Why does my pet need blood tests?

Even though your pet may appear to be in good health from the outside, we are often not able to tell what is happening inside from just a physical examination. Just as in humans, as an animal ages, their organ function deteriorates. Older animals are more likely to be affected by conditions such as liver disease, kidney disease, and cancer. Hyperthyroidism is also a very common disease in older cats. For some of these problems, by the time they have become clinically obvious there is not much that can be done to treat your pet. While most of these conditions cannot be cured, if they are identified early supportive care may be given which can extend your pet’s quantity and quality of life.

What is being tested?

Blood tests measure the levels of various substances in the blood. These substances can give us an idea of how well different internal organs are functioning. As blood tests can be tailored to examine different body systems, there are different test options available.

Geriatric panels are basic tests that tend to focus on liver and kidney function. In cats, thyroid hormone levels are also checked. Dogs have additional electrolyte tests in their panel. Running a sick animal profile (SAP) + complete blood count (CBC) gives much more information regarding the general function of the body. The SAP looks at multiple organ systems while the CBC examines the blood cells themselves for disorders such as leukaemias, anaemias, blood parasites, and signs of infection. A thyroid test should be added to these panels in older cats.In addition to blood tests, a urine test (urinalysis) should always be performed. As there are usually several conditions that can cause elevations in kidney enzymes in the blood, it is important to examine the urine to see whether these elevations are clinically significant. A urinalysis involves measuring the concentrating ability of the kidneys (urine specific gravity), urine glucose levels (to check for signs of Diabetes), and a visual examination of the cells and other material in the urine.

What do these tests involve for my pet?

Blood samples are usually collected from the jugular vein in the neck. This involves placing a needle in the vein to draw the blood into a syringe – just the same as in humans when we have blood samples taken or give blood. Urine samples may be collected directly from the bladder via a needle (cystocentesis) or you may need to collect a sample at home when your pet urinates (voided sample). Most animals are very tolerant of having blood and urine samples taken. Occasionally a mild sedative may be required in order for the samples to be collected.

How much does it cost?

The cost of these tests depends on exactly what is being tested. For cats, a blood test +/- urinalysis can range from $80 – $220, while for dogs the cost can be from $90-$250.

How often should it be done?

Ideally as animals age check-ups should be performed more often. It is a good idea to perform geriatric blood and urine tests each year, half-way between their vaccinations – this means that they are essentially having a check-up every 6 months. Cats are usually considered to be elderly from 10-12 years onwards, while dogs often start to show old age problems from 8-10 years old.