When you see a well-bred litter of hunting-stock Labrador retriever puppies demonstrate their natural affinity to swim and retrieve, you could say that they have “ducks in their blood.” Obviously, these dogs don’t really have a flock of ducks paddling around in their bloodstream, since they inherit their hunting traits, but this phrase may get you thinking about what is actually in your pet’s blood, and how blood components relate to your pet’s health.

Your pet’s blood 101

Blood is composed of a cellular portion (i.e., oxygen-carrying red blood cells, disease-fighting white blood cells, and blood-clotting platelets) and a fluid portion (i.e., proteins, nutrients, electrolytes, hormones, wastes, and other compounds). Blood circulates throughout the body and interacts with almost all body cells, and can therefore be useful for assessing your pet’s cell, organ, and body system functions for problems or disease signs. 

Purpose of blood work in pets

Blood work is performed for a variety of reasons. Senior and geriatric pets should have routine blood work every 6 to 12 months to establish a baseline, and/or screen for common problems before the pet becomes symptomatic. Adult pets can also benefit from yearly blood work. An IDEXX Laboratories study found that blood testing revealed problems in one of seven adult pets, one of five senior pets, and two of five geriatric pets who were believed to be healthy. Without this testing, the problems would likely have been detected much later, leading to a poorer prognosis. Pets undergoing general anesthesia for surgery or imaging (i.e., CT or MRI) should have blood work to ensure their kidneys and liver can process the anesthetic drugs, and that they have sufficient red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells to fight infection, and platelets to clot during the procedure. When a sick or injured pet is examined at AIMSS, our veterinarians will typically request blood work for diagnostic and assessment purposes.

Pets’ blood work components

When your family veterinarian or one of our AIMSS veterinarians talks about blood work, they are generally referring to a blood chemistry panel, complete blood count and, depending on the pet, thyroid testing. 

A blood chemistry panel evaluates:

  • Liver values — Abnormal levels can indicate liver damage, inflammation, or failure, decreased bile flow, cancer, bile duct obstruction, Cushing’s disease, or medication-related liver changes.
  • Kidney values — These markers become elevated during dehydration, urinary obstruction, cancer, or kidney damage, failure, or infection.
  • Glucose — Diabetes mellitus, insulin-secreting tumors, sepsis, and other conditions may cause blood glucose changes.
  • Electrolytes — Dehydrated animals, or those with metabolic diseases, may have abnormal electrolytes.
  • Blood protein — Abnormal blood protein levels may indicate dehydration, infection, cancer, or diseases causing protein loss.

As the name implies, a complete blood count (CBC) evaluates:

  • Red cells — Red blood cell number, size, appearance, and iron content can change because of blood loss, cancer, immune-mediated red blood cell destruction, dehydration, increased production, or other conditions.
  • White cells — Infection, inflammation, stress, cancer, and other diseases can cause a change in white cell numbers. The relative number of different white blood cell types (i.e., eosinophils, basophils, lymphocytes, neutrophils, and monocytes) can help point to the exact process that is occurring.
  • Platelets — Abnormal platelet numbers are associated with blood clotting changes, immune-mediated platelet destruction, bone marrow failure, bleeding, and certain other disease states.

Testing thyroid levels can screen for hypothyroidism (i.e., low thyroid hormone levels more commonly seen in dogs) or hyperthyroidism (i.e., high thyroid levels more commonly seen in older cats). 

Specialized blood testing for pets

While blood chemistry, CBC, and thyroid level are the most common blood work tests, many specialized blood tests also are used. Your pet may require one or more specialized tests to confirm a suspected diagnosis, evaluate treatment for a known disease or condition, or follow-up on other abnormal blood or urine test results.

Follow-up for pets with abnormal blood work

The suggested course of action for abnormal blood work depends on the abnormal value or values, the degree of abnormality, the suspected disease process, and the pet’s status. Sometimes the best plan is repeating the blood work several weeks or months later to determine if the abnormality persists or has changed before diving into more diagnostics. In other cases, further testing is required immediately to optimize your pet’s treatment. Our AIMSS board-certified-specialist team often works hand-in-hand with your family veterinarian to complete the work-up for abnormalities found on routine blood work. Our diagnostic imaging department provides access to state-of-the art imaging capabilities, and our surgery, oncology, cardiology, and critical care departments can lend their respective expertise to your pet’s treatment. This partnership helps ensure your pet’s condition is diagnosed quickly, and treated promptly and aggressively with the latest in cutting-edge care and technology. 

Did your pet’s blood work show abnormalities that could benefit from a specialist’s input? Did your family veterinarian recommend that your pet visit AIMSS for an ultrasound or other imaging to help diagnose their condition? If so, contact us to set up an appointment with our highly trained, compassionate veterinary professionals, who will treat your pet like their own.