Blood work in pets is a non-invasive, essential part of pre-anesthetic workups, senior pet exams, and wellness visits. A blood panel can quickly give your veterinarian important clues about what’s happening inside your pet’s body, to guide treatment decisions, catch potential problems early, and find illness causes in sick pets. For pet owners, blood work can appear as a confusing sea of numbers, so let your Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital team help you understand what your pet’s blood work means. 

Many specialized blood tests exist for specific health conditions, but general blood panels contain two partsa complete blood count (CBC) and a serum chemistry panel (chemistry). Some senior or yearly profiles may also include a thyroid level test, heartworm and tick disease screening for dogs, and a feline viral panel for cats. Using a standard CBC and chemistry, your veterinarian must also take into account your pet’s clinical status, health condition, age, and other clues to interpret the numbers presented in a blood panel result. Using all the information, here’s what your veterinarian can assess with blood work.

Your pet’s kidney function

Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (CREA) are part of the blood chemistry. Elevated levels indicate kidney damage or dehydration, and the ratio can tell your veterinarian more about the damage location and whether the problem could be reversible. A urinalysis is often performed at the same time as BUN and CREA, to gain more information about kidney health.

Your pet’s liver function

Aspartate aminotransferase (AST), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase (ALKP), gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), and total bilirubin (TBIL) are liver enzymes measured on the blood chemistry. Elevated levels indicate dysfunction, damage, or red blood cell destruction. Often, elevated liver enzymes are secondary to disease elsewhere in the body.

Your pet’s pancreatic function

Amylase (AMYL) and lipase (LIP) are blood chemistry enzymes that indicate general pancreatic function—elevations can indicate inflammation, such as pancreatitis. Glucose is also measured on a chemistry profile—an elevated glucose may indicate diabetes, a disorder in which the pancreas cannot produce insulin, or the body has become resistant to insulin’s effects. 

Your pet’s lipid status

Cholesterol (CHOL) and triglycerides are measured on the chemistry, and while pets do not experience heart disease from high cholesterol like humans, high blood lipids may be linked to breed, metabolic disease, or liver disease. High blood lipids can lead to eye problems in some susceptible pets. 

Your pet’s protein status

Albumin (ALB) and globulin (GLOB) are proteins in the blood measured with the chemistry. Low albumin can cause leaky blood vessels and edema, and may be caused by kidney, liver, or gastrointestinal disease. Globulins may be elevated because of infection or chronic disease. 

Your pet’s hydration and electrolyte status

Calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), sodium (Na), potassium (K), and chloride (Cl) are electrolytes— charged molecules that the body tightly regulates. When electrolytes are out of balance from metabolic or hormonal disease or dehydration, problems with heart rhythm, seizures, weakness, or death may occur. 

Electrolyte imbalance is detected on the blood chemistry and may indicate dehydration, which the CBC can also support. Hematocrit (HCT) measures the percentage of red blood cell volume in the blood compared with the liquid portion—an elevated HCT usually indicates dehydration.

Your pet’s blood cell counts

Blood counts on the CBC provide important clues about possible infection and immune status, and can detect some types of blood cancers. Red blood cells (RBCs) use a protein called hemoglobin (HGB) to transport oxygen to cells. A low count indicates anemia, which causes weakness, paleness, and rapid breathing. The blood contains five types of white blood cell (WBCs), which fight infection, and the blood is assessed for cell types, proportions, and cell health. White blood cells may be “off” in distinct patterns that your veterinarian may recognize as the result of stress, infection, chronic disease, or cancers like lymphoma. 

Your pet’s blood clotting ability

The CBC also assesses platelets, small cell fragments that stick together and form blood clots when vessel walls are injured. When platelets are low, excessive bleeding or bruising may occur, because of immune-mediated disease, bleeding disorders, or genetic clotting problems. 

Regardless of what the numbers show, your veterinarian is your best resource to help you interpret your pet’s blood work results. High or low numbers will mean different things for different patients, so ensure you follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for treatment and follow-up.

Do not hesitate to reach out to your Scripps Ranch Veterinary Hospital team if you’d like to set up an appointment for your pet’s blood work, or if you have any questions about your pet’s most recent results.