What lab work tells us about your pet
Through laboratory tests, we are able to tell what is happening inside your pet. Some tests are run simply to understand the health status of your "healthy" pet who may be getting older. Others are done for breeds that are prone to specific disease conditions. In still other cases, your pet may need to go under an anesthetic for a procedure or test. When a pet is ill, lab tests allow us to develop a treatment plan to cure or control the illness.
The following is a brief discussion of what specific lab tests can tell us. As the doctor reviews the lab results with you, ask questions if anything is not clear.
Primary purpose is to rule out the intestinal parasites that live in the digestive tract and feed off your pet's nutrition or blood. Generally, these cannot be seen with the naked eye and require a microscopic examination of the stool. The doctor also looks for signs of blood and mucous which can be a sign of colitis, cancer, bacterial or viral infection. We also look for foreign bodies like wood, metal objects, string etc. that can damage the digestive tract. Fecals should be done twice a vear.
Tests on urine can reveal tremendous information. We check your pet's ability to concentrate its urine. Dilute urine can indicate numerous changes with your pet including kidney disorders, liver disease, heart disorders, diabetes and more. We check the urine pH, which if too low or high can cause bladder stones to form. We check for blood in the urine, which can be a sign of infections and tumors. We screen for diabetes by checking for glucose or ketones in the urine. Finally, we centrifuge the urine and examine the sediment at the bottom of the test tube. This sediment can reveal red blood cells and white blood cells (which indicate infections, stones & tumors), crystals (which indicates stones and sediment that can block the urethra), casts (which are seen with kidney disorders), precancerous and cancerous cells, parasite eggs and bacteria. A urinalysis should be done once a year for pets over 5 years of age and twice a vear in pets over 9 years of age.
Complete Blood Count (CBC):
The blood test shows how the immune system and bone marrow function. A CBC can be divided into red blood cells and white blood cells. The red cells can reveal anemia, blood parasites, iron deficiencies, lead poisoning; immune mediated disease (lupus), and more. The white blood count can reveal infections, leukemia, stress, parasites, and numerous other conditions. The fluid portion, (protein fraction), can be altered by cancer, liver, kidney, and intestinal diseases. The platelet count helps assess the ability of the blood to clot if injury occurs or during surgery.
Blood Chemistry Test (SMAC):
This test provides a wealth of information about the internal functions of the body. It can detect diabetes if the glucose level is high. This test helps detect disorders of the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and adrenal glands. High calcium levels can be seen with bone disease or cancer. High sodium levels are seen with dehydration. High cholesterol and triglycerides (fat) can be seen in obese pets eating a rich diet or in pets with thyroid disorders. This test may be used to monitor the effects of medications on primary organ systems. We rely on the blood chemistry test to give us fundamental information about your pet.
The thyroid gland produces a hormone that regulates most of the bodies systems. Pets lacking in thyroid hormone can eat little yet become obese, and are unable to lose weight even with dieting. These patients often have dry, flaky skin or frequent skin & ear infections. They may seem tired all the time and lack energy. Some animals can develop tumors of the thyroid gland, which are very small and difficult to detect. These patients will make excess thyroid hormone causing them to eat a lot and lose weight. They can have intermittent or persistent vomiting and diarrhea. Many will develop concurrent heart and kidney disease. A blood test to check how much thyroid hormone is present in your pet's blood stream, allows us to determine if the thyroid gland is working normally.
The ECG helps us evaluate the heart with a simple painless test. The ECG is used to evaluate the heart for arrhythmia's (abnormal heartbeats). Changes in blood electrolytes and numerous heart medications can alter the ECG.
X-rays give us an image of the internal structures of the body. X-rays can reveal if organs are larger or smaller than normal. They show us structure changes of the bones (fractures) and joints (arthritis). In some cases, contrast material is used to detect changes in the digestive or urinary tract.
This is the evaluation of cells under a microscope. This is different from a biopsy that looks at full tissue samples; a cytology looks only at individual cells and is usually obtained with a swab (q-tip) or with a needle for lumps or bumps. Typically, we look at these samples in house to give you an immediate result, but in more challenging cases, we may opt to send these out to have a pathologist review them.
Often, we remove abnormal tissue and need to perform a biopsy. This tissue is sent to a pathologist who microscopically examines the tissue structure. A pathologist can tell us if cancerous cells are present from examining the tissue sample, the patient's medical history and lab results. If cancer cells are detected, the pathologist can tell us if they were all removed at the surgery site and if the tumor is one that will spread into other parts of the body. The pathologist can tell us if a tissue is infected and with what type of agent, bacteria or fungus. We can learn if a defect is caused by an allergic reaction or by the body's own immune system (lupus). Often, a biopsy can give us the final diagnosis and plan of treatment for a condition.
This test takes a sample of bacteria (or fungi) and grows it out in a petri dish. We send these samples out, so it takes 3-5 days for bacteria or 3 weeks for fungi. The microbiologist determines the exact species of bacteria and tests it against our most common antibiotics. This way, we're sure to pick the right antibiotic to clear the infection the first time.