Blood, Blood and More Blood

By Teresa Garden, DVM

Some days I feel part veterinarian and part vampire. No, I’m not sucking the blood from my poor defenseless patients. But I do draw blood from many of them with a needle and syringe and then send the blood to the lab for analysis. Animal Health & Healing is a very small veterinary clinic yet we generate one of the largest volumes of blood tests in the St. Louis region. If I really am not a vampire, then why is that? And what is the point of all that blood-letting?

Most of our patients are middle age, seniors, and geriatrics. Even if these pets are healthy and have no prior diseases or problems, we advise a blood profile annually consisting of a CBC, Superchem, and T4. This allows us to make sure the pet really is healthy on the inside. Often, we may diagnose an unexpected disease in its earliest form. Catching things early is good. The condition can be successfully treated with a diet change, lifestyle change, or the addition of supplements to the diet regimen.

Some of our dear patients at Animal Health & Healing have come to us for an integrative approach to treat a chronic malady such as kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, or liver disease. Patients with these conditions usually will need blood profiles monitored every 3-4 months. This allows us to evaluate how well the patient is responding to treatment. Treatment protocols can then be adjusted for optimal levels of health. Results of blood tests can also help us determine the prognosis of the patient. Many dogs and cats take prescription drugs for various health issues. Some of these drugs require monitoring liver and kidney function for possible adverse effects every 3-4 months.

So what are all these blood tests and what do they tell us? A complete blood cell count (CBC) checks red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), and platelets. RBCs will be low with anemias. WBCs may be elevated by infections, cancers, and inflammation. Both RBCs and WBCs may be lowered with diseases of the bone marrow. Platelets may be low with immune-mediated disease, cancers, or perhaps tick-borne infections.

Chemistry profiles (such as a Superchem) evaluate numerous organ functions in the body. Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine are nitrogenous products. They will be elevated with kidney disease, dehydration, and obstruction of the urinary tract. BUN may be low with liver disease. Symmetric Dimethylarginine (SDMA) is a new marker of kidney function. It will be elevated even with early kidney disease and it helps us to stage kidney disease. Phosphorous (PHOS) is a mineral that will be elevated with chronic kidney disease or anti-freeze toxicity. Alanine aminotranferase (ALT) is an enzyme that will increase with liver and bile duct disease. Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) is an enzyme that will increase with liver and muscle disease. Creatine kinase (CK) is an enzyme that will elevate with muscle and joint diseases. Bilirubin (BIL), a breakdown product of hemoglobin, is secreted by the liver into the intestinal tract. It accounts for the yellow color of bile and urine. High levels may indicate anemia, liver disease, or biliary disease. GGT (gamma-glutamyl transferase) is an enzyme that will be elevated with diseases of the gall bladder and biliary system. Albumin (ALB) is a liver-produced protein. Low levels can indicate chronic liver or kidney disease or inflammatory bowel disease. Gamma globulins (GLOBULIN) are antibodies that help fight bacterial and viral infections, cancer, or parasites. They will be elevated with these diseases. Calcium (Ca++) is a mineral and may be elevated with parathyroid disease, kidney disease, and certain cancers. Blood glucose (GLU) will be greatly elevated with diabetes mellitus. Decreased glucose may indicate hypoglycemia, liver disease, and some types of tumors. Cholesterol (CHOL) may be elevated with hypothyroidism, liver disease, and kidney disease. Triglycerides are fats which may be elevated with pancreatic disease, biliary disease, and primary hyperlipidemia.

The electrolytes included on a full chemistry profile consist of sodium (Na+), potassium (K+), and chloride (Cl-). These are minerals involved in regulating many important bodily processes such as acid/base balance, neuromuscular function, and hydration.
Imbalances can be life-threatening. Electrolytes may be adversely affected by vomiting, diarrhea, cardiovascular disease, drug therapy, and Addison’s disease.

The thyroid hormone Total T4 is sometimes included with a chemistry profile. If low this may indicate hypothyroidism or be secondary due to stress of a non-thyroidal illness. Other thyroid hormones will need to be checked to confirm a diagnosis of hypothyroidism.

Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) is an enzyme found in various body tissues and can be elevated with many different conditions. Increased levels may be seen with liver disease, cancer, Cushing’s disease, hyperlipidemia, GI inflammation, and pancreatitis.

Blood test results must be interpreted along with history, physical exam findings, and other diagnostic tests to reach a proper diagnosis for each pet. It is still amazing to me after 30 years of practice how much information can be gleaned from one blood draw. The eyes may be the window to the soul but blood profiles tell me a huge amount about the body itself.

Dr. Teresa Garden is chief veterinarian/owner of Animal Health & Healing, a full-service holistic and conventional veterinary practice in the Maplewood /Richmond Heights area. Call 314-781-1738 or visit online at www.AnimalHealthandHealing.com.