If you have ever taken your dog to the vet clinic for a check-up or because you suspect that something might be wrong with your canine companion, you probably know that one of the first things that the veterinarian will recommend is a blood test.
In this article, we’ll look at some of the things that blood work can tell your vet, the situations where blood tests are truly necessary, and even how you can try to interpret the results of a blood test yourself.
Types of blood tests
The two major kinds of blood tests that a vet will want your dog to take are the following:
- Complete Blood Count (CBC)
- Blood Chemistries
Each of these determines different things.
CBC deals with the components of the blood itself. It can tell you if your dog’s blood contains more white blood cells than normal (which would be a clue that your dog has an infection), whether he’s suffering from an allergy, whether there are enough red blood cells and if the hemoglobin level is normal, as well.
White blood cells are a good indicator of infection, hormonal imbalances, stress, cancer, and a variety of other conditions. However, there is one specific type of white blood cell — eosinophils — which can tell you whether the dog has a parasitic condition or is suffering from an allergy.
The hematocrit (also known as PCV — Packed Cell Volume) can tell you the percentage of red blood cells present in your canine friend’s blood. If there aren’t enough, your dog might have anemia or could be dehydrated.
Hemoglobin is the pigment that gives red blood cells their specific color. It is also in charge of transporting oxygen and other substances. In a nutshell, CBC is essential when it comes to diagnosing bleeding disorders, infections, the blood’s clotting ability, and whether your dog’s immune system can adequately respond to a pathogen.
Blood chemistries actually test the serum, not the blood itself. This means that the test measures anything from electrolyte status and organ function to a variety of hormone levels. For example, if you want to know if your dog is calcium deficient, you will need a blood serum test – not a CBC.
Blood chemistries can determine the content of albumin, alkaline phosphatase, alanine aminotransferase, amylase, aspartate aminotransferase, blood urea nitrogen, calcium, cholesterol, chloride, cortisol, creatinine, gamma-glutamyl transferase, globulin, glucose, potassium, lipase, sodium, phosphorus, total bilirubin, total protein, and thyroxine in your blood. Yes, that many.
Each of these substances, hormones, electrolytes or whatever else they might be from a chemical standpoint can tell your vet whether there is something wrong with one of your dog’s specific organs or the type of treatment or supplements that your canine companion should receive.
We’re not going to go into detail with regard to what each of these can tell you, but we will give you several examples. Cholesterol is tested for determining cases of liver disease, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and diabetes mellitus.
By the way, testing your dog’s glucose is paramount in diabetes cases. Creatinine can effectively tell your vet how your dog’s kidneys are functioning and it can also be useful in the differential diagnosis in situations where kidney disease can be mistaken for liver or heart disease — yes, that is possible. All of these tests have a purpose – none of them is useless.
Why are blood tests so effective?
The answer to this question is simple. For each of the serum or blood components that we have mentioned, there is a minimum and a maximum value. If the value detected by the test falls between the minimum and the maximum, it can’t be taken into account for a correct diagnosis. Basically, that value tells the vet that he/she doesn’t have a deficiency or is unhealthy from a specific point of view.
However, some of these values can fluctuate – although not by large amounts. Take glucose, for example. If you take your dog to the vet early in the morning, his blood sugar level will be lower than after he’s had a copious meal. Nevertheless, in the majority of cases, there aren’t significant differences that could affect the results.
In CBC, for example, if your dog has an infection, the white blood cell count will be revealed no matter if he’s eaten, engaged in exercise, or done anything else. If your dog has pancreatitis, the amylase value will be detected as correctly as possible at almost any time (except cases where you’ve fed your dog a large fatty meal right before the test).
In a way, blood tests are like math. There is one answer to the problem, and there is only one specific result. Of course, there are things that could go wrong and even the machines that are used for the tests can malfunction. However, these analyzers are tested regularly so that their results are accurate.
When will your vet recommend blood work?
While there are some veterinarians that don’t recommend blood tests on every annual check-up, it would be ideal if this happened. Sometimes, an animal can seem clinically healthy, yet there could be a health problem just starting or one that could have become chronic with the dog’s body coping with it as best as possible.
So, regular check-ups usually involve blood work, too. The dog’s blood work will also be performed on the first veterinary visit, if a dog seems to be unwell in any way, if a dog is going on medication, or most importantly, before surgery.
A horrible scenario would be the one where a blood test is not performed, the dog goes into surgery and he is suffering from a blood-clotting disease, for example. These cases rarely happen in real life, but they can happen. That’s why blood tests are so important.
Plus, senior and geriatric dogs should have periodic wellness exams during which blood tests can easily identify an issue that can be treated swiftly.
How much do blood tests cost?
A blood panel can cost anything from $60 to $100 depending on the clinic you go to. Sometimes, it can get even more expensive than that.
A CBC is typical, meaning that the same values are tested by most laboratories, but blood chemistries can be limited to a number of things. Ideally, all of them should be included, but each substance adds to the whole cost of the blood work.
Hormonal tests, in particular, are only performed when a hormonal disease is suspected. Sometimes, this can also happen because the pet parent just can’t pay for the more extensive blood work.
Even so, if you take the time to browse through some of our other articles related to hormonal imbalances, you’ll see that these diseases often have a plethora of confusing symptoms. That’s why they can be mistaken for other medical conditions.
Basically, a more detailed blood serum test leads to a faster diagnosis, which is synonymous with the dog getting the right treatment and getting healthier also a lot faster.
Can you interpret a dog’s blood test by yourself?
If you don’t trust your vet — and we know that some pet parents might be in this situation — you can ask them to give you the printed results. You can then go home and look for the minimum and maximum thresholds for each blood test value for canines on the Internet.
All that this will tell you is whether the dog has a too high or a too low amount of something in their blood. You can’t prescribe a treatment to your dog (that’s what veterinarians are for), but if you do discover something that your vet might not have noticed, you can tell them. In most cases, though, blood tests are among the easiest ones to interpret.