Do you find your dog’s blood tests confusing? Do you wonder how useful the tests are?
Do you really need to do all the ones your vet recommends?
The charges can add up and you might want to prioritize where you spend your money.
And that can be nerve-wracking because you worry about missing something important that could give you a better view into your dog’s health.
We Asked An Expert
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!
We’re going to share with you his recommendations for the tests you might need at different stages of your dog’s life.
But first, Dr Kidd shared with us his philosophy about blood testing in general.
In making decisions about your dog’s blood tests, what you want to get out of them is important, so there are a few questions to ask yourself.
What Do You Want To Know?
We all want the very best for our pets. But do you want a definitive diagnosis or are you willing to live with a little ambiguity?
Are you a “wellness” person – using nutrition and supplements for preventive health – or a “treatment” person, waiting to take action until something goes wrong?
What Are Your Concerns?
Is there something you’re afraid might happen to your dog that blood tests could 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 your dog will be harmed by the vaccine, 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, or treating him for a condition he might have … and will the test results impact your approach?
If you suspect your dog has a specific health issue and you confirm it via lab tests, 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 or treatment options. If you’re on a tight budget, talk to your vet about which test or tests make the most sense for your dog’s current needs.
How Useful Are The Tests?
Blood chemistry panels can be a valuable component of your veterinarian’s diagnostic toolkit. However, 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 typically indicate the exact cause of an abnormal test finding, and they rarely pinpoint a specific cause of your dog’s condition or disease.
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.
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 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 because nitrogen in the protein sources elevates the blood chemistry. So dogs fed a raw meat diet will often have higher BUN.
Ideally lab results would be biomarkers of disease, but sometimes they don’t give the right answers either.
For example, in human medicine, we now know that cholesterol levels and PSA tests aren’t necessarily the biomarkers we thought them to be 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. And 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, and 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 “platinum level” lifetime wellness blood chemistry monitoring program:
At Age Two Or Three
Sometime shortly after your dog reaches adulthood, run a regular chemistry panel, such as a SMAC-20, which provides 20 different blood chemistries.
This test is a great tool to use as a part of the dog’s permanent record. You can refer back to it and compare with it chemistry panels taken later in life. Use it to identify your dog’s health trends and catch any changes.
And if there are any abnormalities in your young dog, there would be a decent chance of keeping them from becoming worse as your dog ages.
Along with the chemistry panel, your vet would likely do a complete physical exam, a CBC (Complete Blood Count), urinalysis and thyroid panel, as well as any other test that might be indicated for your breed or individual dog.
The normal 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 draw the samples and send them 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 Seven
When your dog starts to hit middle age (about 7 or 8 years old for most breeds, when many vets will already consider dogs “seniors”), consider getting annual physical exams, a chemistry panel (with appropriate add-ons), CBC, and 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. However, he suggests getting a more current panel, CBC and urinalysis before any a major non-emergency procedure.
Organ Specific Tests
There are also tests designed to evaluate specific organs or organ systems.
Liver Panel Example
Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT), Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST), Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP), Gamma Glutamyl Transferase (GGT), Bilirubin (total and direct), Total Protein, Albumin, Globulin, A:G ratio, and Cholesterol.
Pancreas Panel Example
Glucose, amylase, lipase, cholesterol and triglyceride
Muscle and Bone Panel Example
Calcium and phosphorous (bone); Creatine Kinase (CK or CPK) and 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.
(NOTE: You can support your dog’s liver naturally at home! Check out how to do it: Preventing Liver Disease In Dogs)
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.
In his practice he’s also used chiropractic, massage therapy, acupuncture and shamanism to help him assess each animal’s health picture.
As he became more and 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 just you, the owner – the person who knows your dog best of all – simply observing your dog!