Pets require bloodwork for various reasons, from screening tests, to diagnosing illnesses, and you may find the results confusing if you don’t understand the values. Our team at Heritage Veterinary Clinic wants to provide information to help you interpret your pet’s blood work.
Your pet’s complete blood count
A complete blood count (CBC) evaluates your pet’s overall health and can detect many disorders, including anemia, infection, and leukemia. A CBC may be recommended to monitor your pet’s general health, as a screening test before general anesthesia, or if they have signs of weakness, fever, inflammation, bruising, or bleeding. A CBC measures red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), hemoglobin, hematocrit, and platelets, and results indicate:
- Red blood cell count — The RBC, hemoglobin, and hematocrit all measure red blood cell properties. Abnormally low RBC, hemoglobin, and hematocrit indicate anemia, which is caused by many issues, including blood loss, certain vitamin or iron deficiencies, and other underlying conditions. Higher than normal RBC, hemoglobin, and hematocrit can indicate issues including lung disease, heart abnormalities, blood circulation abnormalities, and decreased arterial oxygen saturation.
- White blood cell count — Abnormally low WBC can be caused by conditions including an autoimmune disorder, bone marrow problems, or cancer. Higher than normal WBC may indicate conditions such as infection, inflammation, or an immune system disorder. Medications can cause WBC to abnormally increase and decrease.
- Platelet count — Abnormally low platelets can be caused by blood loss, increased platelet destruction, and impaired bone marrow production. Higher than normal platelets can result from epinephrine release, an underlying disease, and bone marrow-related disease.
Your pet’s blood chemistry profile
A blood chemistry panel is another common test that evaluates your pet’s organ function, electrolyte status, hormone levels, and more. A blood chemistry profile is routinely performed along with a CBC to comprehensively assess your pet’s health. Blood chemistry profile results include:
- Kidney function — Your pet’s kidneys are assessed by checking their creatinine and blood urea nitrogen levels.
- Creatinine — Creatine is broken down during muscle contractions, producing creatinine, which is excreted by the kidneys. Creatinine blood levels reveal how efficiently the kidneys are working, with high levels indicating kidney damage.
- Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) — BUN is a byproduct that is produced when the liver breaks down proteins, and is filtered by the kidneys. Damaged kidneys, liver disease, heart problems, urethral obstruction, and dehydration can also cause high BUN levels. Low BUN levels are not common, but may indicate overhydration or malnutrition.
- Liver function — Your pet’s liver function is assessed by checking their alkaline phosphatase (ALP), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), and bilirubin levels.
- Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) — ALP is an enzyme found mostly in liver and bones, and increases can indicate liver or bone abnormalities.
- Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) — ALT is an enzyme found mainly in the liver, but small amounts are also found in the kidneys, heart, and muscles. High levels can indicate acute hepatitis.
- Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) — AST is an enzyme found mainly in the liver, heart, and muscles that is released when liver or muscle cells are injured.
- Gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT) — GGT is another enzyme that can indicate liver damage.
- Bilirubin — Bilirubin is produced when the liver breaks down red blood cells. Increased levels can indicate liver blockage or liver damage, and hemolytic anemia.
- Blood glucose — Glucose is a simple sugar required for energy. Elevated levels can indicate diabetes, and low levels can cause fainting, seizures, or coma.
- Protein — Proteins are important to ensure healthy cells and tissues. Albumin and total protein levels are measured.
- Albumin — Albumin constitutes the major protein in blood serum. Low albumin levels indicate conditions such as liver damage, kidney disease, intestinal compromise, and serious inflammation.
- Total protein — Total protein measures the combined albumin and globulin levels. Abnormalities can indicate dehydration, liver and kidney disease, and infectious diseases.
- Electrolytes — Normal electrolyte levels depend on appropriate nutrition, the intestines’ ability to absorb nutrients, and proper kidney and lung function. Electrolytes measured include:
- Sodium (Na) — Na helps regulate water balance, and plays an important role in blood pressure, blood volume, and proper heart, brain, and nerve function. Na levels are typically low when pets have gastrointestinal disorders, such as vomiting and diarrhea, and kidney disease.
- Potassium (K) — K helps regulate acid-base chemistry and water balance in blood and body tissues, and is necessary for normal muscle growth and contraction, and normal nerve function. Low levels can be observed in pets who are vomiting, or have diarrhea and excessive urination. High K levels may indicate kidney damage, dehydration, or urethral obstruction.
- Chloride (Cl) — Cl helps maintain proper pH and fluid balance. Low Cl levels occur in pets affected by vomiting and diarrhea, and high levels typically indicate dehydration.
- Calcium (Ca) — Ca is important to regulate heartbeat, transmit nerve impulses, contract muscle, and to help blood clot properly. Low Ca levels can indicate pancreatitis, kidney failure, and parathyroidism, and high levels can indicate lymphoma.
We know that your pet’s blood work can be confusing, but the values make sense once you know how to interpret them. If your pet is due for a wellness examination with blood work, or you need help deciphering their blood work results, contact our team at Heritage Veterinary Clinic, and let us assess your pet’s health.