Blood work is a powerful diagnostic tool for understanding your pet’s internal health. But, when you receive your pet’s results, you probably have more questions than answers—namely, what do they all mean? Companion Veterinary Clinic is dedicated to empowering and educating pet owners—that’s why your pet’s veterinarian will contact you directly to discuss any significant or concerning findings. However, learning the basics can help you understand your pet’s health needs.

When should your pet receive blood work?

To provide the best possible patient care, Companion Veterinary Clinic recommends blood work throughout your pet’s life, and during any significant life events, including:

  • Annual wellness — Yearly testing can provide a baseline for future reference, and may indicate hidden disease.
  • Pre-anesthetic — Measuring kidney and liver function, electrolyte levels, and clotting ability can prevent anesthetic complications.
  • Sick visits — Blood work is helpful to pinpoint a diagnosis or rule out differential diagnoses.
  • Medication — Because some medications can be hard to metabolize, healthy organ function should always be confirmed before medication with a known risk is prescribed.
  • Monitoring — Serial monitoring can help chart disease progression or improvement, or note any treatment-related side effects.

What’s included in your pet’s blood work?

While recommended testing may vary during times of illness, our standard adult pet blood work includes a complete blood count (CBC) and a general chemistry or “chem.” These two profiles form a database of your pet’s overall health, and while you do not need to know every acronym, here are the most significant values you should focus on when looking at your pet’s results.

  • Red and white—your pet’s complete blood count
    Although we think of blood as a liquid, a more accurate description is living tissue that contains vital life-giving components. The CBC measures and assesses both cellular and fluid components, including:

    • Red blood cells (RBCs) ­— These cells create and use hemoglobin to transport oxygen throughout the body. Values such as RETIC, MCV, MCH, and MCHC report RBC regeneration, shape, and size.
    • Hemoglobin ­— Hemoglobin is a protein that gives blood its red color. Each hemoglobin molecule can carry four oxygen molecules.  
    • White blood cells (WBCs) — WBCs comprise your pet’s immune system. Each of five WBCs—neutrophils, lymphocytes, eosinophils, basophils, and monocytes—serves a specific defensive purpose, either producing antibodies, or breaking down dead or damaged cells. 
    • Platelets — These cytoplasm pieces circulate in the blood and help with the clotting process.
    • Packed cell volume (PCV) — The PCV is a test that measures the RBCs in blood when compared with its liquid (i.e., plasma) content. High PCV can indicate dehydration, while a low PCV suggests blood loss or RBC destruction.
    • Total protein or total solids (TP or TS) — TP measures the proteins in your pet’s plasma. Low or high total protein can suggest inflammation, liver problems, or infectious disease.  

The CBC is commonly used to detect anemia, blood loss, blood-based cancers (e.g., lymphoma, leukemia), infection, and inflammation, and can also indicate immune-mediated (i.e., self-destructive) diseases.

  • We’ve got chemistry—your pet’s general chemistry profile
    While the CBC evaluates the blood, the general chemistry profile is focused on organ function, electrolytes, and hormones. And, although many complex factors can cause a blood work value to be out of normal range, and many organ systems overlap, a basic understanding is advantageous for understanding many pet health issues.

    • Kidney function — The kidneys filter blood and maintain homeostasis by regulating pH and electrolytes, and eliminating toxins through the urine. Kidneys also control RBC and hormone production. Altered kidney function affects the internal environment and causes changes in:
      • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
      • Creatinine (CREA)
      • Phosphorous (PHOS)
      • Calcium (Ca +)
    • Liver function — The liver also performs blood filtration, removes toxins, and aids in metabolism, clotting, and the control of many critical processes. Liver injury or damage is often reflected by changes in:
      • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
      • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP)
      • Albumin (ALB)
      • Total bilirubin (TBIL)
      • Gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT)
    • Pancreatic function — The pancreas is a powerful but often overlooked organ instrumental in digestion and hormone production. Pancreatic values may increase with inflammation (i.e., pancreatitis), blunt injury, cancer, diabetes, or chronic medication use.
      • Amylase (AML)
      • Lipase (LIPA)
    • Electrolytes — Electrolytes influence your pet’s pH balance and can cause alkaline or acidic changes when an imbalance occurs, such as during an illness, kidney disease, injury, or dehydration. To prevent disruption to internal systems, electrolyte levels must stay in a narrow margin.
      • Sodium (Na)
      • Chloride (Cl)
      • Potassium (K)

Next steps—what happens following abnormal or normal results?

Seeing red, blue, or the words HIGH or LOW on your pet’s results may look frightening—but remember, many factors can influence blood work. Additionally, your pet’s veterinarian will review the results as a whole—not piece-meal, as we’ve described here. Sometimes, a change in a single value is not concerning, but other times additional diagnostics or treatment are recommended, including:

  • Repeat testing
  • Additional testing
  • Imaging (e.g., X-ray, ultrasound)
  • Medication

If your pet’s blood work is normal, congratulations! Their results not only confirm their current good health, but also will be an immensely helpful reference if they become sick in the future.

In sickness and in health, blood work is an investment in your pet’s lifelong wellbeing—potentially identifying and diagnosing disease long before they present as severe or irreversible illness. Simply put, blood work can save your pet from needless suffering, invasive and costly treatments, and an unnecessarily shortened life.

If you have questions about your pet’s recent blood work results or need to schedule your pet’s annual wellbeing exam with blood work, contact the Companion Veterinary Clinic team.