Picture this scenario. You bring Fluffy or Fido in for his/her yearly exam and vaccines. After conducting a physical exam and announcing he/she is healthy, your veterinarian recommends routine blood work.
Your first thought is probably, “Why?” Your second thought may be, “Oh Great. How much is this going to cost me?” And may be even something about how vets just want to boost their bottom line. Well, as one of those pet docs, let me take a bit of your time to explain why we recommend routine blood work and what your pet’s blood can tell us.
The gist of why blood work is recommended is simple: the more we know, the better care we can provide. Even if it is normal, that is more than we know than before. We can use those values for when something isn’t normal. Let me list times when veterinarians recommend blood work:
IllnessBefore a surgical procedureDuring a puppy or kitten exam to rule out congenital problemsCrossing the mature/senior milestone, usually when a pet turns 6 or 7Definitely after crossing the Geriatric milestone, and usually every year thereafterIf the pet is new to you, such as rescuing a stray or adopting from a shelterBefore and/or after adding medicationNow you may wonder, just what is in “routine blood work” anyway? To start, we count Feline Leukemia and Immunodeficiency Virus as routine for those cats that are newly acquired, are indoor/outdoor, or have certain illness like horrible dental disease. For our canine friends, we recommend a heartworm and tick disease test. We all know that ticks are rampant in Pennsylvania, but heartworm has clawed its way up from the South and made a home here, too. Aside from those, a CBC (complete blood cell count), Chemistry panel, urinalysis, and thyroid level may be included.
A CBC measures the quantity and quality of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. A CBC indicates how many red blood cells are present. It might indicate anemia or dehydration. It can show what the oxygen carrying capacity of the red blood cells is. It can show infection or inflammation in the body, bone marrow problems, allergy problems or various parasites. A CBC can even indicate if there may be problems in the body’s clotting process.
A Chemistry panel measures a variety of chemicals and enzymes in the blood to provide very general information about the status of organ health and function, especially of the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. The chemistry profile also shows the patient’s blood sugar level and the quantities of important electrolytes (molecules like sodium, calcium, and potassium) in the blood. A lot of medications and anesthetics are processed through the liver and kidneys. If your pet is undergoing an anesthetic procedure or starting a new medication, your veterinarian may recommend blood work. If your pet is on a medication that is processed through the liver and kidneys, performing blood work can indicate if the medication is doing more harm than good.
Finally, let’s discuss costs. I won’t get into specific numbers, but I will try to justify why we charge what we do. You have to remember, this is a process. It requires someone to pull the blood (usually one person to restrain and the other to pull), put the sample into the appropriate tubes, send it to the lab (a courier must pick it up), someone needs to run the machines, someone may look at the sample under a microscope (requires preparing a slide and the knowledge to operate the microscope and read the slide), and finally, a doctor to read and interperate the results. There is a lot of knowledge, technical ability, and materials that go into blood work.
Please speak to your Veterinarian about any questions you may have concerning your pet and their recommended blood work.