Your vet has recommended bloodwork for your dog or cat. But why does your pet need these diagnostic tests, what can they tell you about your animal companion's health, and how often should bloodwork be done? Our team of Berkeley veterinary professionals explains...
Why does my pet need bloodwork?
Some pet owners are confused as to why their pet would need bloodwork and other diagnostic tests. After all, if an animal seems healthy, why pay the extra expense?
But bloodwork tests are a vital part of your pet's overall care and these important diagnostic tests can tell us a lot about your cat or dog's health. For certain procedures such as dental surgery, your pet's blood will need to be tested to ensure they are healthy enough to undergo the procedure.
The role bloodwork can play in your pet's care cannot be overstated. In our diagnostic lab at Berkeley Dog & Cat Hospital, our team of professionals is able to perform a range of common and specialized blood tests to assess your pet's health, as well as to monitor and diagnose illnesses including conditions ranging from tick-borne diseases to cancer.
What tests are performed when bloodwork is done?
Many pet owners are under the mistaken impression that the bloodwork includes the same tests, everywhere. However, this is untrue. Confirm with your vet specifically which tests will be done and why. Our vets will be able to explain your pet's condition, any diagnostic tests that are needed and what we can expect to learn from them in easy-to-understand terms.
Some of the most common veterinary blood tests performed are CBC (Complete Blood Count) 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. We can also usually obtain 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 pet's medical issues. When your pet 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 pet's health and present treatment options as soon as possible.
What will my vet learn from bloodwork for dogs or cats?
What insights we're able to gain into your pet's health depend on the type of bloodwork ordered. 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 pet's health.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
Each type of white blood cell has a specific response to any threat faced by the immune system. 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 are present in your cat’s blood sample. 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 kitty’s blood.
Platelets help with blood clotting. If your cat has an insufficient number of platelets, blood may be slow to clot and your cat may bleed abnormally or excessively. A CBC will count how many platelets are in your cat’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, so 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 cat’s bloodstream from a blood chemistry profile, which can tell you how well your cat’s kidneys are functioning.
In addition, we can determine whether there may be abnormalities in renal systems, or if your cat is dehydrated or an object is obstructing these areas.
The liver plays an important role in your cat’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 cat’s physical health - many play a role in the immune system’s functioning, while others help the blood to 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 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 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 collapsing due to weakness, or organ failure.
How often should my pet's blood be tested?
Now that you understand some of the most common blood tests and what they can tell us about your pet's health, you're probably wondering how often your pet should have this done as part of their health checkup.
Our furry companions' lifespans are much shorter than ours. That's why we recommend bloodwork for healthy pets annually. For pets approaching their geriatric years, semi-annual tests are typically best. If your pet is undergoing an anesthetic procedure, bloodwork should be current (within a month). Pets that are ill or who have health conditions may need bloodwork more frequently - monthly, weekly, daily or hourly, 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.