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Understanding Laboratory Tests
Description: Have you ever received a copy of your dog's blood results and wondered what it all means? Below is a list of some of the major tests and vocabulary used in laboratory reports.
Veterinarians use a wide variety of tests to certify good health or indicate the presence of infection or disease. A Complete Blood Count or Full Blood Count shows the number and type of cells in the dog's blood. This standard test can identify conditions like anaemia and leukaemia, as well as diagnosing many infections. A Serum Chemistry Profile includes a variety of tests that examine the function of organs, such as the liver and thyroid. There can be a difference in clinical chemistry between different breeds. It is important to establish what is normal in your dog, as all animals will differ slightly. An abnormal reading may be normal for your dog. I have not shown the normal values as these can differ between the various laboratories; the normal range is usually shown beside each result on the lab report.
Red Blood Cells (RBC)
The Red Blood Cells are responsible for carrying oxygen and carbon dioxide throughout the body. Iron deficiency will lower RBC count. In a more reduced count, it may indicate haemorrhage, parasites, bone marrow disease, B-12 deficiency, folic acid deficiency or copper deficiency. A red blood cell lives for 120 days so anaemia of any kind other than haemorrhage indicates a long-standing problem.
Hematocrit (HCT) or Packed Cell Volume (PCV)
Provides information on the amount of red blood cells (RBC) present in the blood. Decreased levels means anaemia from haemorrhage, parasites, nutritional deficiencies or chronic disease process, such as liver disease, cancer, etc. Increased levels are often seen in dehydration.
The essential oxygen carrier of the blood. Decreased levels indicate the presence of haemorrhage, anaemia, and iron deficiency. Increased levels indicate higher than normal concentrate of RBC, B-12 deficiency (because there are fewer cells).
Immature red blood cells. Decreased count is usually associated with anaemia. Increased count is associated with chronic haemorrhage or haemolytic anaemia.
Play an important role in blood clotting. Decrease in number occurs in bone marrow depression, vascular coagulation, systemic lupus, autoimmune haemolytic anaemia or severe haemorrhage. Increased number may occurs with fracture or blood vessel injury, or cancer.
This is a measurement of the average size of the Red Blood Cell. Elevated volumes can be due to B-12 folic acid deficiency and reduced volumes are from an iron deficiency.
White blood cells (WBC)
White blood cells are the body's primary means of fighting infection. Decreased levels may indicate an overwhelming infections (viruses), or drug or chemical poisoning. Increased levels indicate bacterial infection, emotional upsets and blood disorders.
A white blood cell, which is formed in the lymphoid tissue. Lymphocytes produce immune bodies to overcome and protect against infection. These smooth, round white blood cells increase in number with chronic infection, recovery from acute infection or under active glands and decrease with stress, treatment with steroids and chemotherapy drugs.
Diet, hormone levels and blood protein levels influence Blood calcium levels. Decreased levels indicate acute damage to the pancreas, deficiency of pancreatic enzymes or under active thyroid. Muscle twitches may occur in decreased level. Increased levels can be an indicator of certain types of tumours, thyroid or kidney disease. Also a high calcium level may indicate poor metabolism of fats and protein.
Affected by diet, hormones and kidneys. Decreased levels may show overactive thyroid gland and malignancies, malnutrition and malabsorption. Increases with under active thyroid gland and kidney failure.
Electrolytes (Sodium, Potassium, Chloride)
The balance of these chemicals is vital to health. Abnormal levels can be life threatening. Electrolyte tests are important in evaluating vomiting, diarrhoea and cardiac symptoms.
Decreased levels are found in an overactive thyroid gland, intestinal malabsorption. Elevated levels of cholesterol are seen in a variety of disorders including hypothyroidism and diseases of the liver, kidneys, cardiovascular, diabetes, stress.
Alanine aminotransferase (ALT)
An enzyme that becomes elevated with liver disease.
Alkaline Phosphatase (ALKP)
An enzyme produced by the biliary tract (liver). High levels indicate bone disease, liver disease or bile flow blockage.
Total Billirubin (TBIL)
A component of bile, bilirubin is secreted by the liver into the intestinal tract. High levels can lead to jaundice and indicate problems in the liver and bile duct.
Total Protein (TP)
Increases can indicate dehydration or blood or bone marrow cancer. Decreases indicate malnutrition, poor digestion, liver or kidney disease, bleeding or burns.
Decreased levels may indicate problems with antibodies, immune-deficiency viruses or risk of infectious disease. Increased levels may indicate stress, dehydration or blood cancer, allergies, liver disease, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes.
Produced by the liver, reduced levels of this protein can point to chronic liver or kidney disease, or parasitic infections such as hookworm.
High levels indicate dehydration and loss of protein.
Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN)
BUN is produced by the liver and excreted by the kidneys. Decreased levels are seen with low protein diets, liver insufficiency, and the use of anabolic steroid drugs. Increased levels indicate any condition that reduces the kidney's ability to filter body fluids in the body or which interferes with protein breakdown.
Creatinine is a by-product of muscle metabolism and is excreted by the kidneys. Elevated levels can indicate kidney disease or urinary obstruction, muscle disease, arthritis, hyperthyroidism, and diabetes. An increased BUN and normal creatinine suggests an early or mild problem. An increased creatinine and increased BUN with elevated phosphorus may indicate a long-standing kidney disease.
Blood Glucose (GLU)
High levels can help diagnose diabetes and can indicate stress, excess of the hormone progesterone, an overactive adrenal gland. Low levels can indicate liver disease, tumours or abnormal growth on pancreas, or an under active adrenal gland.
The pancreas produces and secrets amylase to aid in digestion. Elevated blood levels can indicate pancreatic and/or kidney disease.
Colour The normal colour of urine is yellow to amber. Red is caused by blood. Dark yellow to brown with yellow foam is caused by bilirubin, reddish brown is caused by haemoglobin / myoglobin.
Transparency Normal urine is clear. Crystals, cells, blood, mucous, bacteria or casts, cause cloudy urine.
Gravity 1.007 - 1.029 Occurs with diabetes mellitus, insipidus, overactive adrenals, excessive thirst and pyometra. Over 1.040 occurs with high fever, dehydration, diabetes mellitus, vomiting, diarrhoea and severe haemorrhage.
PH Levels Urine should be 6.2-6.5, little on the acidic side.
Submitted: 18 Aug, 2006 (Edited 28 Jan, 2010)
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