When your veterinarian suggests laboratory work for your dog, it can raise alarms in your head that something is seriously wrong. However, laboratory work is critical in identifying what may be causing your dog to feel ill and is necessary for establishing baseline values in a healthy dog to help identify future problems. Of course, it is natural for you as a dog owner to have questions about laboratory work. That is why we have taken the most frequently asked questions about dog laboratory work and answered them here.

If you have additional questions about various laboratory tests your dog may need, or if you are located in the San Mateo, CA area, please call us at 650-535-3557.

Why might my dog need lab work?

There are several reasons why your veterinarian might suggest laboratory work for your dog, but it is most often done to help identify the cause of an illness. Veterinarians will perform laboratory work to discover the cause of an illness or detect presence of an illness, such as heartworm disease or intestinal worms. Laboratory work is routine before performing a surgical procedure, to confirm your dog is healthy before a procedure and anesthesia. 

Why are laboratory tests so important for my dog's health? 

While laboratory tests are essential to identify illness, as stated above, they are important from a preventative medicine perspective. For example, heartworm testing, stool sample evaluations, and urinalysis can identify illness before any clinical signs appear. Early detection can address underlying or obscure diseases before they become obvious and your dog is ill and uncomfortable. Early detection of laboratory abnormalities can be beneficial in managing your dog's quality of life.  The American Animal Hospital Association addresses preventive healthcare guidelines for dogs, which include annual disease testing.

What different types of laboratory tests are there, and how are these tests performed? 

Several different types of laboratory work can be performed, depending on the clinical signs that your dog may have the illness suspected by your veterinarian. 

Types of dog lab work include:

  • Blood work — including complete blood count(CBC), chemistry panel, thyroid test, and glucose test
  • Urinalysis — checking the urine concentration, for protein, glucose, crystals, ketones, or signs of infection
  • Fecal test — Using a stool sample to screen for intestinal parasites
  • Heartworm test — An antigen test (blood) that detects specific heartworm proteins

Most veterinarians can have these tests performed in the office for immediate results.

What do the chemistries mean on my dog's blood work? 

Chemistry is a broad term, reflecting the many different panels available in blood panels. When your veterinarian uses the term “chemistry panel,” they are looking results that lists different organ values and markers. For example, a chemistry panel will measure your dog’s blood sugar and kidney values. The panel will also provide values for liver enzymes, proteins, and electrolytes. These are some of the categories of blood values that might help identify abnormalities with your dog.  The results, or a combination of results, will help your veterinarian identify underlying disease problems if your dog is ill. 

How do baseline laboratory tests benefit the health of my dog? 

When we perform physical examinations on animals at North Peninsula Veterinary Emergency Clinic, we discuss blood work with owners, which provides a veterinarian with baseline blood values when animals are young, healthy, and not sick or when they are ailing. At some point, maybe six months or six years down the road, your dog is going to go back to their veterinarian not feeling so well. The baseline blood sample results from months or years ago provides your veterinarian with a comparison to the current results performed if your animal has abnormalities on a more recent blood test. This makes it much easier for your veterinarian to see that something is not normal and help identify how to treat your dog. 

Why is early detection and diagnosis of my dog's potential illness using laboratory work so important?

Early detection of any disease is valuable because the earlier you identify the illness, the better prognosis your dog may have, and we hope a better quality of life. If your dog’s kidneys are compromised or begin failing, for example, functional damage in the kidneys is not reversible. However, if your veterinarian identifies through a routine annual examination and blood panel that some of your dog’s kidney values are slightly elevated, they can intervene with a corrective diet, supplements, or other treatment to slow the progression of kidney disease or failure. This is where early detection becomes essential. The sooner you can address a problem, the better outcome your dog is likely to have.

If you have further questions about dog lab work, reach out to your veterinarian. If you live in or near San Mateo, CA, we’d love to see your dog for baseline blood work, so please don’t hesitate to call us at 650-535-3557.