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Canine Laboratory Tests For Veterinary Care

Understanding Dog Blood Tests

A blood test or lab test allows us to learn information about your dog's health which can only be found from collecting a sample of blood and having it analyzed. This includes a CBC (complete blood count) and blood chemistries 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 cells) and oxygen carrying capacity (red blood cell count).

Additionally, blood tests for dogs can also identify:

  • Glucose
  • Proteins
  • Electrolytes
  • Cholesterol
  • Endocrine Levels
  • Digestive Enzymes

Because chemicals found in the blood stream can also correlate with specific organs, lab work for dogs can help determine more than just blood count. For example, if dog blood tests show 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 also can detect and help identify complex problems with body systems. For example, blood tests for dogs can detect abnormal hormonal-chemical responses to environmental and internal stimuli, which alerts a veterinarian to a potential issue with the patient's endocrine system

So when understood in this way, canine blood tests serve as very valuable tools in a veterinarian's toolkit for helping to detect, identify, diagnose and even treat illness or disease.


Featured Quote:

If your pet comes in with a presenting condition, not feeling well, not acting themselves, the blood work can tell us a lot of information.

Video Transcript:


Boca Park Animal Hospital



Hello. I am Marianne. I'm a licensed veterinary nurse here at Boca Park Animal Hospital. While blood work is required for all anesthetic procedures, we also do recommend annual and regular blood work for our canine pets. We have written down a list of questions that you may have as a dog owner that we can help answer for you. Paula, what's your first question?


What is my veterinarian looking for on a lab test?


It kind of depends. If your pet comes in with a presenting condition, not feeling well, not acting themselves, the blood work can tell us a lot of information. If it's something systemic—whether it's an upset belly or just not acting quite right—we can sometimes get some early signs of what may be causing your pet to not feel very well.


What information will my veterinarian need to know about my dog before the lab tests are performed?


The more information you give us, the better it always is. If your pet is acting normal and fine, that's great, as it gives us a baseline. It tells us normal functions and normal values for all your pet's organs as well as blood numbers, CBC, et cetera.

If your pet's not acting well, please tell us everything that's going on, anything they may have gotten into, whether they're experiencing some vomiting or diarrhea or just really lethargic, if they're drinking a lot of water, not a lot of water, if they're getting picky with their food when they're normally not. Any information that you can give us whether you feel it's relevant or not will help the doctor decide what could be going on with your pet and what further diagnostics may or may not be needed.


What questions should I ask my veterinarian about my dog's lab tests?


You just want to ask what the results are...of you have any questions about what they mean, what it could mean, what issues could be causing your pet's illness. Any questions are greatly appreciated by our doctors. They will be happy to explain any questions you may have.


Will my dog need an exam before the lab test is performed?


We generally like to see your pet within the year. If it's beyond a year, we do like to physically see your pet so we can see what's going on, look at their vitals as well as their overall behavior. Visually seeing your pet helps us as well in the exam for any other conditions that may be going on that you may not notice or understand.


How is my dog's blood, urine, fecal, and our skin sample collected?


Blood is generally collected through the vein. We do what's called a juggler blood draw where we do get blood from the neck or the arm - it just depends on the comfort level of your pet.

When it comes to fecal, we usually will send you home with a container. Once your pet does produce fecal matter you will bring that sample to us.

If there are any skin conditions, we do take a slide and it's what's called an impression smear. We take a slide and we push it on the lesions that your pet may have.

Urine is collected either by free catch or we do what's called a cystocentesis where we actually stick a needle into the bladder, and I know this sounds crazy, but it actually gives us the best sample. It's a very sterile sample and it allows us to see whether your pet has bacteria or anything that shouldn't be in their urine is there. It's very safe and they usually tolerate it very well.


How can lab tests help my dog?


It gives us a baseline. Even if they're feeling themselves it gives us a baseline, normal values, normal functions. So in the future if anything does happen with your pet or they don't feel well, we can compare them to previous blood work to see if there are any changes. If they are not feeling well it will help us narrow down why they're not feeling well. Is their liver not functioning properly? Are their kidneys not functioning properly? It allows us to direct our diagnostic care and medical care in a direction to help your pet.


How effective are lab tests in dogs?


They're very effective. They give us a lot of information. They allow us to see what's going on internally that we can't see or know what's happening. They're very sensitive material. The labs are very sensitive and it does give us a lot of information.


How much do lab tests cost?


That's a wide range answer. It just depends on the type of diagnostic we are doing. But that being said, the earlier you come in and the more preventative care you do, the cheaper it can be because we're ahead of it... we're on top of it. As opposed to bringing in your pet when they're very sick or there are more diagnostics and there are more issues that arise. So the earlier you come in and we have those baselines, it helps us find what's going on a lot quicker, a lot cheaper, and a lot safer.


Are lab tests covered by pet insurance?


You'd have to check with your individual insurance. Some do cover lab tests and some don't but just call your insurance company and ask them what they do and do not cover. And if you would like to schedule some blood work or an exam or have any questions, please feel free to give us a call at 702-675-7000.

When Will A Veterinarian Recommend Dog Blood Tests?

The following situations can result in dog blood work being ordered:

  • On the first veterinary visit: We recommend puppies have blood test to rule out congenital diseases, for baseline information 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 other bodily fluids like urine, can help identify conditions the examination portion of a physical cannot
  • 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 acting abnormal
  • 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 surgical risk level in infirmed, elderly or injured patients
  • Prior to starting a new medication: Particularly for new medication may be metabolized by the liver or kidney
  • 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 of being when blood tests identify an issue that can be easily treated

Although our in-house dog laboratory can process any type of dog blood work or culture, some of the most common lab work for dogs 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 sample for color, consistency, as well as the presence of blood or mucus. We then examine it under a microscope for intestinal parasites, fungus, or protozoa
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC): We analyze your dog's blood 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 Clotting Times: We test your dog's blood for bleeding disorders
  • Blood Chemistries: We identify the status of your dog's internal organs, and also 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 infection is present. In addition, we may perform 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 as to whether or not your canine friend can benefit from dog blood work.

How Our Dog Laboratory Processes Blood Work

In addition to having veterinary staff on duty around-the-clock to handle pet health emergencies, Boca Park Animal Hospital also has its own in-house laboratory. Although this means we can process all kinds of lab work for dogs quickly and reliably, it is in emergency situations, when time is of the essence, our in-house dog laboratory is most helpful.

After all, if we can draw, process and analyze dog blood work on the premises, then we can have the results we need immediately. This increases the chances that we can determine what the issue is, and then implement a successful medical intervention based on the results. In this way, our dog laboratory allows us to be a proactive and timely partner in your dog's health and care.

Understanding Canine Blood Tests

Understanding dog blood tests is second nature to us. However, we understand that the same might not be said for you. This is why we always fully explain the results of canine blood tests with a patient's human caretakers. After all, arresting and treating whatever a blood test indicates takes an informed and concerted team effort. If we are ordering dog blood work, it will most likely be in the form of a Complete Blood Count, or else a Blood Chemistry (serum) test.

The Complete Blood Count, or CBC, shows a veterinarian your dog's hydration status, anemia, infection, blood clotting ability and immune system response. A CBC is essential for dog that have symptoms like 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. Specifically, a Complete Blood Count provides detailed information including:

  • Hematocrit (HCT): This test measures the percentage of red blood cells to detect anemia and hydration
  • Hemoglobin and mean corpulscular 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 cells that form blood clots
  • Reticulocytes (RETICS): These are are immature red blood cells. High levels indicate regenerative anemia
  • Fibrinogen (FIBR): This test provides important information about blood clotting. High levels may indicate a dog is 30 to 40 days pregnant

Blood Chemistries, or blood serum tests, evaluate a dog's organ function, electrolyte status, hormone levels and more. These tests are important to evaluating the health of older dogs, dogs with signs of vomiting, diarrhea or toxin exposure, as well as dogs receiving long-term medications and general health before anesthesia.

  • Albumin (ALB): This is a serum protein that helps evaluate hydration, hemorrhage and intestinal, liver and 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 aminotansferase (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 symptoms like vomiting or illnesses such as Addison's disease. Elevations often indicate dehydration
  • Coristol (CORT): Cortisol is a hormone that is measured in tests for Cushing's disease (the 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 Glutamy transferase (GGT): This is an enzyme that indicates liver disease or corticosteroid excess
  • Globulin (GLOB): This is a blood protein that often increases with chronic inflammation and certain disease states
  • Glucose (GLU): Glucose is a blood sugar. Elevated levels may indicate diabetes mellitus. Low levels can cause collapse, seizures or coma
  • Potassium (K): This is an electrolyte typically lost with symptoms such as 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 with signs of vomiting, diarrhea, 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

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

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