Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Lab Lingo

What your pet’s lab tests can tell the veterinarian

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Over the years, I’ve become all too familiar with the ABCs of lab work. I’ve had dogs with cancer, dogs with heart disease, dogs with skin infections and allergies, a cat with diabetes and one with a lump on her leg. All required various lab tests to decipher what was going on with them, plan treatment and check for underlying health problems that might be affected by anesthesia.

Pets undergo lab tests throughout their lives. Blood tests, urinalysis, fecal exams and other diagnostics are necessary before anesthesia is administered for surgery, to determine the presence of parasites, to check for illnesses such as diabetes or kidney disease, or when a diagnosis isn’t obvious from the animal’s medical history and a physical exam, to name just a few.

Routine screening tests, such as complete blood counts, chemistry panels and urinalysis, provide clues to overall health status or help lead to a diagnosis. More specialized tests include biopsies of tissue samples or examination of bone marrow, spinal fluid or synovial fluid from joints. Tests don’t always provide a complete answer, but results can point veterinarians in the direction of the most likely cause of the problem. Following are some of the types of tests your pet may need, what they tell the veterinarian and what some of those abbreviations stand for.

-- Screening test panel: Includes a complete blood count (CBC), which measures the number of red blood cells (RBCs), white blood cells (WBCs) and platelets circulating in the bloodstream as well as the amount of hemoglobin -- which transports oxygen -- contained in RBCs. The numbers tell a story. For instance, a decrease in red blood cells suggests anemia. Low or high numbers of neutrophils, the body’s “first responders” against infection, may indicate inflammation or infection.

When reading test results, veterinarians must be familiar with variances in different breeds or species. In most dogs, for instance, a low platelet count can indicate a significant problem. But in my dogs’ breed, it usually means the dog has inherited a harmless giant platelet disorder that affects approximately half of all cavalier King Charles spaniels.

-- Chemistry panel: Measures levels of certain proteins, enzymes, minerals and other substances and is useful in evaluating organ function. Among them are albumin, a liver protein; bilirubin, a waste product eliminated in urine and feces; blood urea nitrogen (BUN), a measure of waste products circulating in the blood; and creatinine, another waste product eliminated by the kidneys. Decreased levels of albumin may signal liver, intestine or kidney damage. Elevated BUN and creatinine levels can indicate kidney disease or other problems affecting kidney function.

-- Urinalysis: Aids in evaluating urinary system or kidney function and identification of urinary tract infections. Your veterinarian might suggest a urinalysis if your pet is drinking more water than normal, urinating more frequently or producing a greater volume of urine, or is straining to urinate. A urinalysis can also indicate the presence of sugar, protein or blood in urine and whether urine contains bacteria, white blood cells or other evidence of infection.

-- Cytology: Microscopic study of cells removed by scraping, aspiration or biopsy. Cytologic exams can indicate inflammation, bacterial or fungal infection, or parasites. Biopsies confirm whether a lump is cancerous. Histopathology, the study of thin sections of tissue or organs, can help to determine the degree or pattern of an infection or tumor. This type of exam also includes sampling and analyzing fluids for excess amounts, abnormal consistency or color, or changes in certain chemical components such as protein or glucose.

-- Fecal exam: Microscopic exam to check for the presence of intestinal parasites.

-- Serologic tests: Detects certain viruses, protozoa and fungi as well as indicates antibodies, signaling an immune response to disease. Conditions that require serologic tests include parvovirus and heartworm disease.

Lab test results now are faster than in the past, sometimes with same-day turnaround, speeding diagnosis and making care more effective.


Help! My dog

makes me sneeze

Q: I have asthma, and my allergy to my dog is making it worse. Do you have any suggestions?

A: So many of us who love dogs suffer from allergies, but we put up with sneezing, sniffling, itchy eyes, wheezing and more because we don’t want to live without them. There’s no cure, but there are things you can try to relieve your symptoms. Here are some that have helped me and others.

For nasal allergy symptoms, ask your doctor about prescription or over-the-counter antihistamines; corticosteroid nasal sprays; decongestants; or leukotriene modifiers, which block the action of certain immune system chemicals. You may want to consider immunotherapy, or allergy shots, to help reduce your immune system’s sensitivity to an allergen. An allergist can suggest a treatment plan for your particular symptoms.

Bathe your dog weekly to keep down dander. Have a family member or groomer do it to reduce your exposure. Putting him in a onesie or doggie T-shirt can also help to keep dander on the dog, not floating around in the air.

Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Vacuum frequently, including furniture and curtains. If possible, replace wall-to-wall carpet with hard flooring and use area rugs that can be machine-washed and dried.

Don’t let your dog share your bed or bedroom. If that’s not possible, wash bedding often, and put allergen-blocking covers on the mattress and box spring. Consider getting an air purifier for the room, and change the filter often. Cover bedding with a clean sheet for your dog to lie on, and change it daily.

Put a washable cover on furniture that you share with your dog.

Sweep, vacuum and mop floors often, including baseboards. Hair and dander hide out there.

Avoid touching your dog and then touching your face without first washing your hands. -- Dr. Marty Becker

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Some dogs learn

new words rapidly

-- Some dogs can rapidly learn the names of objects, according to a study published last month in the journal Scientific Reports. Family Dog Project researchers at Hungary’s Eotvos Lorand University tested the learning ability of two dogs, a 4-year-old female border collie named Whisky and a 9-year-old female Yorkshire terrier named Vicky Nina, who each knew the names of multiple toys. In a social context -- playing with their people -- the two dogs were able to learn the names of objects after hearing them only four times. To test whether most dogs could learn words this way, 20 other dogs were tested under the same conditions, but none showed evidence of learning the toy names. That confirmed that the ability to learn words rapidly in the absence of formal training is rare, present in only a few gifted dogs. Whether the mechanisms behind this rapid learning ability are the same for dogs and human toddlers is a subject for another study, but it appears to be similar.

-- Healthy pet birds are adept at keeping their feathers in shape by preening -- pulling them through their beak to straighten them and distribute oils -- but they need help with nail trimming. An assortment of perches in different sizes and textures helps to keep nail tips blunt, but at some point you’ll need to trim them. Your avian veterinarian or a bird-savvy groomer can help you learn the knack. Record the lesson so you can refer to it at home.

-- How much do cats sleep? A lot! It’s perfectly normal for them to get in up to 18 hours of shut-eye a day, preferably in a nice, sunny area. Kittens and old cats sleep the most, but any cat will settle in for a catnap after a meal or a few minutes of play. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.