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Laboratory testing for your pet: important veterinary concerns

Aug 17

Categories: Blog

We as veterinarians depend on a variety of skills to help your pets stay healthy and happy, trying to extend their quality of lives and time with you. We start with some important questions that give us insight into the life style, life cycle, household members, concerns and expectations you have as the pet parent. We'll ask about the foods fed, preventative programs for heartworm prevention (in both dogs and cats), flea and tick control, and any medications or supplements you may be using and the frequency with which you use them. We'll record the weight for comparison and monitoring. Next, the physical examination in the veterinary office is our hands-on gateway to the health of your pet using our eyes, ears, palpation techniques, even sense of smell. It may seem like we ask a lot of questions but it's because we recognize that you're the expert in your pet's well being and we need your help. We'll make recommendations based on that and more including laboratory testing for both healthy and not so healthy pets.

Veterinarians depend on lab testing results to help us understand the status of your pet's health. We consider this testing to be like an internal physical examination barometer for your pet. When your pet is sick the results of laboratory testing can help confirm the presence of some diseases, rule out other diseases, and help direct therapy choices. We will often use repeat testing to monitor the response to therapies used for your pet.

When your pet is healthy, as your veterinarian we may want to establish "baseline values" for  your pet. This testing may start with blood and fecal testing in kittens and puppies to diagnose parasites and some important viral and bacterial diseases. Other baseline tests include a 1. CBC: complete blood count of thye red cells, white cells, and platelet cells 2. a blood chemistry panel or a body systmes survey testing and 3. a urine test or urinalysis. When your pets is not feeling well we can use these baseline testing when they were healthy to use as a comparison to the current values.

At Animal Health Care one of the most important safety steps we take when we are planning surgical procedures, including the all important spay or neuter day, is to request presurgical screening laboratory testing. This important step allows us to pick the anesthesia products based on your pet's procedure, your pet's personality (some pets are more anxious than others) and the pain control level anticipated. Many times this lab testing information is used to determine the risk of complications for general anesthesia and some times even causes us to postpone our plans if the results suggest that the patient could be better prepared for the surgery.

Another important monitoring schedule we choose to pursue is in our senior well care testing. As our pets age, we need to get another "baseline" sample to follow. Many times we can recommend foods that may help with certain problems identified such as beginning kidney disease or pre-diabetic considerations or low fats diets if a fasted sample is high in fat. We can safely prescribe pain medications for those arthritic pets, monitor the effects of medications for disease control and more.

At Animal Health Care we have some laboratory equipment on hand in the animal hospital. In that case, test results are available often within a matter of 10 minutes or less! We also make use of our reference laboratories with sample pick up twice daily (except Saturday/Sunday and holidays). Results often can be reported same day, within 24 hours, or days to weeks later depending on the type of test sample submitted. Most of our common testing results are back within 24-48 hours and we'll be calling you to discuss the results.

Each laboratory test gives different information and it's important to note though, that not all diseases have specific expected test results.  Abnormal test results can flag problems and concerns. The most commonly performed tests are:

  • Complete blood count (CBC): this test measures the numbers of cells in a given sample at a given time. The number and type of cells help us diagnose anemia, infections: both chronic and sudden, leukemias, allergies,and some other blood disorders. By interpreting the responding cells, whether first responders or allergy fighters or chronic condition response, your veterinarian can diagnose, prescribe and monitor certain conditions.
  • Urinalysis (U/A): this is often an overlooked but very important part of health screening. Many problems are first identified in the urine sample: sometimes even before the blood sample changes are found. Ask us how to collect a sample from either your dog or cat, how to store the sample before you submit it, and when is the best time to collect the sample. Sometimes our pets are just not cooperative and your veterinary team has additional methods of collection that may be necessary especially if we need a "sterile" sample.
  • Blood chemistry profile: these are a numbers of test results that act as a body systems survey screening. Salts, sugar, electrolytes and various organ specific testing helps to know how the body is working (or not). REsults of these tests help to formulate a diagnosis, prescribe proper therapies, and schedule monitoring of treatments.
  • Fecal testing: this examination of your pets feces or bowel movement checks for intestinal parasites most commonly. Sometimes the color, consistency, and form can help detect difficulties with the digestive tract, pancreas and sometimes other organ dysfunction.
  • Heartworm test: as part of an annual wellness testing for dogs and in suspect cats we use this blood test to see how well our heartworm preventatives are working. At ahc we also use this blood sample to screen for 5 different tick related disease in dogs with one small sample of  blood. If we suspect a tick related disease there may be other blood and urine testing we will submit to outside reference labs for confirmation before we initiate specific treatment and monitor treatment response.
  • Thyroid testing: both dogs and cats can have faulty thyroid function and this testing can help identify and regulate that important gland function.
  • Skin scraping/taping/plucking (oh, my): In many skin conditions this type of testing allows your vet to examine the sample under the microscope to confirm certain parasites, fungal, or bacterial processes.
  • Ear cytology: ears are not alike: some are tall, small, floppy or erect standing and no one can tell just by the odor, color, or discharge in an ear what the problem is. We might make be able to make an educated guess but that's not good enough for the comfort care of your pet. So we use this test to make directed treatment choices first time for your pet. Because we do this testing, we rarely have to submit our dogs or cats to an anesthetic based ear flushing!!
  • Needle biopsy (aka fine needle aspirate or FNA): when a lump or bump is noted we can use a sterile needle and syringe to withdraw cells or fluid that can direct us in treatment choices. Some samples can be immediately diagnosed, other samples need to go to a specialist in cytology to determine the health risk to your pet and whether further treatment is needed such as surgical removal for tissue biopsy or medical management of some disease like lymph node cancers can be started sooner rather than later. this testing can help to determine if the lump is benign or malignant.

As veterinarians, we depend on lab testing along with the history, life style and life cycle of pets. We know that pets can conceal many problems that even the most attentive pet parent may not recognize. We will work together to understand the status of your pet's health. We may recommend one or more tests based on the breed risks of your pet, physical signs in your pet, sex and age of your pet and as a way to address problems or concerns you may be having in the well being and health of your pet.

So let's be healthy together you and your pets....purrr-fect for the long run!