The One Medical Test Your Dog Needs Regularly and How to Understand the Results

Lab work should be done regularly, especially if you have senior dogsResearch recently told us that diagnostics through lab work can show some underlying issue or condition that you wouldn't have known about otherwise and this could save the life of your dog. For example, elevated liver enzymes may appear even though your dog isn't showing clinical signs or symptoms of liver or kidney disease.

This is especially true in the case of senior dogs. Our staff schedules routine blood work for their dogs to ensure they have a baseline on how their organs are functioning!

According to the AAHA, your dog should have blood work done at least twice a year.

One study looked at the results of screening 59 apparently healthy senior and geriatric dogs from an original pool of 100 dogs. In these 59 cases, abnormalities were found that required further investigation to determine clinical relevance. The authors noted, "Routine monitoring of clinicopathologic data is important in the management of older animals. Ideally, the trend should be followed for an individual animal so that small, but clinically significant, changes can be detected. This approach, can help to detect chronic disease in an early stage."

Why Your Vet Will Require Labs

Pre-anesthetic blood work or lab work is needed before a routine surgery like a dental cleaning and must be done as some of the drugs are hard on organs like the kidneys. Other reasons will vary and oftentimes, it's because they need to rule out illnesses or conditions. The hot list includes:

  • Your dog is drinking and peeing more than usual
  • It's time for senior wellness exams
  • It's the first veterinary visit and you need to get a baseline done for your animal
  • Your pet needs pre-surgical bloodwork
  • Your dog requires new medication
  • ADR or "Ain't Doing Right" as we like to say in the veterinary world, and your vet needs to rule out illnesses

Once the blood work results come back from the lab, your vet will review the salient points with you. However, it is important and OK for you to ask questions! Here are some definitions but after reviewing this list, ask your vet to explain the ranges and what's significant.

What's the difference between a Complete Blood Count and a Chemistry?

The Drake Center for Veterinary Care clearly explains the difference between the two most common tests:

Complete Blood Count (CBC): Your dog's blood is analyzed to assess features of the blood, including red and white cell count, immunity status, and the measure of hemoglobin, which is the actual substance in red blood cells that carries oxygen

Blood Chemistries: The status of your dog's internal organs are assessed, and this is used so vets can gauge their health before anesthetizing for surgery.

Are blood chemistry tests often used on elderly animals?

The CBC or Complete Blood Count looks at hydration status and possible infections. If your dog is sick the DVM or vet will look at their white blood count which looks at the increase or decrease of the body's immune cells. This test also measures your dog's platelet count to ensure clotting is not an issue before any type of surgery.

Blood chemistries look at a dog's organ function. And this test is often done when senior dogs need a work-up or when long-term medication is being prescribed. tells us,

"The normal values for blood chemistry elements for dogs (and cats)? Well, actually "normal" is quite relative. When the patient's blood is drawn the sample is allowed to clot, then the clear fluid is extracted — without the fibrin, red and white blood cells, or platelets. Serum, as it's called, is what is presented to the lab for an evaluation of a number of chemicals circulating in the patient's blood." 

It evaluates chemicals like creatinine (CREA), a value that reveals kidney function is part of the lab work.

The site also explains that if the blood value for a chemical that reflects kidney function, like creatinine, seems to be present in amounts higher than normal, does that unfailingly indicate diseased kidneys? Your vet will determine this and discuss the results with you in detail.  

Laboratory tests can play a major role in your dog's health. Whether your dog has heart disease, an infectious disease, kidney failure, liver damage, kidney disease, an issue with their immune system, or even liver disease a CBC or blood chemistry can ultimately save their life.

Some acronyms you should become familiar with when reviewing a chemistry report are:

  • Blood urea nitrogen or BUN
  • White blood cell count or WBC
  • Packed cell volume or PCV
  • HGB or hemoglobin
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone or ACTH
  • Hematocrit or HCT
  • Total bilirubin or TBIL

The Drake Center has definitions for all of these terms you'll find on blood tests. Don't hesitate to ask your vet to walk through any test results even if everything is normal!

Do you take your dog in for blood work annually? Please let us know in the comments if your dog benefits from regular lab work. 

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