Your pet’s blood work provides valuable insight into their overall health and wellbeing. This testing is not only helpful in determining the cause of a current illness, but can also be instrumental in detecting subtle changes long before they appear as visible disease—making treatment simpler, more successful, and more affordable.

What are all these numbers and letters on my pet’s blood work?

You followed your veterinarian’s recommendation, and had blood work performed on your pet. But, now you have the results, and all the numbers and acronyms look like alphabet soup. Rest assured, we don’t expect you to understand this information on your own—if any results are abnormal or cause for concern, your pet’s veterinarian will be in touch. However, learning the basics of blood work can be helpful—and interesting—and help you to better understand your pet’s health and be prepared for possible future health changes.

When does my pet need blood work?

At Alpine Animal Hospital, we recommend blood work at every life stage and prior to all major medical events, including:

  • Annual wellness exams — Yearly screenings are an excellent way to detect early changes in your pet’s health. With advances in veterinary medicine, we can now identify early biomarkers for some diseases years before they appear.
  • Illness — This is the most obvious cause for blood work, to help identify or rule out many causes.
  • Starting or monitoring medication — Your pet must be able to safely metabolize any prescribed medication without injury to their kidney or liver.
  • Disease monitoring — Blood work can help us know if a pet’s condition is improving or deteriorating. 
  • Pre anesthetic — Blood work is essential for anesthetic safety, and helps us select appropriate medications.
  • Senior pet wellness Aging pets are more prone to disease, so blood work lets us track new changes and get ahead of the condition with effective treatment.

What does my pet’s blood work include?

Blood work panels can be basic or comprehensive, and are selected based on patient need. However, some components are standard to every blood panel, and the key areas we evaluate when reviewing pet blood work. Basic testing includes:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) — The CBC looks specifically at red and white blood cells, and can inform us of anemia, dehydration, infection, inflammation, bleeding disorders, and cancer. The major values in a CBC include: 
    • Red blood cells (RBC) — RBCs contain hemoglobin (HGB) to transport oxygen throughout the body. Low RBCs indicate anemia.
    • Hematocrit (HCT) or packed cell volume (PCV) — These identify the percentage of blood volume taken up by red blood cells versus liquid components (i.e., plasma). High hematocrit suggests dehydration, while low can signal anemia.
    • White blood cells (WBC) — WBCs fight infection, but may also increase because of inflammation, stress, or cancer. WBCs may decrease because of bone marrow suppression. The five WBC typesneutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, basophils, and eosinophils—serve different roles
    • Platelets (PLT) — Platelets help to stop bleeding by forming a clot. High platelets may indicate poor blood drawing technique, or a hyper-clotting condition. Low numbers may mean recent or ongoing internal bleeding, immune-mediated destruction, or a production problem. 
    • Reticulocytes (RETIC) — Increases in immature red blood cells suggest a regenerative anemia  (i.e., the body is making RBCs).
  • General chemistry The chemistry panel measures organ health, hydration, electrolyte balance, and blood sugar. The major interest groups and values of the chemistry include:
    • Kidney function — Kidneys filter your pet’s blood and remove impurities through the urine. They are also responsible for triggering red blood cell production. Changes in kidney function can have many causes, including age, infection, toxicity, and medication use. These can lead to increases in:
      • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
      • Creatinine (CREA)
      • Phosphorus (PHOS)
      • Calcium (Ca+)
    • Liver function — The liver helps with blood filtration and clotting, nutrient breakdown and absorption, and bile production, and regulates many critical body processes. Disturbances in liver function may trigger changes in:
      • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
      • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP)
      • Albumin (ALB)
      • Total bilirubin (TBIL)
      • Gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), which may indicate gallbladder disease (i.e, cholestasis)
    • Pancreatic function — The pancreas is responsible for digestive enzyme storage and secretion, as well as producing metabolism-regulating hormones. Changes to these pancreatic values can indicate pancreatitis, diabetes, cancer, or chronic medication use:
      • Amylase (AMYL)
      • Lipase (LIPA)
  • Electrolytes Like people, pets suffer from electrolyte imbalance during fluid loss and illness. Electrolytes must stay in a narrow margin, to ensure appropriate physical function and maintain homeostasis. Dehydration—secondary to another condition—is a common cause for electrolyte imbalance, and is reflected in changes to the following:
    • Sodium (Na)
    • Chloride (Cl)
    • Potassium (K)

What happens next if my pet has abnormal blood work?

In a perfect world, all your pet’s values would line up inside the boundaries that demonstrate perfect health. However, some values can be slightly out of range without being a cause for concern—assuming your pet seems healthy, this may simply be their normal. If your pet’s abnormal blood work is concerning, your veterinarian will contact you to explain the findings, and propose a work-up or treatment plan that may include:

  • Repeating the test — After a period of time, the test is run again to see if results are repeatable. 
  • Additional testing — Further blood work, urine, or fecal testing, or diagnostic imaging may be recommended.
  • Treatment plan — If the diagnosis is known, your pet may need hospitalization or medication.
  • Monitoring — If action isn’t immediately necessary, you may be advised to watch your pet for illness signs.

If your pet’s specific changes aren’t listed here, we encourage you to send us an email—the Alpine Animal Hospital veterinarians and veterinary technicians will be happy to help you understand your pet’s results.