When your veterinarian suggests lab work for your dog, it can raise alarms in your head that something is seriously wrong. However, lab work is critical in determining what is making your dog feel ill and is also necessary for establishing baselines in a healthy dog for the sake of identifying future issues. Of course, it’s very natural for you to have questions. That is why we’ve taken the most frequently asked questions about dog lab work and answered them here.

If you have additional questions about various lab tests your dog may need, or if you are located in the Owings Mills, MD area, please call us at (410) 807-8193.

Why might my dog need lab work?

There are several reasons why your veterinarian might suggest lab work for your dog, but it’s most often done to help figure out the cause of an illness. Vets will conduct lab work to discover the cause of an illness or detect the illness present, such as heartworm disease or intestinal worms. Lab work is also routine before surgery, so your veterinarian can confirm your dog is healthy before a procedure and anesthesia. 

Why are laboratory tests so important for my dog's health? 

While lab tests are essential to determine illness, as stated above, they’re also important from a preventative perspective. For example, heartworm testing, stool samples, and urinalysis can uncover illness before any clinical signs appear. Early detection can address underlying or obscure diseases before they become obvious and your dog is ill and uncomfortable. The American Animal Hospital Association addresses preventive healthcare guidelines for dogs, which include annual disease testing.

What different types of lab work are there, and how are these tests done? 

Several different types of lab work can be done, depending on the symptoms present in your dog and the suspected illness. 

Types of dog lab work include:

  • Blood work, including CBC, chemistry panel, thyroid test, and glucose test
  • Urinalysis — Checking for urine concentration or signs of infection
  • Fecal test — Using a stool sample to screen for intestinal parasites
  • Heartworm test — An antigen test that detects specific heartworm proteins

Most veterinarians can have these tests conducted in-office for immediate results.

What do the chemistries mean on my dog's blood work? 

Chemistry is a broad term, reflecting the many different panels available in blood work. When your veterinarian uses the term “chemistry panel,” they are looking at a printout that lists different organ values and markers. For example, a chemistry panel will show your dog’s blood sugar and kidney function. It will show liver enzymes, proteins, and electrolytes. Those are just some of the big categories that might help identify what is going on with your dog. Chemistry also looks at blood glucose, electrolytes, and more. The results, or a combination of results, will help your veterinarian uncover the underlying disease. 

How do baseline lab tests benefit the health of my dog? 

When we do annual checkups at Owings Mills Veterinary Center, we talk about doing wellness blood work, which provides a veterinarian with a baseline when they are young, healthy, and not sick. At some point, maybe six months or six years down the road, your dog is going to go back to their veterinarian not feeling so well. That baseline sample taken all those months or years ago gives your veterinarian something to compare against a potentially new, abnormal blood test. This makes it much easier for your veterinarian to see that something is off and not normal for your dog. 

Why is early detection and diagnosis of my dog's potential illness using lab work so important?

Early detection of any disease is significant since the earlier you catch the illness, the better prognosis your dog will have. If your dog’s kidneys begin failing, for example, functional damage in the kidneys is not reversible. However, if your veterinarian notices during a routine annual checkup that some of your dog’s kidney values are slightly elevated, they can intervene with a corrective diet, supplements, or other treatment to slow the progression of kidney failure. This is where early detection becomes essential. The sooner you can address a problem, the better outcome your dog is likely to have.

If you have further questions about dog lab work, reach out to your veterinarian. If you live in or near Owings Mills, MD, we’d love to see your dog for baseline blood work, so please don’t hesitate to call us at (410) 807-8193.