Why are blood tests for dogs necessary?
It can be difficult for some pet parents to understand the need for blood tests for dogs, especially since they might be costly. Even if your dog seems perfectly healthy, bloodwork can still show us a great deal about your dog's health.
Your vet will likely recommend bloodwork if your dog is in need of a veterinary procedure or surgery in order to ensure that they are healthy enough beforehand.
In our diagnostic lab at Animal Emergency Clinic, we're able to perform a range of common and specialized blood tests to assess your dog's health and to monitor and diagnose illnesses such as various forms of cancer. Sometimes, it can be challenging to understand the value bloodwork offers and the role it plays.
What are the different parts of a blood test?
While many pet parents are under the impression that the test performed during bloodwork are the same no matter where you are, this is not true. If your vet requests that your dog has bloodwork, you should ask exactly which tests are being performed and why. Our vets will be able to explain your dog's condition, any diagnostic tests that are needed, and what we can expect to learn from them in easy-to-understand terms.
The most common types of blood tests performed are a complete blood count (CBC) and a serum chemistry panel. 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. This test can also show us some data about the size and/or shape of red and white blood cells.
A chemistry panel allows us to assess values related to the function of organs such as the kidneys and liver, along with electrolyte levels and other critical enzymes that can be measured in the bloodstream. Fortunately, in our in-house vet lab, we have advanced tools and technologies to help accurately diagnose your dog's medical issues. When your dog is feeling unwell or their health condition is rapidly changing, early assessment and treatment are key. With our experienced staff using state-of-the-art equipment, we're able to assess your dog's health and present treatment options as soon as possible.
What will the results of a blood test show us?
We will order blood tests that will show us information specifically in the area that we are looking at. For example, we can order a variety of CBC and chemistry panels that can bring us different data depending on what we need to measure and what we are hoping to learn about your dog's health.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
There are different types of white blood cells in your pet's body each with a different job to do when it comes to protecting your pet. The vet can use a CBC to analyze the total number of white blood cells, as well as how many of each type of white blood cell is present in your dog’s blood sample. Red blood cells (RBCs) transport oxygen to the body’s numerous tissues. A CBC counts the RBCs in your dog's blood and reveals how well they move oxygen based on the levels of hemoglobin (a protein that carries the oxygen) in your kitty’s blood.
Your vet may also look at the platelet count for your pup. If your dog does not have a good production of platelets then their blood may not be able to clot, leading to issues with excessive bleeding when they are injured or after surgery. 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, who 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 bloodwork is done before surgery is that a CBC can detect low platelet levels. Platelets play a critical role in helping to stop bleeding, and so must be at certain levels to avoid your dog from 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
The blood chemistry profile for your dog is able to give your vet a good idea of the overall health and function of your pup's kidneys.
In addition, we can determine if there are abnormalities in your dog's renal system, if your pet 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.
Your vet will also use this test to monitor your dog's blood protein level which can indicate serious concerns with their health. Many play a role in the immune system’s functioning, while others help the blood clot properly. A blood chemistry profile will reveal valuable information about total protein levels, albumin levels, and globulin levels.
However, despite the many things we can learn from bloodwork, the results will rarely tell us whether your dog 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 the treatment plan prescribed without complications, such as anemia or elevated kidney values. If these are not detected, they can cause blood loss and eventually collapse due to weakness, or organ failure.
How often will my dog need blood tests?
With this new understanding of why your dog may need blood tests, you may want to know how often you can expect them to need these done.
Our furry companions' lifespans are much shorter than ours. That's why we recommend bloodwork for healthy dogs annually. For pets approaching their geriatric years, semi-annual tests are typically best. If your dog is undergoing an anesthetic procedure, bloodwork should be current (within a month). Dogs that are ill or who have health conditions may need bloodwork more frequently - monthly, weekly, etc, depending on the health issue and its severity.
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.