Have you ever looked at your pet’s blood work results and thought, “Huh?”

If so, you’re not alone.

While blood work is an invaluable diagnostic tool for your veterinarian, to anyone outside the medical field, it’s a jumble of letters, numbers, and colors. Fortunately, you don’t have to go to veterinary school to gain a better understanding of your pet’s results. Here are four tips from Homestead Animal Hospital to help you understand your pet’s blood work.

#1: Get some perspective—seeing your pet’s big picture

When you look at your pet’s results, your eyes are naturally drawn to words like “HIGH” and “LOW” and anything in red or blue. Of course, these out-of-range values can seem like cause for concern—but before you worry, you need to know how your veterinarian reviews blood work.

Rather than considering only your pet’s results, the veterinarian views your pet holistically—a “big picture” view that includes:

  • Patient history
  • Physical exam findings
  • Current or past medical conditions
  • Previous blood work
  • Normal and abnormal results

While some abnormalities are an immediate cause for concern, others may raise the alarm only if they are joined by other changes, or your pet is visibly sick. Because your pet’s health and organ function are interconnected, each value is assessed on its own, as well as part of a larger whole.

#2: No news is good news—normal results are valuable for your pet

Sometimes your pet’s blood work will be “perfect,” with no abnormalities, changes, or trends. While this news should be celebrated, some pet owners may feel perplexed by the lack of “answers,” or wonder if the test was necessary—especially if their pet is clinically healthy. But, normal blood work is often as valuable as worrisome results. Normal blood work can:

  • Rule out suspected diagnoses — If your pet is sick but their blood work is normal, your veterinarian can “rule out” suspected conditions (i.e., differential diagnoses) and investigate other possibilities, thereby saving time, effort, and expense pursuing or treating an incorrect or incomplete diagnosis.
  • Confirm a pet is healthy for anesthesia — Preoperative blood work allows us to check your pet’s kidney and liver function to ensure they can receive and metabolize anesthesia medications. Adequate platelet counts ensure your pet can avoid bleeding complications.
  • Serve as a baseline — Routine or healthy pet blood work allows us to establish a baseline (i.e., your pet’s “normal”) to reference if your pet later becomes sick. Regular blood work also helps us identify subtle trends or patterns, which can signify early disease.

#3: Roll call—Recognize the major players on your pet’s blood work

The typical blood work panel involves dozens of unique values and can easily seem intimidating. But, like geographic landmarks during a road trip, recognizing a few “familiar” values can act like signposts, and help you feel more comfortable. Here are the most easily recognized values on your pet’s blood work:

  • Red blood cells (RBCs) — RBCs carry oxygen throughout your pet’s body by using hemoglobin (HGB). Low RBCs can suggest anemia, while high RBCs can indicate dehydration.
  • White blood cells (WBC) — WBCs are part of your pet’s immune system, responsible for fighting infection, inflammation, and foreign invaders. WBCs include neutrophils, monocytes, lymphocytes, eosinophils, and basophils.
  • Hematocrit (HCT) — The HCT is a percentage value measuring the cellular and liquid portions of your pet’s blood.
  • Total protein (TP) — TP measures circulating blood proteins albumin (ALB) and globulin (GLOB). 
  • Kidney values — As the kidneys filter harmful toxins from your pet’s blood, function changes may increase or decrease their blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine (CREA), or phosphorus (PHOS).
  • Liver values — The liver’s many responsibilities, including filtration, metabolism, and hormone synthesis, can be measured by many enzymes, including alkaline phosphatase (ALKP), alanine aminotransferase (ALT), gamma glutamyl transferase (GGT), the protein albumin (ALB), and bilirubin (TBIL), which is a byproduct of natural red blood cell breakdown.
  • Pancreatic enzymes — The pancreas produces digestive enzymes amylase (AMYL) and lipase (LIPA), whose high levels suggest dangerous inflammation.
  • Blood glucose (BG) — Your pet’s blood sugar can help us identify diabetes or malfunctioning pancreatic cells. 
  • Electrolytes — Sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), and chloride (Cl-) must be maintained in careful balance in the body’s normal chemistry to ensure proper functioning and homeostasis. Disruption can be caused by dehydration or clinical illness.

#4: Vetted sources—where to go for accurate veterinary information

While our veterinarians will always review your pet’s blood work with you and discuss pertinent changes, we understand that you may still have questions, or wish to know more. However, many online sources—especially forums and groups—can be disreputable and based on anecdotal information. Before you put your pet’s test results into a search engine, contact us with your questions and concerns. 

If you are interested in further online reading to understand your pet’s results or a specific diagnosis, we can confidently recommend these resources:

Know thy pet—blood work and behavior change

No one knows your pet better than you, and your unique insight can help us interpret your pet’s results. If your pet is experiencing a change in their behavior, energy, or daily habits, let us know. That seemingly small tip may shed light on a subtle abnormality, or suggest an alternate treatment plan.

The information gleaned from one blood sample can be dizzying—but the ability to detect early disease, pinpoint a diagnosis, or receive targeted treatment is true peace of mind. To schedule your pet’s annual blood work, contact Homestead Animal Hospital.