The importance of blood tests

Sarah Probert of Bridgnorth Veterinary Centre looks into the diagnostic difficulties of dealing with pets.

One of the most common things folk say when they find out I’m a vet is “…and animals can’t tell you what’s wrong, can they?” Now this possibly an obvious statement but it highlights an important issue nonetheless.

I often explain to people that being a vet is like being a car mechanic really – listening to the drivers’ complaints about how the vehicle performs, having a look and a listen under the bonnet and at various moving parts and then if that fails considering ‘plugging it in to the computer for a diagnostic check’.

True, we can’t connect Puss up to the computer, but a blood test is often the next best thing!

A pointer in the right direction

Information from blood tests tells us certain things, and from there we can ‘drill down’ into the area of concern. Unfortunately a general blood test will not often give us a full diagnosis, but it will rule out certain things and point us in the direction of further tests that will hopefully give us the answers we need.

As of yet there’s no general test for cancer. We can see if there are any blood cells that have changes that may be leukemia, but we can’t take a blood test and be sure Fido does or doesn’t have a tumour. What we can tell from a blood test is how well or how badly certain organs are functioning, such as the liver and kidneys. We can diagnose certain diseases such as thyroid disorders, Cushings disease or pancreatitis.

This won’t hurt at all…

Taking a blood test from a patient is very straightforward too. There’s no need for sedation unless the patient is very stressed or violent! Sometimes fur has to be clipped to be able to see the vein clearly, but it soon grows back. One thing that surprises a lot of clients is that we often chose to use the jugular vein for a blood test. This is because a cat’s jugular is probably smaller than the vein in a human’s arm! The larger the vein, the less risk of damage to the blood cells we’re trying to get a look at.

Once we have a look at how the internal parts are working, we can be more accurate in pinpointing what’s wrong, and so treating the illness more effectively. This is particularly important if we’re not seeing any external signs of illness, because we can see organ damage through a blood test. This can then be treated before it becomes a clinical illness, making a good recovery much more probable. Also, a general blood test done when we think our pets are ‘well’ gives us a baseline of ‘normals’ to use as a yardstick if and when we need to do tests due to sickness. In this way we can always be sure to give your pet the best care – a bit like a car service really…

– Sarah Probert, BVSc MRCVS
Bridgnorth Veterinary Centre

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