Understanding Why Your Pet Needs Blood Testing and When
Published August 11, 2020
Content Reviewed by an Essentials PetCare Veterinarian
- What: Blood testing for cats and dogs helps the veterinarian diagnose and treat a variety of health conditions, including parasites, allergies, diabetes, liver disease, kidney failure, and pancreatic issues, to name a few.
- Why: Routine blood work, along with a thorough physical exam, give the veterinarian the most information about your pet’s health so that the best treatment and prevention recommendations can be made.
- When: Routine blood work is recommended any time your veterinarian feels that it will give more information during the diagnosis of a medical issue. It should also be performed as part of your pet’s annual wellness exams, much like our doctors perform blood tests during our routine physicals. This can allow early detection of some common conditions. In addition, regular blood work is recommended every 12 months for senior pets, or sooner depending on certain health conditions or medications being taken.
- How: Your veterinarian will usually need a combination of a complete blood count, also called CBC, and a blood chemical analysis to diagnose your pet and have a thorough understanding of your pet’s current health. A urine sample for a urinalysis may also be recommended to give more insight into your pet’s overall health.
- EPC affordable price: Bloodwork begins at $60. Book a visit now.
What Is Pet Blood Work?
Blood testing for cats and dogs helps the veterinarian diagnose and treat a variety of health conditions. Blood screening is also necessary for the doctor to understand your pet’s health status and monitor the progress of some illnesses. In addition, routine blood work is part of an effective pet care prevention program to avoid a myriad of diseases or catch them early on, when the odds of recovery are likely better. If your pet is being considered for surgery, the veterinarian will need to run blood work to determine whether the pet is healthy enough to withstand a surgical procedure and what anesthesia would be best.
Essential Tip: If your pet is having a non-emergency surgical procedure, you can save money with blood work before and after surgery by having it done at your local Essentials PetCare clinic. Book a visit now.
Why Blood Work Is Important for Dogs and Cats
Blood testing in conjunction with a thorough physical exam allow your veterinarian to determine the best route of treatment for your pet. Routine blood work typically includes a complete blood count, a.k.a. CBC, and an analysis of the chemical components in your pet’s blood.
A CBC quantifies white blood cells, responsible for your pet’s immune system, and red blood cells that carry oxygen through your pet’s body. It also measures platelets, which allow your pet’s blood to clot, avoiding hemorrhage. In addition, some blood tests can also identify the presence of parasites like heartworms. Finally, a blood chemistry analysis will indicate the levels of crucial substances that dictate your pet’s health profile like:
- Digestive enzymes
- Liver enzymes
- Kidney enzymes
- Endocrine hormones
Chemicals and other substances found in the bloodstream can correlate with specific organs, so blood work for dogs and cats can help determine how healthy their organs are. For example, if your dog’s blood test shows a deficiency in albumin levels, then the veterinarian should examine the liver because albumin is produced in the liver. This could also be an indication of intestinal or kidney disease, since these conditions can cause loss of albumin from the body.
When Your Pet Needs Blood Work
First and foremost, your pet needs blood work every time the veterinarian feels it will aid in the diagnosis of a medical condition. Take heed to the doctor’s advice, she most likely has her patient’s best interest at heart. If costs are a concern and the issue at hand is not an emergency, you can bring your pet to an Essentials PetCare clinic, which offers affordable screenings to help pet families access high-quality veterinary care.
Whenever your pet is not acting normal, blood work may be warranted upon a veterinary exam. Your pet needs a veterinarian consultation and the doctor may require blood work to provide proper care if your pet is:
- running a fever
- appearing pinkish, blueish, or pale
- losing a significant amount of weight or fur
- more thirsty than usual or urinating more than usual
- refusing to eat or drink for the last 24 hours
- having diarrhea or accidents in the house – even though he is potty trained
- displaying odd behavior, including aggression
Prevention is the best treatment. Blood work must be part of your pet’s routine preventive care. The recommendation is to have your pet’s blood work done annually to ensure the pet’s wellbeing.
Senior pets—dogs 8 years old or older and cats 11 years old or older—should have routine blood work performed every 6 months, because their health tends to deteriorate faster the older they become. Likewise, pets with long-term health issues like diabetes, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and other conditions will usually require tests to be performed more often, at the veterinarian’s discretion.
Heartworm, a deadly parasite transmitted through mosquito bites that may live in the heart, arteries, and lungs of your dog or cat, is diagnosed via blood tests. Cats usually require additional diagnostics as well. Once your dog’s heartworm test shows that your pet is heartworm-free, the pet should follow a monthly preventive treatment. Heartworm blood testing should be rechecked 6 months after beginning heartworm prevention, then once every year as long as your pet doesn’t miss any prevention doses. Unfortunately, heartworm is usually fatal for cats.
Essential Tip: You can have your dog’s heartworm test done at your Essentials PetCare clinic for a nominal cost. See affordable pricing here.
How Blood Testing for Dogs and Cats Works
The veterinarian will usually need a combination of a complete blood count and a blood chemical analysis to diagnose your pet and have a thorough understanding of your pet’s current health. If your dog is being screened for parasites, such as heartworms, then a basic blood test will simply indicate whether your pet is infected.
If the veterinarian needs to treat a long-term illness, find out your pet’s current status for preventive treatment, or diagnose what is making your pet not act like herself, a complete blood count will show your pet’s hydration status, blood clotting ability, immune system response, and the incidence of diseases like anemia or infection. The results of the blood work will also clue the veterinarian into your pet’s liver and kidney function. Below is a list of the detailed information that a complete blood count and blood chemistry analysis will provide.
Understanding Your Pet’s Blood Work
ALANINE TRANSAMINASE is an enzyme present in the liver and kidneys. When elevated levels are present, it may indicate liver damage, kidney infection, the presence of chemical pollutants in your pet’s system, or myocardial infarction. Pets with congested liver, on the other hand, may present low levels of this enzyme combined with high cholesterol.
ALBUMIN is a serum protein. Low levels may indicate poor diet, inadequate iron intake, diarrhea, kidney or liver disease, fever, infection, intestinal hemorrhage, third-degree burns, edemas, and hypocalcemia (low blood calcium). High levels are rare and indicate dehydration.
ALKALINE PHOSPHATASE is an enzyme that helps breakdown protein. Elevated levels may suggest liver problems, bone injury, pregnancy, dental disease, Cushing’s disease, or skeletal growth. Growing animals and those who are or have been taking glucocorticoids or certain other drugs normally have high levels of this enzyme.
AMYLASE is an enzyme that aids in digestion. A high incidence may indicate pancreatitis or kidney disease.
ASPARTATE AMINOTRANSFERASE (AST) is an enzyme found in the liver, heart, or skeletal muscle and is usually at a low concentration. If the AST count is high, it may indicate liver disease, heart problems, or pancreatitis.
BASOPHILS are a type of white blood cell associated with the immune system cell. If the count is high, your pet may be facing allergy disorders, parasitism, and neoplasm, which is an abnormal growth of cells.
BILIRUBIN aids your pet’s digestive system. Bilirubin is produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. High levels may point to liver disease, hemolytic anemia, or a side effect caused by a few medications.
BLOOD UREA NITROGEAN is an indicator of kidney function. Increased levels, called azotemia, may be caused by excessive protein intake, diseases of the kidney, liver, or heart, urethral obstruction, shock, intestinal bleeding, exercise, or dehydration. Lower levels may indicate a poor diet, liver damage, malabsorption of nutrients, or low nitrogen intake.
CALCIUM is a blood electrolyte. Increases in the blood calcium levels can indicate many diseases like kidney disease, certain cancerous tumors, and hyperparathyroidism.
CHLORIDE is an electrolyte responsible for regulating hydration. If chloride is elevated, especially in conjunction with elevated sodium, your pet may be dehydrated. This is often the case if the pet has been vomiting or suffering with Addison’s disease.
CHOLESTEROL is a fat-like substance found in the blood. While cats and dogs do not get atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular problems like people do with high cholesterol, high levels can indicate an underactive thyroid gland, Cushing’s disease, or diabetes. In addition, a decreased level may indicate certain liver diseases. Your pet’s blood work will also account for triglycerides, or fat levels in the blood. High levels of triglycerides, called hyperlipidemia, can be present in both overweight pets and those taking certain medications, especially steroids like Prednisone. This can also be caused by high fat diets or when blood work is performed without your pet being fasted.
CORTISOL is a hormone that regulates metabolism and immune response. It is measured to diagnose Cushing’s syndrome—elevated levels of circulating cortisol—or Addison’s disease—decreased levels of circulating cortisol.
CREATININE is waste product produced by muscle metabolism, which is then secreted by the kidneys. Low levels may be found when there is pregnancy, protein starvation, or liver disease. If levels are high, your pet might have kidney disease that makes it hard for her to excrete creatinine. Elevations can also be due to muscle degeneration or as the side effect of medication that caused impairment of kidney function.
EOSINOPHILS are a type of white blood cell associated with the immune system. If the eosinophil count is elevated, your pet may be suffering with allergies, parasitism, intestinal issues, or skin disorders.
FIBRINOGEN is a glycoprotein complex produced in the liver. It is one of several enzymes used by the body for blood clotting. While fibrinogen is not part of a routine blood panel, this special test may be requested if there is concern for an underlying bleeding disorder. Fibrinogen is usually tested in conjunction with other bleeding tests such as prothrombin time and partial thromboplastin time.
GAMMA GLUTAMYL TRANSFERASE is an enzyme responsible for moving molecules around the body. It is associated with the portions of the liver that produce and store bile. High concentrations of this enzyme may indicate problems with the gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, and kidneys.
GLOBULIN is a blood protein that plays a vital role in blood clotting, liver function, and fighting infection. It increases when there is chronic inflammation, certain infections, or with certain types of cancers.
GLUCOSE is sugar in the blood. Elevated levels may indicate diabetes, obesity, liver disease, and pancreatitis. Elevations can also be caused by steroid medications or stress, especially in cats. Low levels can indicate hypothyroidism, overproduction of insulin, or liver disease. Low blood sugar in pets can also cause collapse, seizures, or coma.
HEMOGLOBIN measurement indicates the amount and size of hemoglobin that is present within the red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen through your pet’s blood. If the numbers are lower or higher than normal, the veterinarian will look at other blood values to understand why.
LACTATE DEHYDROGENASE is an enzyme that is responsible for cell respiration. It turns sugar into energy. High levels may indicate destruction to liver cells, heart cells, muscle cells, or red blood cells.
LIPASE is an enzyme that breaks down fat cells for digestion. If the level is high, it may indicate that your pet is suffering with pancreatitis.
OSMOLALITY is a measure of the body’s electrolyte-water balance. It indicates how hydrated your pet is. It also helps the veterinarian interpret other blood values.
PHOSPHORUS is a mineral important to support several functions in the body, including bone and teeth formation, digestion of carbohydrates and fat, protein generation, and the repair of cells. High phosphorus levels often indicate bleeding disorders or kidney disease, while decreases in phosphorus can indicate hyperparathyroidism.
PLATELETS are needed for proper blood clotting. If the platelet count is decreased, your pet may be at risk for hemorrhage. Reduced levels can be caused by excessive bleeding, clotting disorders, or immune-mediated diseases. Elevated levels are usually not significant and can be caused by artifactual changes, alterations that occur secondary to the blood collection process and not indicating an actual change in the pet’s body.
POTASSIUM is an important electrolyte that helps nerves to function and muscles to contract, regulating your pet’s heartbeat, for example. Potassium also moves nutrients into cells and waste out of cells. If your pet is dehydrated because of vomiting, excessive urination, or diarrhea, potassium levels will decrease. Otherwise, low levels may indicate kidney insufficiency or possibly certain adrenal gland diseases, especially in cats. On the other hand, if potassium levels are high your pet may be suffering with Addison’s disease, kidney failure, or urethral obstruction. Very high levels of potassium can even lead to cardiac arrest.
RED BLOOD CELL COUNT or HEMATOCRIT indicates the number or percentage of red blood cells in your pet’s blood. Low or high values may signal anemia or dehydration, respectively.
RETICULOCYTES are immature red blood cells. Elevated levels of reticulocytes, called reticulocytosis, may indicate that your pet has a regenerative form of anemia.
SERUM PROTEIN indicates the total amount of protein in your pet’s bloodstream. Low levels may be caused by poor nutrition, malabsorption of nutrients, diarrhea, liver disease, or severe burns. Pets with increased total protein levels may be battling lupus, leukemia, liver disease, or chronic infections.
SODIUM is an electrolyte that indicates the hydration level of your pet. Sodium will be lost if your pet has diarrhea, is vomiting, or suffers with Addison’s disease. Elevated levels are often associated with dehydration.
THYROXINE is a thyroid hormone vital for muscle function, heart health, brain development, bone health, and digestion. Decreased levels indicate that your pet may be suffering with hypothyroidism typically seen in dogs, while increased levels indicate hyperthyroidism typically seen in cats.
WHITE BLOOD CELL COUNT measures your pet’s immune cells. It includes the breakdown of distinct types of immune system cells called lymphocytes, monocytes, neutrophils, basophils, and eosinophils. An increase or decrease in the white blood cell count can indicate that your pet is dealing with stress, inflammation, infection, or another illness.
It typically takes just a few minutes to collect a blood sample from your pet and it can be done as a stand-alone service, or with any vaccine or minor illness visit at Essentials PetCare. Our team will generally have comprehensive blood test results for you within 3 business days. Basic bloodwork panels will have same-day results!