Dog Laboratory

Understanding Blood Tests for Dogs

In addition to a good physical exam and any necessary vaccinations done at your dog’s year veterinary visit, your veterinarian may recommend running some “lab work” or “blood work” for general health screening. He or she may also recommend this if your dog is scheduled to have a surgical procedure or if your dog has been acting out of the ordinary lately. There are many things that can be evaluated with lab work for dogs, and valuable information can be gleaned regarding the health of your pet by checking it as recommended by your veterinarian. 

If you haven’t taken your dog for his or her yearly exam or you’ve been noticing that your faithful friend isn’t feeling well, contact a local veterinarian to run some lab work. 

What is Dog “Lab Work”?

“Lab work” usually includes what we call a “chemistry panel” (chemistry) and a “complete blood count” (CBC). It can also include a heartworm test, checking a thyroid level (T4), or checking a urine sample (“urinalysis”). The chemistry panel evaluates your dog’s kidney and liver values, protein and electrolyte levels, and blood sugar. The CBC evaluates your dog’s red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelet levels. All of these values taken together can give your veterinarian much needed information about the health of your dog and if anything should require follow-up treatment.

What are the Reasons to Check Your Dog’s “Lab Work”?

There are many reasons your veterinarian may want to check lab work on your dog, some of which are described below:

Checking a Baseline

Even if your dog is young and healthy, checking baseline parameters on them is helpful to know what levels are normal within their individual body. For instance, your dog’s kidney values may naturally be at the low end of normal, whereas another dog’s kidney values may be naturally high-normal. If your dog’s kidney values start to increase toward high-normal when checking blood work in subsequent years, this would be abnormal for your dog and a warning sign to your veterinarian that he or she may be in the early stages of kidney disease.

Prior to Anesthesia or Medications

It’s ideal to check blood work prior to putting your dog under anesthesia for a surgical procedure, even for a spay or neuter. This is to make sure that kidney and liver values are functioning properly to be able to handle the anesthesia and to evaluate if there are any changes that need to be made to the anesthetic protocol for your pet to make the procedure safer for him or her.

There are also certain medications that your dog may need at some point, such as an anti-inflammatory medicine for pain control or anti-seizure medications for potential seizure disorders. These sorts of medications can exacerbate underlying problems with the kidneys and liver, so your veterinarian may want to check lab work prior to starting these medications in your pet to make sure that kidney and liver values look okay.

Monitoring with Age

As your dog gets older, your veterinarian will most likely want to check lab work at least every year. For most dogs, this is when they turn about six or seven years old. For large or giant breed dogs, however, this can be closer to about four years of age. This is because, just like humans, dogs can develop kidney disease and liver disease, diabetes, and hypothyroidism. These can all be detected on yearly blood work screenings. Additionally, certain types of cancers or other diseases, such as Cushing’s Disease, can be detected from certain changes your veterinarian may see in your dog’s lab work. This can alert them to discuss with you that additional testing may be needed for your dog to find out if something is going on, as early detection is always key.

As you may already know, most dogs don’t always show signs that they are not feeling well. Oftentimes, something can be developing within them without us knowing until it is too late. Checking blood work every year can be a good way to detect a subtle problem early and be able to slow down its progression before it gets too severe.

How are Dog Lab Tests obtained and performed?

Taking a blood sample from your dog is very similar to how your doctor may obtain a blood sample from you, using a needle and syringe. It’s a very safe procedure, though it is a little trickier with dogs since they have fur covering their veins and they may not want to sit still for very long. We can typically distract a dog for a blood draw with peanut butter, cheese, or another tasty treat. This helps to get them to stand or sit still long enough with minimal restraint in order to collect the blood. However, this doesn’t work for every dog, and some dogs may need to be held in a certain way to be able to adequately collect the blood sample.

To obtain a urine sample, we usually need your dog to urinate for us as we try to catch it with a long spoon or container. If we need a sterile sample, we may need to gently insert a needle into your dog’s abdomen and collect it directly from their bladder. Don’t worry - this procedure is very safe and, other than your dog feeling awkward lying on his or her back, there shouldn’t be any discomfort.

Depending on the veterinary clinic and the urgency of the test, the blood sample may be analyzed on a blood analyzer within the clinic, or it may be sent out to another laboratory for testing. The dog blood test results are typically sent to your veterinarian’s office within 24-48 hours unless a specialized test is performed.

Talk To Your Veterinarian About The Benefits of Lab Work for Your Dog

If you start noticing subtle changes in your dog’s behavior, appetite, or urination, it’s always a good idea to get this checked out. Reach out to a veterinarian near you to get lab work done to ensure good health for your precious pooch.