CBC? PLT? ALP? BUN? What do all these letters have to do with your pet’s health? They indicate certain tests and components of your pet’s blood, and the associated values provide a great deal of information about your furry pal’s health status. Our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team understands that trying to decipher your pet’s blood work results can be confusing, so we explain the basics so you can interpret your pet’s blood work results like a pro.

Why blood work is an important diagnostic tool

When your pet is sick, determining the cause can be challenging. While a physical exam provides a great deal of information about their health status, blood work gives us an inside look at your pet’s health. Overall, we can determine  their organ function, and if they are anemic or have an infection. The information we gain from your pet’s blood work is an excellent starting place for guiding us toward recommending additional diagnostic testing, such as X-rays, an ultrasound, a urinalysis, or more. Running specific blood work panels, which can focus on the liver, kidneys, or hormone levels, can also help us to accurately diagnose what is ailing your pet. 

Parts of a complete blood count

A complete blood count (CBC) is typically part of standard blood work that focuses on the cellular portion of blood. Quantifying your pet’s red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs), and platelets (PLTs) helps determine if anemia, infection, inflammation, or clotting issues are present. Furthermore, the red blood cells are evaluated for size, which can indicate the anemia type. For white blood cells, the count is broken down into cell types that each have a specific job. Abnormalities in certain white blood cells can indicate allergies, parasites, chronic inflammation, cancer, or other conditions. 

Parts of a blood chemistry profile

A blood chemistry profile generally focuses on your pet’s organ function and evaluates the kidneys, liver, and hormone levels in the blood. Common blood chemistry values you may see include:

  • BUN and CRE — BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and CRE (creatinine) are the end products of certain metabolic body processes. Increases in these values indicate an issue with kidney function, as the kidneys are responsible for filtering out waste and toxins from the blood. High levels can also mean shock, dehydration, toxin ingestion, or urinary obstruction. 
  • ALP, ALT, and BIL — ALP (alkaline phosphatase), ALT (alanine aminotransferase), and BIL (bilirubin) are most often associated with liver function. High levels indicate liver disease, bile duct obstruction, Cushing’s disease, or other metabolic disorders. These values may also increase in a pet who is taking certain medications like corticosteroids or phenobarbital.
  • Na, K, Cl, Ca, Ph — These minerals and electrolytes (i.e., sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, phosphorus) are essential for many body functions. Abnormal levels can be seen with vomiting and diarrhea, and can help pinpoint the issue’s location in the body.
  • GLU — Glucose is a measurement of blood sugar. A high number can indicate diabetes, stress, or pancreatitis, and a low value can mean liver disease, Addison’s disease, or other health problems.

Specialized blood chemistry profiles can also evaluate levels in the blood of certain hormones, such as thyroid hormone (T4), cortisol, and progesterone. Some panels are used to monitor drug levels, such as phenobarbital. 

When pets need blood work

Blood work is not only an important diagnostic tool for sick pets, but also is necessary for:

  • Routine wellness screening — Despite seeming unnecessary, blood work is required for healthy pets. Running regular blood work on your pet at each wellness appointment provides a baseline of their normal values and health status. If subtle changes appear, we can detect illness much earlier in the disease process, when treatment is easier and more effective.
  • Therapeutic drug monitoring — A pet who is on medication for a chronic condition, such as osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, or other lifelong illness, may require regular blood work to monitor the drug’s effects. Based on blood work results, we may need to adjust dosages or switch to a more effective medication or one that causes fewer side effects.
  • Pre-anesthetic testing — Before your pet undergoes anesthesia, we need to know their health status. Blood work will let us know how their organs are functioning, and if hidden anemia or infection could make surgery and anesthesia challenging. Your pet’s blood work results will help guide our customized anesthetic protocol that will keep them as safe as possible.

Figuring out your pet’s blood work results can be an overwhelming task. Let our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team break down your furry pal’s results in an easy-to-understand way. Give us a call so we can help you understand all those jumbled letters.