When your pet is due for blood work, you may simply agree, without really knowing the importance of this testing. However, understanding what information blood work imparts can highlight why these tests are necessary for evaluating and monitoring your pet’s health. Not only do we often recommend blood work for ill or injured pets, but we also suggest healthy pets undergo blood testing. Read on to learn the ins and outs of blood work, and the information we can learn about your pet’s health from a complete blood count and blood chemistry panel.

What is a complete blood count for pets?

A complete blood count (CBC) is a test that shows values related to the cell types in your pet’s blood. Overall, cell types are divided into red blood cells (i.e., erythrocytes), white blood cells (i.e., leukocytes), and platelets (i.e., thrombocytes). The red and white blood cell categories contain various cell types that indicate certain illness or injury processes. By running a CBC on your pet’s blood, we can learn a lot about their health. For example, an increased red blood cell count may indicate dehydration, while a low red blood cell count can mean your pet is anemic. Increased white blood cells can show that an infectious or inflammatory process is occurring, or indicate that your pet is stressed. A CBC is an important piece of the puzzle for guiding your pet’s treatment plan, and for monitoring their overall health.

What is a blood chemistry panel for pets?

Different blood chemistry panels check various levels in your pet’s blood. Standard blood chemistry panels check organ function and blood glucose level, while more comprehensive panels calculate electrolyte levels. We choose the blood chemistry panel according to your pet’s age and suspected illness. For example, if your senior cat has been drinking and urinating excessively, we’ll recommend a blood chemistry panel that evaluates their kidney function and electrolyte levels, since kidney disease is common in older cats. Abnormalities in a blood chemistry panel may suggest further diagnostic testing is needed to get to the root of a problem, and can help guide us in the right direction. 

Blood chemistry panels are also used to monitor a pet’s treatment response. Pets who are on medication for chronic conditions, like osteoarthritis and heart disease, may suffer from side effects that can affect organ function and electrolyte levels. Regular blood work will help our veterinarian determine the best therapy for your pet, and adjust the dose for maximum efficacy with minimal side effects. 

When does my pet need blood work?

All pets need regular blood work, whether they’re healthy or ill. If your pet is visiting our hospital for one of the following situations, we’ll likely recommend at least a CBC and blood chemistry panel. Additional blood work and diagnostic testing may also be necessary.

  • Annual wellness visits — Blood work is typically recommended during your pet’s annual wellness visit. Think of this screening test as an internal physical exam to see how your pet’s organs and blood cells are functioning. Running blood work when your pet is healthy provides a baseline of their normal values that we can use to detect subtle changes or patterns over time, allowing us to pick up on a disease process before noticeable signs develop.
  • Advanced age — While age is not a disease, many health issues affect pets later in life. As your pet ages, we’ll recommend additional diagnostic testing to monitor their health, so we can catch disease early and stop its progression. Your senior pet will undergo more blood work tests than they did as a healthy young adult, allowing us to check for age-related conditions.
  • Prior to anesthesia and surgery — Our anesthetic and surgical protocols are tailored to each patient, and blood work allows us to customize these protocols. Checking your pet’s organ function determines how well they’ll handle anesthesia and metabolize anesthetic drugs, while calculating their platelet and red blood cell counts ensures your pet is not suffering from clotting disorders or anemia. Running pre-anesthetic blood work enables our team to keep your pet as safe as possible throughout their procedure.
  • Therapeutic medication monitoring — Pets who are on lifelong medication for a chronic condition may need their dosages adjusted, based on their blood work results. With regular blood work, we can keep an eye on your pet’s internal organ health if they’re on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories for arthritis pain, a diuretic for heart disease, a thyroid supplement for hypothyroidism, or phenobarbital for seizures. We want to ensure pets can continue taking these medications that help manage their health conditions. Most pets on chronic medications require blood work every six months. 
  • Illness or injury — If your pet is ill or injured, blood work will give us a great deal of information that we’ll use, along with their physical exam findings, to reach an accurate diagnosis. Without blood work information, we’ll be missing vital parts of the puzzle that may not allow us to properly treat your pet.

Blood work is an important part of your pet’s annual or biannual early detection testing. Through regular blood work, we can monitor your pet for any subtle changes in health status, while ensuring pharmaceutical therapy is not causing ill effects. Give our University Veterinary Hospital team a call to schedule your pet’s appointment for their wellness exam and routine blood work.