Has one of our veterinarians at Wascana Animal Hospital recommended blood work or a urinalysis for your pet? Is your pet going to be having general anesthesia for a surgical procedure? Does your furry family member have a chronic illness you are currently managing such as diabetes or a thyroid condition and you received a reminder that those tests are due? All of the above are reasons why we have a fully equipped lab within our hospital to be able to complete many of these important diagnostics quickly and efficiently so we can help our patients faster! But what do some of those lab words mean exactly? What's a CBC, a chemistry, a T4? What does a urinalysis involve? How do we get the samples? Let's look at each of these categories in further detail...
What's a CBC?
A CBC, or complete blood count, allows us to examine the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets in each patient. This can provide information as to whether a patient is anemic (not enough red blood cells), does not have adequate platelets (which can affect the blood's ability to clot or indicate that they may be bleeding internally), has significant inflammation or infection (if the # of white blood cells are too high or too low). In addition to counting the actual number of the cells, we also perform a microscopic slide (called a blood smear) to evaluate what the cells look like individually. Believe it or not, if we see abnormal types of cells, abnormally shaped cells, or abnormal numbers of cells, this investigative lab work can provide helpful clues as to to the cause. This simple test can be key to picking up serious medical conditions that could affect how your pet responds to anesthesia or surgery especially for abdominal procedures where some bleeding can be expected to occur - so important to know BEFORE rather than after the fact!
What's a chemistry?
The chemistry portion of lab work is typically done on the serum portion of the blood and allows us to check electrolyte levels, blood sugar levels, kidney parameters, protein levels, and liver enzymes to name a few. The chemistry provides substantial information that can help us make a diagnosis immediately or else provides important direction on what organs/body systems are currently being affected so we can investigate further.
What's a urinalysis?
A urinalysis is an evaluation of the urine. At Wascana Animal Hospital we not only do a "dipstick" which is a quick check of the pH, the presence of blood, or abnormal sugars but we also measure the concentration of the urine (called a USG) AND a microscopic exam. The microscopic exam allows us to check for the presence of red and white blood cells, bacteria and abnormal crystals.
What's a T4?
Certain species of animals can develop abnormalities with their thyroid glands both as young, middle aged and senior patients. When animals are producing too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism) they may require medication to help return the levels to a normal range. The "T4" is one of the thyroid hormones found in blood that allows our veterinarians to monitor how the patient is responding to the medication. It can also be used in the initial diagnosis of hyperthyroidism and in some cases for hypothyroidism as well. Our veterinarians want to test the T4 levels at very specific times for medication monitoring. Unless you have been instructed by our team otherwise, we typically want to collect a blood sample to check your pet's T4 levels 4-6 hrs AFTER the morning dose of thyroid medication. It is also important that your pet has been receiving their medication routinely prior to testing; if your pet has missed several doses of medication in the days preceeding the scheduled testing date, please let our team know so that we can assist you establishing an appropriate time to re-test your furry family member.
So how are blood and urine samples collected from my pet?
Our hospital generally collects urine from our patients through a procedure called cystocentesis. This means we use an ultrasound to first determine that the patient has enough urine in the bladder to be collected, but then it also provides visual guidance for collection. We gently pass a very fine needle through the abdominal wall and right into the bladder to collect a urine sample. Most patients tolerate this extremely well (no more uncomfortable than a vaccine needle) and it allows us to collect a sample that is sterile since it is coming directly out of the bladder.
This sterile sample collected by cystocentesis is important not only for being able to properly evaluate the urine for the presence of infection, but it also means that if our veterinarians want to send the urine for culture, we can easily do so from the same sample. Urine cultures need to be performed on sterile samples collected in this manner. Occasionally we can analyze urine that was collected through normal voiding into a cup, however there is a high frequency of contamination when collected in this manner (even if it is caught in a sterile cup) as cells and bacteria from the urethra, penis or vagina or surrounding skin can get into the sample. Also if the samples were not immediately refrigerated and analyzed, left at room temperature and warm for hours can result in false positive results especially for things like urinary crystals. Depending on what information our veterinarians need from the sample, sometimes we can use these "free catch" normally voided samples if we are evaluating other components not related to infection (concentration, crystals, sugars etc). Generally if a patient has a urinary system abnormality, our veterinarians prefer to collect a cystocentesis sample in our hospital.
Our registered veterinary technicians typically collect blood from our canine and feline patients using the jugular veins in the neck area. The jugular veins are large, easily accessible, and comfortable for the patient to have the sample taken from. We try to avoid taking blood samples from the veins on the legs of our patients as these blood vessels are smaller, generally more sensitive, and most importantly, if we need to place IV catheters later we haven't irritated or caused hematomas at those sites.
How come my pet's urine and blood work needs to be sent to another lab?
There are certain blood and urine tests or tissue samples, especially those for endocrine (hormone-related) diseases or cancers, that only certain labs in the country are available to process due to the specialized equipment and personnel needed. This means that while we can often collect the samples in our hospital, we may then need to send those samples to the specialized lab at the vet college in Saskatoon or sometimes even to specific labs in the United States!
We hope that this information provides understanding and transparency so that you can feel comfortable and educated about the lab testing that your furry family member may need. As always, if you have any additional questions or concerns our team members at Wascana Animal Hospital are always ready to assist you!