You’ve received a copy of your pet’s latest blood work results, but all those acronyms and graphs might as well be hieroglyphics. You recognize the name at the top, but that’s about it.

Is that red number concerning?
What about the blue one?
Is a flat line OK, or is that a bad sign? 

You’re pretty certain that PLT doesn’t stand for “Pretty Little Thing,” yet your pet is the cutest, so why else would that result be so high?

Questions, questions—what does it all mean for your pet?

You do not need to feel overwhelmed—if your pet’s results are abnormal, our Village Animal Hospital’s Dr. Olson will review any changes, and explain any next steps or treatment options during your hospital visit. Of course, we will also happily share the good news when your pet’s tests are normal.

So, while deciphering MCH from MCHC or worrying about why only some of your pet’s bilirubin is conjugated is unnecessary, understanding veterinary blood work basics can help you provide your dog or cat with the best possible care. 

FYI—why routine pet blood work matters

At Village Animal Hospital, we approach your pet’s health proactively by screening for inflammation, infection, and disease as early as possible. Yearly blood work can provide invaluable insight into your pet’s organ function, blood cell production, and internal health. With one small blood sample we can detect changes, trends, and patterns that indicate hidden disease—potentially years before visible signs appear. This early diagnosis allows your pet to receive the most effective—and often least invasive—treatment, prolonging their life, or potentially curing the condition.

LMK*—when is pet blood work necessary?

Our in-house laboratory ensures convenient real-time results, and allows us to perform blood work quickly and efficiently for important life events, including:

If your pet needs additional testing, we partner with several national veterinary reference laboratories to ensure the most accurate results—because when your pet is sick, we want answers as much as you do.

TL, DR*—a crash course in pet blood work

Although each blood work value has specific significance, they can be influenced or altered by numerous body changes. This is why your pet’s veterinarian evaluates each value as part of a larger clinical picture, and explains why a single “out of range” value isn’t always cause for concern. 

Standard blood work panels include:

  • Complete blood count (CBC) — The CBC looks exclusively at your pet’s blood components, both liquid (i.e., plasma or serum) and solid (i.e., cells and proteins). CBCs are helpful in diagnosing anemia, clotting disorders, blood cancers, infection, inflammation, and some auto-immune diseases.
  • General chemistry profile — The general chemistry evaluates your pet’s serum (i.e., the liquid component of blood without blood cells or clotting proteins) to measure organ health and function, including the liver, kidneys, and pancreas.

RBCs, WBCs—key values on your pet’s complete blood count

The complete blood count is typically found at the top of your pet’s results. Some of the most important values include:

  • Red blood cells (RBCs) — RBCs transport oxygen throughout the body, and may be low because of blood loss and anemia. 
  • White blood cells (WBCs) — WBCs, which include neutrophils, lymphocytes, eosinophils, basophils, and monocytes, are part of your pet’s immune system. WBCs may be elevated from infection or cancer, or low when your pet is immunocompromised (e.g., illness, chemotherapy).
  • Hematocrit (HCT) — The HCT result indicates the body’s RBC concentration compared with the blood  liquid portion. Elevated results can indicate dehydration, while low may suggest blood loss or RBC production problems. 
  • Hemoglobin (HGB) — This protein, which carries oxygen in RBCs, may be low if the RBC count is low.
  • Platelets (PLT) — These circulating cytoplasm pieces help blood clots form and may be low because of a coagulopathy or immune-mediated disease, or high if the pet struggled or moved during sample collection.
  • Reticulocytes (RETIC) — Reticulocyte counts indicate whether the body is making new RBCs in response to anemia.

ALB, GLU—key values on your pet’s general chemistry

While many factors can play a role in general chemistry results, knowing what each value represents can simplify understanding your pet’s clinical signs, or knowing what to expect. 

  • Total protein — Measures circulating blood proteins, namely:
    • Albumin (ALB) — ALB is associated with the liver, and can elevate with dehydration and fall because of liver dysfunction, blood loss, or kidney disease.
    • Globulin (GLB) — This blood protein may elevate with cancer, infection, or inflammation.
  • Glucose (GLU) — Glucose is your pet’s blood sugar. 
  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (CREA) — These are kidney values that may increase with kidney failure, heart disease, shock, and urinary obstruction. 
  •  Sodium (Na), potassium (K), and chloride (Cl) — The body’s electrolytes can become unbalanced with excessive vomiting or dehydration.
  • Alanine aminotransferase (ALT), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), gamma glutamyltransferase (GGT) — These liver values may indicate liver damage or abnormality when elevated.
  • Total bilirubin (TBIL) — Bilirubin is made by the liver, and may be elevated when the liver is abnormal. 
  • Amylase (AML) and lipase (LIPA) — These are digestive enzymes that commonly are elevated during pancreatitis, kidney disease, gastrointestinal tract changes, or medication use.

FYI, FWIW*—next steps after your pet’s abnormal results

If your pet’s blood work suggests a potential underlying condition, our veterinarians will likely recommend additional testing, imaging, or treatment. If you have additional questions about your pet’s results, don’t hesitate to contact the Village Animal Hospital team. In the meantime, you now can recognize the alphabet soup that is blood work results!

*SMH = Shaking my head; LMK = Let me know; TL, DR = Too long, didn’t read; FWIW = For what it’s worth