What Blood Tests Does Your Dog Need?

Hand holding 3 test tubes filled with blood next to a microscope

Do you find your dog’s blood tests confusing? Or wonder how useful they are?

Maybe you want to know whether you need to do all the tests your vet recommends.

After all, the charges can add up. And you might want to prioritize where you spend your money.

But that can be nerve-wracking because you worry you may be missing something important. Something that could give you a better view of your dog’s health.

So, Dogs Naturally asked an expert.

Meet Dr Randy Kidd

Randy Kidd

Holistic veterinarian Randy Kidd DVM PhD told us he’s a bit of a maverick on this topic. But he holds a PhD in Clinical Pathology so he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to blood tests!

I’m going to share his recommendations for tests you might need at different stages of your dog’s life.

But first, let’s look at the things you need to consider before getting a blood test for your dog.

Questions To Ask Before Getting a Blood Test

It’s important to know what you want to get out of a blood test. So here are some questions to ask yourself before heading to the vet.

What Do You Want To Know?

We all want the very best for our dogs. But do you want a definitive diagnosis or are you willing to live with a bit ambiguity?

Are you a “wellness” person who uses nutrition and supplements for preventive health? Or are you a “treatment” person, waiting until something goes wrong to take action?

What Are Your Concerns?

Is there something you’re afraid might happen to your dog that a blood test can reassure you about or confirm for you?

(This is a question that comes up a lot in vaccination decisions and titer testing too. Are you afraid the vaccine will harm your dog? Or are you more afraid your dog will get a disease like parvo or distemper?)

Is your dog’s breed predisposed to specific health issues?

What Will You Do With The Results?

Are you going to do anything differently based on the test results? Are you considering making a change to your dog’s diet or general care?

If you suspect your dog has a health issue and lab tests confirm it, what are you going to do differently? If you’re not prepared to make any changes based on the results, then there is no reason to test.

How Much Can You Afford?

Unfortunately finances are always a factor in medical decision-making, whether you’re choosing:

  • screening
  • diagnostic
  • treatment options

If you’re on a tight budget, talk to your vet about which tests make the most sense for your dog’s current needs.

How Useful Are The Tests?

Blood chemistry panels can be a valuable diagnostic tool. But there are some limitations to be aware of.

Most of the blood chemistry tests evaluate the function of an organ or cell type. They don’t usually indicate the exact cause of an abnormal test finding. And they rarely pinpoint a specific cause of your dog’s condition or disease.

Accuracy Of Blood Tests

In Dr Kidd’s view, the key to any test is …

“Is it the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?”

And that is questionable.

Not all tests are accurate or reliable … so if a test only has 50-50 reliability, it’s not very helpful.

And test results are snapshots – a quick picture of what is happening at the moment the test is done.

Many times test results don’t provide a black and white answer. It’s like a symphony … if there’s an off-note, it’s just a part of the overall symphony. And in the same way, an abnormal result is just part of the bigger picture of your dog’s health.

For example, if your dog’s BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen) results are high, that might be a sign of kidney disease …

… or it might just mean your dog was dehydrated when the test was done because BUN rises with dehydration.

Good food also raises BUN. The nitrogen in the protein sources elevates the blood chemistry.  So dogs fed a raw meat diet will often have higher BUN.

Blood test results

Disease Biomarkers

Ideally lab results would be biomarkers of disease. But sometimes they don’t give the right answers either.

In human medicine, we now know that cholesterol levels and PSA tests aren’t necessarily the biomarkers we thought they were for heart and prostate disease.

Even known biomarkers can deliver misleading results.

In one human study, serious runners (people who ran 5 to 10 miles a day) had their blood chemistries checked for heart disease biomarkers. They all came back with elevated results suggesting heart disease.

But it turned out the results were high due to micro-tears in their leg muscles from running. It didn’t mean they were at risk for heart disease at all!

So again, blood results are just part of the overall picture.

Dr Kidd’s Lab Test Recommendations

Here’s Dr Kidd’s recommendation for an ideal lifetime wellness blood chemistry monitoring program …

At Age 2 Or 3

Shortly after your dog reaches adulthood, run a regular chemistry panel. One like a SMAC-20 will provide 20 different blood chemistries.

This test is a great tool to use as a part of the dog’s permanent record. You can compare it with chemistry panels taken later in life. This will help identify your dog’s health trends and catch any changes.

And if there are any abnormalities in your young dog, there is a better chance of stopping them from becoming worse as your dog ages.

Along with the chemistry panel, your vet would likely do a …

  • complete physical exam
  • CBC (Complete Blood Count)
  • urinalysis
  • thyroid panel
  • other test that might be indicated for your breed or individual dog

The chemistry panel should be the one that the most convenient veterinary diagnostic laboratory uses as their normal panel.

Even if your veterinarian has an in-house lab, ask her to send the samples to a veterinary reference lab.

There are two reasons for this:

  • In-house labs are (for many reasons) notoriously inaccurate
  • Human diagnostic labs may not have established normal values for animals and they may use techniques that give inaccurate values in animals

Around Age 7

When your dog starts to hit middle age (about 7 or 8 years old for most breeds), consider getting …

  • annual physical exams
  • chemistry panels (with appropriate add-ons)
  • CBC
  • urinalysis

Make sure your veterinarian compares these results to your dog’s young adult values. She should be able to spot any ongoing trends that could be helped with additional holistic support.

Dr Kidd says that this level of monitoring would make him feel very comfortable making treatment decisions for almost any emergency. 

Before making decisions about a major non-emergency procedures, he suggests getting …

  • chemistry panels
  • CBC
  • urinalysis

Organ Specific Tests

There are also tests designed to evaluate specific organs or organ systems.

Liver Panel Example

RELATED: Preventing Liver Disease In Dogs

Pancreas Panel Example

  • Glucose
  • Amylase
  • Lipase
  • Cholesterol
  • Triglyceride

Muscle and Bone Panel Example

  • Calcium and phosphorous (bone)
  • Creatine Kinase (CK or CPK)
  • Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST) muscle damage, trauma, or inflammation
  • Electrolytes

Kidney Panel Example (Urinalysis)

  • Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN)
  • Creatinine

Thyroid Panel Example

  • Total T4
  • Free T4
  • Total T3
  • Free T3
  • Canine Thyroglobulin

Usually the above panels are run in combination with a complete physical, a CBC, and a urinalysis.

Lab Tests Aren’t The Only Way To Assess Health

Dr Kidd views lab tests as one of several “team members” monitoring your dog’s health.

To help him assess each animal’s health picture, Dr Kidd also used

  • chiropractic
  • massage therapy
  • acupuncture
  • shamanism

As he became more confident with his holistic procedures and protocols, he relied more and more on these testing methods outside of conventional veterinary medicine.

And in Dr Kidd’s view, the most important test that you can do is simply observing your dog! After all, you know your dog the best.

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