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Understanding Blood Tests for Dogs

Understanding Blood Tests for Dogs

Dogs who need specialty and emergency veterinary care often need blood work and diagnostic tests too. In this post, our Gaithersburg vets explain why blood tests are important for dogs and cats, what these tests can reveal, and more. 

Why Dogs Need Blood Work

If your dog or cat comes to our specialty or 24-hour emergency hospital and needs blood work, you may not completely understand why.

Blood work can play an essential role in your pet's diagnosis and care. These important diagnostic tests can give us a lot of insight into your four-legged friend's health. For certain procedures such as soft tissue surgery, your pet's blood will need to be tested to ensure they are healthy enough to undergo the procedure.

In our diagnostic lab at Veterinary Referral Associates, we're able to perform a range of common and specialized blood tests to assess your pet's health and to monitor and diagnose illnesses, such as various forms of cancer. It can sometimes be challenging to understand the value of blood work and how it can help your vet make decisions about your pet's health and treatment, so that's why we've decided to share more information about why blood tests are important.

What's Involved in Blood Work for Dogs & Cats

While many pet owners assume all blood tests are created equal, this is not the case. Ask your vet specifically which blood tests they are conducting and why they are required for your pet. Our vets in Gaithersburg will be able to explain your pet's condition, any diagnostic tests that are needed, and what we can expect from them in easy-to-understand terms.

CBC (Complete Blood Count) and a serum chemistry panel are some of the most common veterinary blood tests we perform. Each test provides us with different, but complementary, information.

With a CBC, we can measure a patient's white blood cell count, red blood cell count, and platelet count. We can usually also get some information about the shape and/or size of red and white blood cells. The size of red blood cells sometimes gives us clues about potential disease. 

For example, larger red blood cells can be seen with bone marrow disease, vitamin deficiency, and other conditions, while smaller red cells can be found with immune system issues and iron deficiency. Sometimes, though the red cells are normally sized, there are not enough of them, which can point to longstanding illness such as cancer, persistent inflammation, or kidney disease.

In addition, many changes in the shape of red cells have been associated with various diseases. While we can rarely base a diagnosis on these changes alone, they can offer clues as to the nature of underlying disease. 

A chemistry panel, also referred to as a blood chem or chemistry screen, allows us to assess values related to organ function (such as the liver, kidneys, and pancreas), in addition to electrolyte levels and other important enzymes in the bloodstream.

This test measures specific chemicals and enzymes in the blood, which can reveal important information about organ health and function. We can also see your pet's blood sugar level and the level of important electrolytes such as calcium, sodium, and potassium in the blood. An increase or decrease in these electrolytes can point to various health issues, and may impact your pet's suitability for anesthesia or healing post-surgery.

Fortunately, we have advanced tools and technologies at our in-house vet lab that can help us accurately and efficiently diagnose your pet's medical issues. Early assessment and treatment are critical when your pet is feeling ill or their health is rapidly changing.

What Blood Work Can Tell Us

The type of blood work ordered determines which insights we're able to gain into your pet's health. For example, a variety of CBC and chemistry panels can bring us different data depending on what we need to measure and what we are hoping to learn about your pet's health.

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

Threats faced by the immune system can trigger specific responses in white blood cells. The vet can use a CBC to analyze the total number of white blood cells, in addition to how many of each type of white blood cell are present in your pet's blood sample.

A CBC will be important for dogs and cats that have pale gums or are experiencing fever, weakness, loss of appetite or vomiting. Blood tests for dogs and cats with diarrhea also fall into this category.

Red blood cells (RBCs) transport oxygen to the body’s numerous tissues. A CBC counts the RBCs in your pet's blood and reveals how well they move oxygen based on the levels of hemoglobin (a protein that carries the oxygen) in your furry friend’s blood.

Platelets help with blood clotting. If your dog has an insufficient number of platelets, blood may be slow to clot and your dog may bleed abnormally or excessively. A CBC will count how many platelets are in your dog’s blood.

For instance, we can order a routine CBC, which provides numerical values associated with the counts of cells in the samples obtained by a diagnostic machine. A CBC with pathology review will be sent to a clinical pathologist. They will assess a blood sample under a microscope to confirm the counts the machine provides are correct.

He or she can also determine if any abnormal cells are present (damage to cells can indicate leukemia, infections, anemia, poisoning, parasites, or other serious health problems).

The reason blood work is done before surgery is that a CBC can detect low platelet levels. Platelets play a critical role in helping to stop bleeding, so they must be at certain levels to avoid your pet losing too much blood. If platelets are low, this may also indicate serious infections (such as tick-borne illnesses) or life-threatening diseases.

Blood Chemistry Profile

We can learn much about the compounds in your pet's bloodstream from a blood chemistry profile, which can tell you how well your dog’s kidneys are functioning.

In addition, we can determine whether there may be abnormalities in renal systems if your dog is dehydrated, or if an object is obstructing these areas.

The liver plays an important role in your dog’s health, and elevated chemical values here could indicate liver disease or abnormalities in other organs. This test can also reveal any abnormal electrolyte levels, which can be related to illnesses and conditions such as seizures, gastrointestinal disease and others.

Blood protein levels are another critical element of your dog’s physical health. They can play a role in the immune system’s functioning, while also helping the blood clot properly. A blood chemistry profile will reveal valuable information about total protein levels, albumin levels and globulin levels.

Despite the many things we can learn from blood work, the results will rarely tell us whether your pet has cancer or if cancer has spread in their body. However, CBC and chemistry panels can confirm that an animal's body is responding to an oncological treatment plan without complications, such as anemia or elevated kidney values. If these are not detected, they can cause blood loss and eventually cause your dog to collapse due to weakness or organ failure.

How long does blood work take at a vet?

At our in-house diagnostic lab, we can perform numerous tests are relatively quick and may take minutes. However, some tests take a little longer. Your vet can provide an accurate time frame based on which tests are needed.

How much are blood tests for dogs?

The precise cost of your dog's blood work is based on a few factors, such as which tests are needed, where the hospital is located, and others.

Note that the price of these critical tests covers the special equipment needed to conduct the tests, specially trained staff and laboratory costs to process them. We work hard to keep our prices affordable so that we can provide blood and diagnostic testing for as many pets as possible.

Blood Testing for Health Status & Disease

When your pet is sick or injured and needs specialty or immediate emergency care, you'll likely be full of questions and concerns. From the time you walk into our hospital and throughout your pet's treatment journey, our team at Veterinary Referral Associates is here to guide you through the process.

If your pet is undergoing an anesthetic procedure, blood work should be current (within a month). Pets that are ill or who have health issues may need more up-to-date blood work (or blood work tests completed more frequently than those who are healthy, such as on an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly basis), depending on the health issue and its severity.

We can address any questions you may have and explain when and why certain diagnostic tests are required. We'll be able to perform blood and other diagnostic tests quickly, provide a diagnosis, and offer treatment options based on the results.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you have questions about blood tests or other diagnostic testing for your dog or cat? Contact our Gaithersburg vets today.

New Patients Welcome

Veterinary Referral Associates is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Gaithersburg companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

Contact (301) 926-3300