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Laboratory Blood Tests
What do all these numbers mean?

Most dogs and cats sometime in their lives will need blood tests done during a health check.  Annual blood tests for an assortment of potential and real disorders are vital in optimal dog and cat health care efforts.  Most pet owners want an explanation of blood test results, just reading the numbers alone doesn't help much.  Find out what's behind the numbers in your pet's blood chemistry test results.

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I've always wondered what all those tests are for in the Chemistry Panel my veterinarian runs annually for my 10 year old Siamese cat.  Doc shows me the list of items but just says they are all normal. Can you tell me what those tests are all about in the Chemistry Panel?

Photo: Blood draw from a cat
Image of a blood draw from a cat

Answer:   dog... cat... chemistry panel... blood tests     
  It can get complicated but the main interest is whether or not some body chemistry value is out of balance and how far from normal the value is.  There are a number different "blood chemistry panels" depending what tests or organ systems are being monitored.  Some chemistry panels may test for 6 or 12 or any number of blood chemistry values so your cost for the test may vary.  Some chemicals are more costly to determine than others so the doctor will usually try to test for the most revealing factors rather than testing "for everything".

Below are some generalities to keep in mind:
A chemistry panel is a group of assorted tests for specific blood chemicals, the results of which give an insight into the health of the patient.
  A single chemistry panel cannot "check for everything".
  Chemistry panel tests can be grouped to give specific data on various organ systems, for example a "liver profile" panel of tests may evaluate biochemicals that are not included in a "cardiac panel" or "kidney (renal) panel".
  One blood sample can sometimes be used for various different chemistry panels.
  Costs can vary depending upon what biochemicals are being measured
  Abnormal results from a single blood sample are not predictive for what a value will be in the future or has been in the past.
  To evaluate what direction a value is going a second set of data is required at some future date and results are compared to the first sample.
  Plasma is is the non cellular fluid portion of a blood sample that still contains fibrin (a specialized protein molecule needed for clotting). 
  Whole blood contains all the cellular and proteinaceous substances and the fluid portion of the blood.  For transfusing, anticoagulants are added to keep the whole blood sample from converting into a jelly-like mass.

Doctor's Notes
     Most chemistry panels use just the serum portion of a blood sample.  Serum is the fluid portion of the blood sample where the red and white blood cells and fibrin have been separated and removed from the sample.


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Common chemicals tested via a blood chemistry panel that measure organ status are displayed below...
 many other chemicals can also be tested.  Visit here to learn how the chemicals reflect organ/blood functions.
liver kidney pancreas electrolytes proteins hormones
Alkaline Phosphatase
Total Bilirubin
BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen)
Blood Glucose
Total Protein
Adrenal Gland


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Chemistry panel blood analyzer Chemistry panel blood draw dog gall bladder cat blood testing
An "in clinic" blood analyzer Drawing a blood sample from a dog An enlarged gall bladder and normal appearing liver in a dog Using a vein inside the rear leg of a cat
glucose meter cystic kidneys cat cat cystic ovary puppy with kittens
One drop of blood is all that's needed for blood glucose (sugar) evaluation Cystic kidney from a cat that showed problems on the blood chemistry tests An ovarian cyst may not stimulate any changes in the blood chemistry values Puppies and kittens have slight
 differences in values from adult values

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I How come my vet does a great big blood test when we really only need information about my dog's kidney problems?

   Chemistry panel blood draw

     I've asked him several times about this but he does a full blood test every 6 weeks to see how the kidneys are doing and it's getting expensive if all that's needed is kidney information.

Answer:   blood tests... chemistry panel... what is
First, you don't have to do anything you don't approve.  As the dog's owner your duty is to take the best care of your pet that you can reasonably afford.  Nevertheless, do not be reluctant to ask the veterinarian to do "the least expensive test for what you need to know".

Some veterinary laboratories actually charge the clinic nearly the same fee for a "Chem 24 Panel" testing 24 biochemicals as for a "Chem 6 Panel" which only provides six values.  So, the doctor may think for a very slightly increase in your fee why not gain insight into more values just in case other organ systems are beginning to fail?

Kidney problems... or any organ system dysfunction... have a universal impact on the patient.  In kidney disease toxins not filtered out by the kidneys impact the entire body especially the liver.  Blood pressure issues secondary to kidney problems are common and red blood cell regeneration is hindered if the kidneys are not producing a substance erythropoietin.

You can specify whatever you want or don't want.  Remember, though, the doctor has an obligation to make the best recommendations for each patient.  No doctor with a failing patient ever wants to hear "why didn't you check for that?"

Doctor's Notes:
     Chemistry panel tests are very similar to what human physicians utilize whenever we have blood drawn for annual checkups, when sick or prior to a surgical procedure.

Prior to a dentistry under anesthesia a chemistry panel and other tests may be done to evaluate the entire patient!


Anesthesia is required for tooth extractions  


 Before my veterinarian would do a surgery for a torn ACL I had to have a blood chemistry and CBC done.  My dog is perfectly healthy and I saw no reason to spend money on these tests.  
     Do all veterinarians do these tests before every surgery?

IV fluid therapy may be required

Answer:    blood chemistry tests... CBC... why do...
In today's medical world a concept exists called Standards Of Practice.  It delineates what constitutes good medical behavior and what doctors need to offer their clients/patients regarding treatments, tests, alternative actions and probable outcomes.  One of the most valuable and accessible things a doctor can do is obtain a patient's blood chemistry report and a CBC.  The CBC refers to a complete blood count of red and white blood cells.  These routine blood tests, along with a urinalysis and a good physical exam will truly set the stage for a proper and accurate assessment of the patient.
     So why do it in an apparently healthy animal prior to a surgery or dental procedure?  Because on occasion a patient has a metabolic problem that hasn't been recognized just yet.  If the red blood cell count is low, perhaps there's a clotting problem or a bone marrow issue... and to do surgery on such a patient might just lead to a disaster that could have been avoided.  If liver enzymes indicate a problem in that organ anesthesia might not go well.  What if the patient has very low blood sugar and will miss a meal the day of surgery?
      So it truly is a good standard of care to recommend doing in-depth evaluations of any patient that is about to have anesthesia and surgery, or is not feeling well, or feels well but is aging and may be starting to have compromised organ systems.  The data revealed by doing a CBC and Chemistry Panel on our pet dogs and cats is money well spent.
Doctor's Notes:

Annual Exams...
     Most veterinarians recommend testing blood and urine samples once a year.  One never knows for sure if a subclinical disorder is present without doing some basic testing.


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Our 12 year old Springer Spaniel recently had his annual checkup, blood tests and urine check.  About
two months later he began to limp and in a matter of days couldn't use his right rear leg at all.  
     The veterinarian discovered evidence on some x-rays that our dog had bone cancer near his knee.  Why didn't the doctor know about this cancer with all the blood and urine tests that were done?


Go to to see a number of photos of dogs and cats with various conditions and diseases.  View a few x-rays (radiographs), surgery images and parasites, too.

Answer: blood test for cancer... 
You certainly did all you could for your dog and it is understandable that with all that good care the cancer wasn't detected early.  Unfortunately there is no specific blood or urine test for bone cancer in dogs.  If the cancer had invaded the liver or other organ, abnormalities in those organ tests would have triggered a search for the cause and full body x-rays might have revealed a much smaller, early cancer in the bone.Veterinary hospital staff are dedicated to pet health care
     There are  four kinds of bone cancer in dogs and each has its own peculiar rate of growth and degree of pain induced.  Perhaps at the time the physical exam was done there was little evidence of the cancer; it really is shocking just how fast these can grow.
     As informative as the Chemistry Panel, CBC and urine analysis are they do not reveal evidence of a number of disorders or conditions.  Medicine is an art and a science.  When the science alone does not give us answers doctors make their best judgment regarding what to do next for the patient. Biopsies, bacterial cultures, genetic studies, ultrasonography and imaging techniques are additional "tests" doctor employ to zero in on subtle and sometimes mysterious disorders. 
Doctor's Notes
Annual Exams...

     Most veterinarians recommend testing blood and urine samples once a year.  One never knows for sure if a subclinical disorder is present without doing some basic testing.


Modern, safe gas anesthesia is used

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