pre-surgery testing focuses on the CBC and chemistry. Let’s break down the components of these tests further.
What does the complete blood count (CBC) reveal about pet health?
The CBC evaluates your pet for infections, inflammation, dehydration, anemia, and blood clotting status. Most laboratories run an automated blood cell count using a machine, and then evaluate the cells under a microscope.
- Red blood cell count (RBC) and hematocrit (HCT) — Red cells carry oxygen to the body. A low absolute count, or a low HCT percentage of red cells, can indicate anemia. An elevated HCT can indicate dehydration.
- Hemoglobin (HGB) — Hemoglobin is the oxygen-carrying protein bound to red blood cells. Low HGB may assist in an anemia diagnosis.
- Reticulocytes — These immature red blood cells often increase in production during certain types of anemia.
- White blood cell count (WBC) — The five types of white cells (i.e., neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils) fight infection. Their relative percentages in the blood can indicate infections, parasites, stress, inflammation, and cancers.
- Platelets (PLT) — Platelets are small cells that stick together to help blood clot. Low platelets may cause bleeding or bruising, and can indicate an immune problem or infection.
What does the serum chemistry reveal about pet health?
The chemistry panel evaluates liver, kidney, and pancreatic function, as well as electrolyte status. The chemistry panel can tell your veterinarian if any of your pet’s organs are dysfunctional, so they can take the next steps to figure out why. Here is an overview of components in the chemistry panel:
- Albumin (ALB) and globulin (GLOB) — These are proteins in the blood. Albumin can be low because of bleeding, or liver, kidney, or intestinal disease, while globulins may be elevated in inflammatory or infectious diseases.
- Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) — This enzyme indicates liver, heart, or muscle damage.
- Alanine aminotransferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase (ALKP), gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), and total bilirubin (TBIL) — These are generally regarded as “liver enzymes,” and elevations usually indicate liver or bile duct damage, or increased red blood cell destruction.
- Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (CREA) — These are indicators of kidney function, and their ratio is important. Many changes in the body can elevate BUN, including diet or dehydration, so measuring creatinine at the same time reveals whether the cause is in the kidneys or elsewhere.
- Calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sodium (Na), Potassium (K), and chloride (Cl) — These electrolytes are maintained in narrow ranges for optimal cell performance. Dehydration and hormonal or metabolic diseases can throw electrolytes out of whack, causing vomiting, weakness, seizures, heart arrhythmias, or death.
- Glucose (GLU) — Glucose is used as fuel for most of the body’s cells. Elevated glucose is often seen in diabetes, but may be falsely elevated because of stress, while low glucose may be because of toxins, tumors, or other illness. Low glucose levels can cause seizures, coma, or death in severe cases.
- Cholesterol (CHOL) and triglycerides — Cholesterol and triglycerides are circulating lipids or fats in the blood. High levels are not correlated with heart disease in pets, but may indicate liver disease, metabolic disease, or diabetes, and can also lead to eye problems in some pets.
- Amylase (AMYL) and lipase (LIP) — These enzymes indicate pancreatic function and inflammation.
We encourage you to use this guide to decode your pet’s blood work and ask questions about their health. Blood work can help us diagnose common conditions, screen for aging changes, and determine candidacy for elective surgeries. Check out this video, where Dr. Man explains the importance of senior wellness testing.
Call us to schedule an appointment with your Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team for your pet’s regular wellness exam and blood testing, pre-surgery consultation, or if you have any questions regarding your pet’s blood work.