Understanding Dog Blood Tests

A blood test or lab test enables us to learn things about your dog's health that can only be found out from collecting a blood sample and having it analyzed. A blood test includes a complete blood count (CBC) and chemistry panels that analyze chemical components in the blood.

A CBC for dogs identifies and quantifies white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets in a given amount of blood. This includes analyzing the shape and condition of the cells for health and functionality. This information is helpful in learning more about your dog's immune system (white blood cell count) and oxygen-carrying capacity (red blood cell count).

Additionally, blood tests for dogs can identify levels of:

  • Glucose
  • Proteins
  • Electrolytes
  • Cholesterol
  • Hormones
  • Digestive Enzymes

Because chemicals found in the bloodstream correlate to specific organs, lab work for dogs can help determine more than just blood count. For example, if a dog blood test reveals a deficiency in albumin levels, then a veterinarian knows to examine a dog's liver because albumin is produced in the liver.

Lab work for dogs can also detect and help identify complex problems with body systems. For example, blood tests for dogs can detect abnormal hormonal responses to environmental and internal stimuli, which will alert a veterinarian to potential issues with the patient's endocrine system.

Canine blood tests are valuable tools in a veterinarian's toolkit for detecting, identifying, diagnosing and treating illness or disease.

When Will a Veterinarian Recommend Dog Blood Tests?

The following situations warrant dog blood work:

  • On the first veterinary visit: We recommend puppies receive a blood test to rule out congenital diseases, for establishing a baseline, and for pre-anesthetic testing prior to spay or neuter.
  • During semi-annual wellness exams: This is recommended if your veterinarian suggests it as part of a thorough physical examination because dog blood work, along with testing other bodily fluids such as urine, can help identify conditions not revealed by a physical examination.
  • If a dog seems not quite right: Canine blood tests are suitable for a dog that is not displaying any overt signs of illness, disease, or injury, but is behaving abnormally.
  • Pre-surgical tests: Dog blood work is used to determine the efficiency of the liver and kidneys, which helps a veterinarian select the safest dose of anesthesia. Tests can also help determine the level of surgical risk for infirm, elderly or injured patients.
  • Prior to starting a new medication: Particularly for new medication that may be metabolized by the liver or kidneys.
  • During senior wellness exams: Dog blood tests are usually recommended for mature, senior and geriatric dogs as part of their periodic wellness exams. These are extremely beneficial, as we often see senior dogs return to a more youthful state when blood tests identify an issue that can be easily treated.

Although our in-house dog lab can process any type of dog blood work or culture, some of the most labs we perform are:

  • Urinalysis: We evaluate your dog's urine to reveal hydration status, infections, kidney or bladder disease, diabetes, and other health conditions.
  • Fecal Exam: We evaluate your dog's stool for color, consistency, and the presence of blood or mucus. We then examine the sample under a microscope for intestinal parasites, fungus, and protozoa.
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC): We analyze your dog's blood to assess features of the blood, including red and white blood cell, antigen, and hemoglobin count.
  • Blood Clotting Times: We test your dog's blood for bleeding disorders.
  • Chemistry: We assess the status of your dog's internal organs and gauge their health before anesthetizing for surgery.
  • Cytology: We collect samples of sebum and cellular debris on the skin and in the ears to determine if an infection is present. In addition, we may perform a needle or core biopsy of lumps or masses on your dog's body to look for cancer cells.

We recommend discussing lab tests for dogs with your veterinarian in order to make an informed decision about whether your canine friend would benefit from dog blood work.

Understanding Canine Blood Tests

We take the time to fully explain the results of your pet's blood tests with you. Arresting and treating whatever disease a blood test indicates requires an informed, concerted effort between our team and your household. We we order dog blood work, it will most likely be in the form of a Complete Blood Count, or else a Blood Chemistry (serum) test.

The CBC reveals to the veterinarian your dog's hydration status, anemia, infection, blood clotting ability and immune system response. A CBC is essential for dogs that have symptoms such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, pale gums or loss of appetite. If your dog needs surgery, a CBC can also detect bleeding disorders or other unseen abnormalities. A CBC provides the following detailed information:

  • Hematocrit (HCT): This test measures the percentage of red blood cells to detect anemia and hydration.
  • Hemoglobin and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (Hb and MCHC): These are the oxygen-carrying pigments of red blood cells.
  • White blood cell count (WBC): This test measures the body's immune cells. Increases or decreases in the WBC indicate certain diseases or infections.
  • Granulocytes and lymphocytes/monocytes (GRANS and L/M): These are specific types of white blood cells.
  • Eosinophils (EOS): These are a specific type of white blood cells that may indicate allergic or parasitic conditions.
  • Platelet count (PLT): This test measures the cells that form blood clots.
  • Reticulocytes (RETICS): These are immature red blood cells. High levels indicate regenerative anemia.
  • Fibrinogen (FIBR): This test provides important information about blood clotting. High levels may indicate that a dog is 30 to 40 days pregnant.

Blood chemistry panels, or blood serum tests, evaluate a dog's organ function, electrolyte status, hormone levels and more. These tests are important for evaluating the health of older dogs, dogs with symptoms of toxin exposure such as vomiting or diarrhea, and dogs receiving long-term medications. Chemistry panels are also important for assessing general health before anesthesia.

  • Albumin (ALB): This is a serum protein that indicates hydration, hemorrhage, and intestinal, liver or kidney disease.
  • Alkaline phosphatase (ALKP): Elevations in this test may indicate liver damage, Cushing's disease or active bone growth in a young dog.
  • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT): This test may determine active liver damage but does not indicate the cause.
  • Amylase (AMYL): Elevations in this test indicate pancreatitis or kidney disease.
  • Aspartate aminotransferase (AST): Increases in this test may indicate liver, heart or skeletal muscle damage.
  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN): This test determines kidney function. An increased level is called azotemia and can be caused by kidney, liver and heart disease as well as urethral obstruction, shock or dehydration.
  • Calcium (Ca): Changes in the normal level of this test can indicate a variety of diseases. Tumors, hyperparathyroidism, kidney disease, and low albumin are just a few of the conditions that alter serum calcium.
  • Cholesterol (CHOL): This test is used to supplement diagnosis of hypothyroidism, liver disease, Cushing's disease, and diabetes mellitus.
  • Chloride (Cl): Chloride is an electrolyte that is typically lost with vomiting or in illnesses such as Addison's disease. Elevation often indicates dehydration.
  • Coristol (CORT): Cortisol is a hormone measured in tests for Cushing's disease (low-dose dexamethasone suppression test) and Addison's disease (ACTH stimulation test).
  • Creatinine (CREA): This test reveals kidney function and helps distinguish between kidney and non-kidney causes of elevated BUN.
  • Gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT): This enzyme indicates liver disease or corticosteroid excess.
  • Globulin (GLOB): This blood protein often increases with chronic inflammation and certain diseases.
  • Glucose (GLU): Glucose is blood sugar. Elevated levels may indicate diabetes mellitus. Low levels can cause collapse, seizures or coma.
  • Potassium (K): This electrolyte is typically lost through vomiting, diarrhea or excessive urination. Increased levels may indicate kidney failure, Addison's disease, dehydration or urethral obstruction. High levels can lead to cardiac arrest.
  • Lipase (LIP): Lipase is an enzyme that may indicate pancreatitis.
  • Sodium (Na): Sodium is an electrolyte often lost through vomiting diarrhea and in cases of kidney disease and Addison's disease. This test helps indicate hydration status.
  • Phosphorus (PHOS): Elevations in this test are often associated with kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and bleeding disorders.
  • Total bilirubin (TBIL): Elevations in this test may indicate liver or hemolytic disease. This test helps identify bile duct problems and certain types of anemia.
  • Total protein: This test indicates hydration status and provides additional information about the liver, kidneys and infectious diseases.
  • Thyroxine (T4): Thyroxine is a thyroid hormone. Decreased levels often signal hypothyroidism in dogs.

Schedule an Appointment for Your Dog Today

In order to determine which dog blood tests can best benefit your canine friend, we recommend calling us to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian today.