A vast majority of pet parents don’t know when or how often their dog should have blood work done, let alone how to read that jumbled list of acronyms and abbreviations that outline their pup’s state of health.
Let’s be honest, our own blood work results are sometimes complicated, so trying to fathom the mysterious results on your dog’s blood panel might be much less fun than a trip to the dog park. It’s no wonder most of us choose to do just that instead of schedule our dog’s vet appointment.
The unique thing about humans, though, is that we have the ability to speak up about our ailments. Unfortunately, until our dogs learn to use words instead of woofs to express themselves, we’ll need to depend on their blood work to reveal changes in their physical health to help us sniff out more dangerous possible ailments, such as kidney disease, diabetes or even cancer.
In its October 2009 Dog Watch Newsletter, Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine stressed the importance of ordering your dog’s blood work and understanding the results. It recommended that your dog have blood work done at least once a year, especially if he’s reached the ripe old age of 6 (42 in doggie years).
“The chief function of canine blood, like that of human blood, is to carry oxygen and nutrients to the body tissues and to transport carbon dioxide and wastes away from them. It also serves in such processes as cell development, tissue repair and the warding off of infection,” the article explains.
Though the $100 price tag on a blood panel might send you running in the other direction, remember that prevention is key for good health. Spotting a problem in its early stages will probably save you much more monetarily in the long run, not to mention saving your beloved pet from potential suffering.
The Dog Watch Newsletter recommends that your dog have blood drawn to analyze for two separate tests: a complete blood count (CBC) and a blood chemistry panel.
What Do the Complete Blood Count (CBC) Results Mean?
A complete blood count (CBC), also referred to as a hematology test or hemogram, takes a close look at your dog’s red and white blood cells, as well as other blood components, including platelets and plasma.
Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine explains what each result in a CBC may indicate:
Packed cell volume (hematocrit) – Reveals the concentration of red blood cells in the plasma. A low red cell concentration might indicate that the animal is anemic – either its bone marrow isn’t producing the cells in sufficient number or they are being lost or destroyed. A high red cell concentration could mean that the animal is dehydrated.
Red blood cell count – Measures the actual number of red cells in a given amount of blood and discerns any abnormalities in their shape, size or color. The amount of hemoglobin (a substance within red cells that transports oxygen throughout the bloodstream) is also assessed.
White blood cell count – Evaluates and counts the number of leukocytes, all of which are produced in the bone marrow or other tissues and play various roles in attacking and destroying disease-causeng organisms. A high white cell count may indicate, for example, that an animal is harboring an infection; is under extraordinary stress; or is affected by a serious and chronic illness, such as leukemia.
Platelet count – Measures the concentration of thrombocytes, which are disk-shaped blood cells that promote blood clotting.
Protein levels – The results will help your veterinarian determine if there are problems with your dog’s liver or kidneys, or if he is suffering from gastrointestinal malfunction, infection, inflammation or cancer.
What Do the Blood Chemistry Panel Results Mean?
As the Dog Watch Newsletter explains, “The chemistry panel focuses on the chemical components suspended in the clear, watery content (serum) of the blood after it has been separated from the cells and from certain proteins that are needed for clotting… the presence of a dozen or more substances is evaluated in order to assess a wide range of health-determining factors.”
The chemistry panel will help you and your vet see if there are any problems with your dog’s organ function, hormone levels or his blood’s electrolytes. Abnormalities in blood levels could point to possible disease.
The following are a few potential results to watch out for:
BUN – High levels of creatinine and blood urea nitrogen (BUN) may indicate kidney failure.
ALP and ALT – High levels of alkaline phosphatase (ALP) or alamine aminotransferase (ALT) may indicate liver damage.
Amylase – Elevated amounts may indicate kidney or pancreatic disease.
Calcium – Abnormal levels may indicate the presence of tumors, kidney disease or other disorders.
Glucose – High levels of blood sugar may indicate diabetes.
Potassium – Low levels may explain an animal’s chrnoic lethargy or lack of muscle control.
The chemistry panel is extensive, and a more detailed explanation of each item tested can be found here.
If your dog should ever fall ill, your vet will have a good sense of what her blood work should look like when healthy and will have the best tools to get your pup back to good health. Understanding the results of your pooch’s blood work will help you be a more knowledgeable pet parent, more able to take preventative measures for your pet’s health and better equipped to meet your pet’s physical needs.
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.
PHOTO: Tony Alter