Red or White, We Count Them All: A Definitive Guide to Your Pet’s Blood Work

When you receive your pet’s blood work results, you likely are baffled by the abbreviations and numbers, and their meaning. How do they measure your pet’s health status, and why is knowing them important? Our Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital team explains the ins and outs of common blood work tests that we may recommend for your pet.

The parts to your pet’s complete blood count

A complete blood count (CBC) is exactly that—a complete count of each type of blood cell, including red and white blood cells, and thrombocytes (i.e., platelets). When we recommend running a CBC on your pet, we are looking for signs of anemia, infection, inflammation, dehydration, and clotting issues. A CBC also provides information on your pet’s overall immune system status.

Key parts of a CBC include:

  • RBC (red blood cell count), HCT (hematocrit) and HGB (hemoglobin) — Increases in these parameters can indicate dehydration, while decreases can mean anemia and a decrease in the blood’s oxygen-carrying capability.
  • WBC (white blood cell count) — A white blood cell count quantifies each of the five types of white blood cells, which perform immune system functions. Abnormal results can indicate disease, infection, stress, or inflammation.
  • PLT (platelets) — Platelets form blood clots to stop abnormal blood flow. An adequate amount of platelets is crucial for a pet before they undergo surgery.

Various other CBC parameters can demonstrate if your pet’s body is responding appropriately to an infection or anemia, or if they have a chronic blood loss issue.

The parts to your pet’s blood chemistry profile

A blood chemistry profile evaluates various parts of your pet’s internal function. By running a blood chemistry profile on your pet, we receive a quick and noninvasive assessment of their major organ systems. In general, a blood chemistry profile has different categories that provide information on the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, and also measures protein, electrolyte, and blood glucose levels.

Tests used to evaluate kidney function include:

  • BUN (blood urea nitrogen)
  • CRE (creatinine)

These two parameters may increase with decreased kidney function, dehydration, heart disease, shock, or urinary obstruction. BUN may also increase following a high protein diet. Both values can decrease with overhydration.

Tests used to evaluate liver function include:

  • ALT (alanine aminotransferase)
  • ALP (alkaline phosphatase)
  • GGT (gamma glutamyl transferase)
  • TBIL (total bilirubin)

These parameters typically increase with decreased liver function and certain liver abnormalities. However, they can also indicate different bodily processes, such as active bone growth in young pets.

Tests used to evaluate the pancreas’ health include:

  • AMYL (amylase)
  • LIPA (lipase)

These two parameters will generally increase not only with pancreatitis, but also with kidney disease, gastrointestinal disease, and certain drug treatments.

Tests used to form a protein profile include:

  • TP (total protein)
  • ALB (albumin)
  • GLOB (globulin)

Increases in these parameters can indicate dehydration, inflammation, or a chronic infection, while decreases can be seen with decreased liver function, kidney loss, gastrointestinal disease, and immune deficiencies.

Tests used to determine electrolyte levels include:

  • PHOS (phosphorus)
  • Ca+ (calcium)
  • Na+ (sodium)
  • K+ (potassium)
  • Cl- (chloride)

Electrolyte level abnormalities can be caused by numerous health conditions, so they must be taken into account with other tests.

Additional tests include:

  • GLU (glucose) — An increase in glucose can indicate diabetes, while a decrease can lead to collapse, seizures, or a coma.
  • CHOL (cholesterol) — Increases can be seen with a variety of metabolic issues, including diabetes, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, and pancreatitis.
  • T4 (thyroxine) — An increase can indicate hyperthyroidism, which occurs primarily in cats, while a decrease can mean hypothyroidism, which is usually found in dogs.

Conditions when your pet needs blood work

Blood work can be recommended for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Baseline testing — At your pet’s wellness visit, we’ll recommend they have blood work performed to monitor their baseline values for subtle changes and patterns over time that will help us detect diseases earlier.
  • Sick or injured condition — If your pet is sick or injured, blood work can help us determine the cause and extent.
  • Pre-anesthetic testing — Before your pet undergoes anesthesia, we’ll check their organ function and blood counts, to ensure they are as healthy as possible for their procedure.
  • Medication monitoring — Chronic conditions often require lifelong medication, and routine blood work helps evaluate the medication efficacy, and ensure the medication remains at a therapeutic level and causes no adverse effects.

How your pet’s blood work results are evaluated

While blood work results impart key information about your pet’s health, they are only part of the overall picture. We use the results as puzzle pieces to evaluate your pet’s health status, pairing the information with the physical exam and history findings. For example, for a nervous cat who has an elevated blood glucose of 183 mg/dL when they come in for their dental cleaning, we may recommend a urine sample, to check for glucose spillover. If the urine contains no glucose, we’ll chalk up the elevated blood glucose to stress, but may recommend more frequent monitoring.

Routine blood work is an important tool for monitoring your pet’s health. If you have a question about their blood work results, or need to schedule an appointment for blood work, contact our Kennedy Heights Animal and Bird Hospital team. Then, when we have your pet’s results, we will happily explain all the meanings.