Understanding Your Pet’s Blood Work
This entry will examine routine blood work for pets. Blood work can be described as your pet’s “internal examination.” When you receive copies of your pet’s blood work the abbreviations and numbers can appear daunting. Often we turn to the internet to research, but sometimes these searches lead to false or even frightening information. In explaining blood work we will break it down into three categories the Complete Blood Count, organ chemistries, and electrolytes.
We will try to keep these explanations as simple as possible, and there is only so much one can do to make blood work sound fascinating to everyone. Some things to also keep in mind while reading; this is not a list of every test we can run on a pet, it’s just the basics. The abbreviations listed below may be slightly different depending on the laboratory used.
The CBC, Complete Blood Count
CBC’s are used to evaluate a pet’s blood, including platelets, red and white blood cells. A CBC gives us information on hydration status, anemia, infection, the blood’s clotting ability, and the overall status of the body’s immune system.
- HCT – Hematocrit measures the percentage of red blood cells in the blood. An abnormal result can indicate anemia or dehydration.
- Hb and MCHC – Hemoglobin and Mean Corpuscular Hemoglobin Concentration measure the blood’s ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.
- WBC – White Blood Cell counts measure the amount of immune system cells. Abnormal results can indicate disease, infection, or inflammation. Individual types of white bloods cells are reported as a percentage then as an absolute number; which is the total number of cells in the blood. Absolute counts are designated by “ABS” before or after the white blood cells’ name. Types of white blood cells include:
- NEUT SEGS – Segmented neutrophils are the most common white blood cell
- BANDS – Band neutrophils are immature neutrophils
- LYMPH – Lymphocytes
- MONO – Monocytes
- EOS – Eosinophils
- BASO – Basophils
- PLT – Platelets form blood clots to stop abnormal blood flowChemistry Profiles
Chemistries evaluate organ ability to perform its “job” in the body.
Liver – The liver has many functions include filtering the blood as it leaves the small intestines and is responsible for taking substances such as medication then altering it to a form the body can use.
- ALT – Alanine Aminotransferase can indicate liver disease, but doesn’t identify the cause
- AST – Aspartate aminotransferase can indicate liver disease and muscle inflammation
- ALKP – Alkaline phophatase can be elevated in patients with liver disease, Cushing’s disease, or in young patient with growing bones.
- GGT – Gamma glutamyltranspeptidase can indicate liver disease or excess steroids
- TBIL – Total Bilirubin can indicate liver disease or cause of anemia
Kidney – The kidneys most well known function is filtering the blood and excreting waste material in urine. The kidneys also secrete hormones that cause the bone marrow to produce and release red blood cells into the blood stream.
- BUN – Blood Urea Nitrogen is an indicator of the kidney’s ability to filter and remove urea from the body. Urea is a waste product of protein metabolism.
- CREA – Creatinine is another waste production that is filtered by the kidneys and can help determine the cause of an elevated BUN
- PHOS – Elevated phosphorus is associated with kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, and bleeding disorders
Pancreas – The pancreas has two main functions one is the secretion of enzymes that help break down food the other is secreting insulin into the blood stream.
- AMYL – Amylase breaks down starches and carbohydrates
- LIP – Lipase breaks down fat
Other – These are chemistry results that covers multiple organs or don’t fit underneath any of the organs listed above.
- ALB – Albumin evaluates hydration, intestinal, liver, and kidney disease.
- CHOL – Cholesterol supports diagnosis of hypothyroidism, liver disease, Cushing’s Disease, and diabetes.
- GLOB – Globulin can increase with chronic inflammation and certain diseases.
- GLU – Glucose when high can be a sign of diabetes. When low it can cause seizures, collapse, or coma.
- TP – Total protein is amount of protein found suspended in the liquid portion of blood and evaluates hydration status.
Electrolytes are important for maintaining fluid balances, blood clot formation, nervous and muscle system functions to name a few.
- Ca – Calcium
- Na – Sodium
- K – Potassium
- Cl – Chloride
When is Blood Work Requested
Blood work is used to diagnose, determine a cause of illness, monitor progress of an illness, and evaluate treatment. Annual blood work on a healthy pet may seem like an odd request however; early detection gives you the best prognosis for treating disease. An example is your pet’s liver and kidneys. We can compare them to a rubber band that can be stretched for large tasks, small tasks, and are used repeatedly. Like a rubber band, they have a remarkable reserve and use a small portion to perform their daily tasks, but can be stretched in times of need. We never know when too much stress will cause the rubber band to snap. If the organs are “stretched” any stress in the form of food changes, medication, or anesthesia may cause organ failure (the snap of the rubber band).
Blood work is a small piece of the puzzle that when combined with physical exam and history, allow the veterinarian to form a picture of the patient’s health and well-being. Individual results above or below normal ranges may or may not affect the patient’s health. An example is a slightly elevated BUN (kidney value) in a puppy presented for a routine spay at 6 months old. Since the CREA (kidney value) is normal, the puppy is healthy upon physical examination, and eating a high protein puppy food the veterinarian isn’t concerned. The elevated BUN is a byproduct of the puppy’s high protein diet being broken down in the body.