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Why and when does a pet need blood testing?

As pet owners, ensuring the health and well-being of our furry companions is a top priority. Blood tests are a crucial tool in veterinary medicine that helps diagnose and monitor various health conditions in dogs and cats. Understanding when and why your pet needs blood testing can significantly affect their overall health and longevity.

Why is blood work important for dogs and cats?

Blood work is vital for several reasons:

  • Early Detection of Diseases: Regular blood tests can detect illnesses in their early stages, even before symptoms appear. Conditions like kidney disease, liver disease, diabetes, and thyroid issues can be identified early, allowing for more effective treatment.
  • Monitoring Chronic Conditions: For pets with ongoing health issues, blood tests help monitor the progression of the disease and the effectiveness of treatments. This is particularly important for conditions such as diabetes and hyperthyroidism.
  • Pre-Surgical Assessment: Before surgery, pets often need blood tests to ensure they are healthy enough to handle anesthesia. This helps reduce the risk of complications during and after the procedure.
  • General Health Check-Ups: Routine blood tests are part of regular wellness exams. These tests provide a baseline of your pet's health and can help detect any abnormalities early on.

When does a pet need blood testing?

Some of the most common situations that may result in your vet requesting blood tests include:

  • Your pet's first vet visit (to establish baseline data and for pre-anesthetic testing before a spaying or neutering procedure)
  • Semi-annual routine exams as preventive care
  • During senior exams, look for age-related conditions in the earliest stages
  • Pre-surgical testing to identify your dog's risk of complications during surgery
  • Before starting a new medication from a pet pharmacy
  • If your dog is showing odd behaviors
  • To help assess your pet's condition during an emergency visit

How long does blood work take at a vet?

The duration of blood work at a vet can vary. Generally, most in-house blood tests take about 20-30 minutes. However, if the sample needs to be sent to an external lab, it might take a few days to get the results. Your veterinarian will inform you about the expected time frame based on the type of test being performed.

How much are blood tests for dogs?

The cost of blood tests for dogs can vary widely depending on the type of tests and the veterinary clinic. Routine blood work can range from $50 to $200 on average. Specialized tests or comprehensive panels might cost more. Discussing the cost with your veterinarian beforehand is always a good idea.

What do the results of my dog's blood tests mean?

At Apple Valley Animal Hospital, we will thoroughly explain your pet's blood test results and ensure you understand what they mean for your beloved companion.

Your dog's bloodwork typically includes a complete blood count (CBC) or blood chemistry (serum test). The CBC will be important for dogs with pale gums or experiencing vomiting, fever, weakness, or loss of appetite. Blood tests for dogs with diarrhea also fall into this category.

A CBC can also detect bleeding disorders or other abnormalities that may not be identified otherwise.

What does each of the blood test components mean?

The type of bloodwork ordered determines what insights we can gain into your pet's health. For example, we can order a variety of CBC and chemistry panels that can provide different data depending on what we need to measure and what we hope to learn about your pet's health.

Complete Blood Count (CBC)

Each type of white blood cell has a specific response to any threat the immune system faces. The vet can use a CBC (complete blood count) to analyze the total number of white blood cells and the quantity of each type in your cat's blood sample.

Red blood cells (RBCs) transport oxygen to various tissues. A CBC can count the RBCs in your pet's blood and reveal how effectively they transport oxygen based on the hemoglobin levels (a protein that carries oxygen) in your cat's blood.

Platelets are essential for blood clotting. If your cat has insufficient platelets, blood may clot slowly, and your cat may experience abnormal or excessive bleeding. A CBC can count the number of platelets in your cat's blood.

A routine CBC provides numerical values associated with the counts of cells in the samples obtained by a diagnostic machine. At the same time, a CBC with a pathology review will be sent to a clinical pathologist. The pathologist will assess a blood sample under a microscope to confirm the counts provided by the machine and determine if any abnormal cells are present. Damage to cells can indicate the presence of leukemia, infections, anemia, poisoning, parasites, or other serious health problems.

Bloodwork is conducted before veterinary surgery because a CBC can detect low platelet levels. Platelets play a critical role in helping stop bleeding, so they must be at certain levels to prevent excessive blood loss. Low platelet levels may also indicate severe infections, such as tick-borne illnesses or life-threatening diseases.

Blood Chemistry Profile

We can gather much information about the compounds in your cat's bloodstream from a blood chemistry profile. This can help determine how well your cat's kidneys are functioning. Additionally, it can indicate if there are any abnormalities in the renal system, dehydration, or obstructions. The liver's role in your cat's health is essential, as elevated chemical values could point to liver disease or abnormalities in other organs. This test can also detect abnormal electrolyte levels, which might be linked to conditions such as seizures, gastrointestinal disease, etc. 

Blood protein levels are also crucial for your cat's physical health. They play a role in immune system function and blood clotting. A blood chemistry profile can provide valuable information about total protein, albumin, and globulin levels. 

Even though bloodwork can tell us a lot, it usually won't indicate whether your pet has cancer or if cancer has spread in their body. However, CBC and chemistry panels can confirm whether an animal's body responds to the prescribed treatment plan without complications such as anemia or elevated kidney values. If these are not detected, they can lead to blood loss and eventually collapse due to weakness or organ failure.

Is my dog in need of routine blood work?

At Apple Valley Animal Hospital, our veterinarians conduct proactive veterinary diagnostics, such as blood tests, as part of your pet's annual routine exam, even if your dog appears healthy. This is because early detection of health issues enables us to provide more effective treatment through various procedures, recommendations, and medications from our veterinary pharmacy. Our team prioritizes the well-being of your pet. It will explain the information obtained from blood tests, recommended next steps, and the rationale behind them.

Preparing Your Dog For Blood Tests

Some of the things you can do to help prepare your dog for their routine blood tests at the veterinary laboratory include:

Fasting. Your vet will request that you fast your pet for 6 hours before their visit. By fasting, your dog's blood will be clear of any fat droplets that occur after it's finished eating.

Keep Them Hydrated. This is especially important if the weather has been hot. Dehydration can affect the results of the blood tests, rendering them inaccurate.

Avoid Intense Exercise. Physical activity can also alter the results of the blood tests. You should avoid allowing your dog to run and jump in the time leading up to their appointment.

Minimize stress. While the vet clinic can make many pets nervous, this might be difficult. It is essential to try to keep your pet relaxed. Some of the ways you can help to calm your pet include:

  • Dogs should be kept on a leash at all times. This can help them stay relaxed and help protect all other people and pets at the clinic.
  • Cats should be transported to the appointment in a cat carrier with a blanket from home. These can help your cat feel safe and comfortable.
  • Speaking to your pet quietly and calmly throughout the visit would be best. This can help them keep their focus on you, which will help them relax.
  • If the waiting area is very busy, you can wait outside or in your car until your turn.
  • If your pet seems stressed out, it may be ideal to reschedule for another day when it is calmer, as this stress can affect the results.
If your pet needs special blood tests, your vet will provide specific instructions.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Has your vet scheduled your dog or cat for routine blood work? Contact our Apple Valley vets today. We are here to answer any questions you may have.

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