From simple heartworm tests to complex, multi-parameter chemistry profiles, blood screenings are a vital tool in your veterinarian’s arsenal for finding and treating many different diseases. Whether your pet is in the hospital because he is sick or because she needs surgery, many veterinary clinics can now decide what lab work is needed and run those tests immediately.
Not only is this type of diagnostic assessment helpful with sick pets, but our healthy animals are benefiting as well. Early signs of many different illnesses will first show up in a blood profile, long before any outward, clinical symptoms are seen.
Historically, veterinarians have used large reference laboratories to process their patients’ samples, but in recent years, counter top and “point of care” instruments have surged in popularity. One main reason is that veterinarians can now have answers to your pet’s problems in minutes, rather than hours. That, of course, helps the doctor make crucial medical decisions and possibly start treatment earlier.
Another reason for the success of in house blood analyzers is that the sophisticated automation and equipment have helped minimize errors that plagued early attempts. Companies like Heska, Abaxis, Idexx and others have developed compact devices that use patented technology and modern optical scanners to reliably provide results in urgent situations.
So, now that your veterinarian can do these tests in the clinic, what exactly is he or she looking for?
Whether your pet is sick, needs some sort of anesthetic procedure or maybe just a senior check up, the most common set of blood work will involve a complete blood count (CBC) and a chemistry profile. Depending on symptoms and the patient’s overall status, the chemistry panel may just cover a few key parameters or it may be all inclusive.
CBCs are a measure of the different types and numbers of cells in the blood. Patients who have too few red blood cells are considered anemic and may have difficulty delivering precious oxygen to the body’s tissues. White blood cells are the microbial defenders of the pet. These soldier cells patrol the body and attack invading bacteria, viruses and other foreign organisms. When a CBC shows a high white count, your veterinarian may be concerned about some sort of active infection. Conversely, low white blood cell counts could mean the cells are depleted from a chronic infection or, in the case of puppies and kittens, could be a sign of a parvovirus.
Chemistry panels will look at key enzymes and metabolic products to determine the health of internal organs. Everyone understands that a high glucose level on a chemistry panel probably indicates a diabetic animal, but less well known are indicators like Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN), Creatinine and about two dozen others. Veterinarians can identify kidney disease, liver disease and many issues, including some cancers, from these key components of a pet’s blood work.
Combined with the pet’s symptoms, environment and other factors, your pet’s doctor will use the results of blood work run in their clinic to give you an accurate diagnosis. When you get the results, avoid the temptation to consult Dr.Google. It is possible to find some good information, however, without a complete picture, some well meaning, but un-informed individuals online may lead you to question your veterinarian’s findings.
It’s important to know that some specific or special testing will still need to be sent to reference laboratories. In either case, diagnostic blood work is a powerful tool to help your veterinarian take the best possible care of your pet. That gives you peace of mind and a better understanding of your pet’s health and provides vital information for any future medical needs.