Let’s be honest, getting blood drawn at the doctor’s office isn’t usually the highlight of someone’s day. However, there is a wealth of important information your doctor can tell you about your health after reviewing the results. The same is true for our four-legged companions.
With only a few drops of blood or urine, veterinarians can learn invaluable information about the health of our pets. Physical exams are vitally important and often indicate to a veterinarian that certain blood and urine tests need to be performed; those tests allow veterinarians to screen for, diagnose, and monitor certain diseases that cannot be fully evaluated with a physical exam alone.
Especially as our dogs age, routine blood and urine tests, often called “lab work,” are essential. Just as we need more frequent doctor visits as we get older, our senior dogs also need closer monitoring. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends a complete physical examination and lab work every six months for senior dogs. By following this recommendation, we can determine a dog’s baseline health status and then track changes in their body as they age. This allows owners and veterinarians to intervene at the first sign of a problem, which may be before a dog displays any symptoms.
Regardless of the age of your dog, below are some common laboratory tests that veterinarians perform using blood and urine.
Complete Blood Count (CBC)
This test looks at the three primary cell types circulating in your dog’s blood: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cells help carry oxygen throughout the body, white blood cells aid in fighting infections, and platelets assist in blood clotting. By measuring the numbers of each of these cells in your dog’s blood and inspecting the shapes and sizes of those cells, veterinarians can find evidence of various conditions such as anemia, infection, or an increased risk of bleeding.
While a CBC looks at the cells present in blood, a chemistry panel looks at the levels of many of the non-cellular substances contained in blood. This includes glucose (“blood sugar”) and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and calcium. Additionally, the level of various proteins (such as those produced by liver cells) and products of body metabolism (such as blood urea nitrogen or “BUN”) can be measured. By reviewing the results of a chemistry panel, a veterinarian can gain insight into how well the body as a whole is maintaining the necessary balance of various important substances. This diagnostic test also gives information as to how specific organs (such as the liver and kidneys) are functioning.
Alongside the above blood tests, another very important part of lab work is an analysis of urine or a “urinalysis.” This test involves a visual, chemical, and microscopic examination of the urine sample. A urinalysis provides essential information about hydration status, how well the kidneys are functioning, and whether there may be inflammation or infection in the urinary tract. It can even help detect chronic conditions such as diabetes.
Normal Diagnostics and Research at the Dog Aging Project
Lab work can reveal so many important aspects of your dog’s health, and it is one of the foundational keys to keeping them happy and healthy throughout their life. It is also an important part of the Precision Cohort study. All of the diagnostics described above will be performed using biological samples collected in the Sample Kit process described here. The results of these diagnostics will be returned to Precision Cohort participants and to their primary care veterinarian, who can help interpret the results.
Stay tuned to this blog for more posts in the Inside Precision series, which will detail other aspects of the Precision Cohort study.