As your pet ages, you may start wondering if they are as healthy on the inside as they appear on the outside. You may also wonder about common conditions, and whether your pet is developing any disease signs. The best way for your veterinarian to assess your pet’s internal health is with a routine blood panel, which includes a chemistry to look at the liquid blood portion and a complete blood count (CBC) to assess the blood cells. Your Liberty Veterinary Hospital team members are experts at blood work interpretation, and this quick and easy diagnostic tool can answer all your questions about your pet’s health. 

Question #1: What is considered normal for my pet?

Liberty Veterinary Hospital (LVH): One of the best ways to find your pet’s “normal” is to run baseline blood work when they are young. Some pets have blood work values that fall slightly outside the reference range, but are still considered normal based on their breed, age, or health status. Your veterinarian is trained to interpret your pet’s blood work in light of the entire clinical picture, not simply the numbers on the page. Once we establish your pet’s baseline we have a comparison should your pet fall ill, and our veterinarian can check their wellness blood work each year to spot patterns or changes early.

Question #2: Does my pet have a thyroid problem?

LVH: Pet owners often wonder if their overweight pet cannot lose pounds because they have a thyroid problem. Low thyroid, which occurs in dogs, should always be ruled out, although weight changes are typically because of poor diet and exercise.  A thyroid problem should also be suspected in dogs if they are exhibiting new onset behavior problems, such as aggression or anxiety, marked hair loss, or chronic skin infections. Cats, on the other hand, are prone to high thyroid levels, which cause weight loss, vomiting, diarrhea, heart problems, behavior changes, and a ravenous appetite. We recommend yearly thyroid screening, which can be added to your pet’s annual wellness blood work. 

Question #3: Does my pet have high cholesterol?

LVH: High cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease in humans, but not in pets. When a pet’s blood chemistry shows increased cholesterol or triglycerides, metabolic diseases or genetic predisposition may be the reason, and clinical signs may or may not be present. Some pets may develop inflammation and fat deposits inside or on the eye surface, which is an indication for systemic treatment with diet or cholesterol-lowering medications. 

Question #4: Does my pet have diabetes?

LVH: Diabetes is another disease we think about in humans that translates to our pets. Your veterinarian can diagnose diabetes by assessing your pet’s blood work—high glucose levels, which often are accompanied by elevated liver enzymes, high cholesterol, elevated PCV and deranged electrolytes, can indicate dehydration, with ketones in the urine definite disease indicators. 

Question #5: Are my pet’s organs functioning properly?

LVH: Annual wellness blood work can tell your veterinarian a great deal about your pet’s health, and an annual panel allows pattern tracking. Routine blood work can assess the following organs on the blood chemistry panel:

  • Kidneys — Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (CREA) measure kidney function and differentiate dehydration types.
  • Liver — Aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase (ALKP), gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), and total bilirubin (TBIL) are liver enzymes that each indicate a different type of potential damage.
  • Pancreas — When elevated, pancreatic enzymes amylase (AMYL) and lipase (LIP) can indicate inflammation. 

Question #6: My pet is sick—can you tell me what’s going on?

LVH: When your pet is sick, a blood chemistry panel and CBC become important tools to hunt down the problem. Our veterinarian can tell how their liver, kidneys, and pancreas are functioning from the chemistry panel, and they may notice and treat the following chemistry abnormalities:

  • Electrolyte disturbance — If calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sodium (Na), potassium (K), and chloride (Cl) aren’t in proper balance, weakness, heart arrhythmias, seizures or death could occur because of chronic disease or dehydration.
  • Protein changes — Albumin (ALB) and globulin (GLOB) are blood proteins that maintain a certain ratio in the body. Low albumin or high globulin can indicate disease or infection.

The CBC can give additional clues about your pet’s illness, including these common findings:

  • Anemia — Low red blood cells and low hemoglobin (HGB) cause weakness and lethargy, and a life-threatening lack of oxygen, in severe cases. 
  • Infection or stress — White blood cell counts can be elevated, decreased, or have altered ratios of one cell type to another. Each pattern indicates a different possible cause, but usually indicates infection or stress on the body.
  • Cancer — Most cancers are undetectable on blood work, but some lymphomas and leukemias cause distinctive CBC changes.
  • Low platelets — Low platelets on the CBC can indicate infection or immune disease, and possible bleeding problems. 

If your pet is due for their annual wellness blood work or needs an evaluation for a new problem, or you have questions regarding your pet’s blood results or follow-up, contact our Liberty Veterinary Hospital team for an appointment. We can also help explain those mysterious blood work results.