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Blood tests; when, why, and how do these help?

Blood tests; when, why, and how do these help?

Veterinarians will sometimes recommend blood tests for your pet.


When is bloodwork helpful? It can rule out or reveal, certain problems, particularly useful to know in the following situations:

    • if your pet is going under general anesthesia or having a big procedure
    • if your pet is not feeling well, and we wish to gather information to investigate
    • when we are monitoring the success of a treatment or the progression of a disease
    • when we wish to monitor the blood levels of, or side effects of, a medication
    • or to obtain a baseline before starting a medication or treatment
    • even if your pet seems well, we may wish to screen for issues to catch & treat early

What information can we get from these?

  • Depending on which tests are run, the following information can be obtained:
      • Pre-anesthetic blood tests will show us red & white blood cells, blood clotting cells, blood sugar, kidney parameters, liver enzymes, electrolytes, and blood proteins. This is a general health screening tool. (Blood test results can strongly suggest normal health at the time the tests are performed, but cannot guarantee wellness, because there are some conditions that can’t be diagnosed using blood tests alone.) Pre-op bloodwork can be a helpful baseline, in case we need to compare to it in future. But mostly, it’s a tool to show the likelihood that the patient is well enough to have an anesthesia or a given procedure. The following values are part of a pre-anesthetic blood panel:
          • Red blood cells – numbers & characteristics; a relative increase in numbers can suggest dehydration, while a low number tells us of anemia (which may be caused by bleeding problems or blood cell production problems in the bone marrow, sometimes influenced by age, inflammatory disease, kidney problems, etc.)
          • White blood cells – the numbers of these cells can indicate inflammation (sometimes due to infection), stress, bone marrow problems, etc.
          • Blood clotting cells – these are “platelets“. It is important that these cells are in normal numbers for their very important function in helping blood to clot (crucial during surgical and dental procedures).
          • Blood sugar values, when abnormal, can hint at problems with liver issues or possibly diabetes, and some other less common issues.
          • Urea & creatinine are tests that will give us hints about how the kidneys are doing.
          • Liver enzymes can tell us about suspected liver injury or bile flow problems.
          • Electrolytes (sodium & potassium) reflect potential issues with adrenal disease, kidney disease, and some other imbalances.
          • Blood proteins tell us about hydration, potential inflammation or some immune reactions, & liver status.
      • Full blood panels (same tests as in the bloodwork listed above, but with some additional measurements regarding calcium, phosphorus, more kidney, liver, & pancreatic indicators).
      • Examples of common additional tests are:  urinalyses, pancreatic enzyme tests, liver (bile acids) tests, cortisol measurements, antibody titres, thyroid tests, etc. These are used to get more health information, or investigate for specific conditions.
    Vaccinations for Dogs & Cats

    Vaccinations for Dogs & Cats

    Vaccinations for Dogs & Cats:

    For Dogs & Cats: Rabies vaccine:
    Rabies vaccination is highly recommended. In this way, it is considered a “core vaccine”. It should be given at around 16 weeks of age, then a booster given in a year, then every 3 years thereafter.

    Puppies/Dogs: DAP = distemper, adenovirus & parvo virus:
    This core (recommended) vaccine combination should be given at 8 weeks, 12 weeks, and again at 16 weeks of age. There should be a booster in 1 year then every 3 years.

    Puppies/Dogs: Kennel Cough (Bordetella):
    This is non-core (optional) vaccine and is given particularly to dogs that will be exposed to large numbers of other dogs in close quarters – such as boarding facilities, dog shows, obedience classes, daily regulars at the off-leash dog park, doggy daycare, flyball/agility dogs and frequent trips to the groomers (more than 6x in a year). This can be discussed with your veterinarian. This vaccine is given annually when needed.

    Puppies/Dogs: Leptospirosis:
    This is a non-core (optional) vaccination that is applicable in situations where dogs are exposed to wildlife (especially rats’ & raccoons’) urine. It requires 2 inoculations 1 month apart, then once/year thereafter when needed.

    Puppies/Dogs: Lyme disease:
    Again, individual situations will dictate what is appropriate, but the Lyme disease vaccine is considered non-core (or optional) and may be used on dogs who are exposed regularly to ticks. This is an annual vaccine when it is applicable.

    Kittens/Cats: HCP = Herpes & Calici viruses & Panleukopenia viruses:
    This core (recommended) vaccine combination is given at 8 weeks, then 12 and then 16 weeks, and boosted a year later, then every 3 years.

    Kittens/Cats: FeLV = Feline Leukemia virus:
    Feline Leukemia is a non-core (optional) vaccine and is recommended for specific patients. These patients are usually young cats and those going outdoors or living in multi-cat households. Necessity regarding vaccinating mid-age and older cats is yet unknown, but you can discuss the need for this vaccine and any questions about it with your veterinarian.


    Arthritis in Pets (updated Feb 2024)

    Arthritis in Pets (updated Feb 2024)

    ARTHRITIS  is a degenerative disease of joints that usually results through time and from chronic wear and tear. Arthritis is the number one cause of chronic pain in dogs and cats.

    A few questions you might think about if you have an older dog:

    • Is your pet having difficulty getting up and down stairs or in and out of the car?
    • Is he/she stiff when getting up after lying down?
    • Is your pet more irritable than usual or restless when sleeping?

    If you have a cat:

    • Is he/she reluctant to jump up on to furniture?
    • Does your cat avoid being picked up?
    • Has there been a change in response to grooming?

    These are all potential signs of arthritis.


    • Weight Management – nothing earth-shattering here; keeping your pet’s body weight lean alleviates excess pressure on their joints.
    • Routine Controlled Exercise – this helps maintain as much muscle mass to help support the joints. Swimming is an excellent low impact exercise.
    • Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate – cartilage components harvested from sea mollusks provide basic building blocks helpful to repair damaged cartilage. Expect 1-2 months before noticeable improvement.
    • Omega 3 Fatty Acids – typically from fish oils; these have great anti-inflammatory properties. Diets that contain Omega 3’s tend to be more effective than oral supplements. A good example of a diet rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acid is the J/D diet from Hills.

    THE NEXT STEP (more advanced arthritis):

    • Cartrophen Injections – typically this is a series of 4 subcutaneous injections given at weekly intervals. Cartrophen is a drug in its own class (disease modifying osteoarthritis drug). It is an injectable source of the cartilage component polysulfated glycosamino glycan (PSGAG). Not only do PSGAGs provide a building block for cartilage they also inhibit harmful enzymes involving joint cartilage, stimulate cartilage repair, and increase joint lubrication.
    • NSAIDS – included in this group are Metacam, Rimadyl, Deramaxx. They act by suppressing inflammatory biochemicals that lead to pain and also cartilage damage. NSAIDs are not without potential side effects but risk versus benefits will be discussed with you if they are a consideration in improving your pet’s quality of life. DO NOT USE HUMAN NSAIDS ON PETS
    • Analgesics – other analgesics that are strictly analgesics and do not modify inflammation in the joint include Tramadol and Gabapentin.
    • Acupuncture, Chiropractic Adjustments, Message and Physiotherapy – can also be helpful
    Cognitive Dysfunction – Senility in Geriatric Pets

    Cognitive Dysfunction – Senility in Geriatric Pets

    Cognitive Dysfunction – Senility in Geriatric Pets

    As our pets age, our bond with them grows deeper and more intense. We’ve grown to love them more over the years and they are more dependent on our understanding and kindness as they deal with the challenges that the elderly face.
    One of the issues described commonly in geriatric pets is “senility” (our medical-ese for this is “cognitive dysfunction”).

    Examples are:
    The old dog that walks out to the yard and stops, staring into space. He doesn’t appear to remember why he’s there. (Or perhaps he does this in the middle of the livingroom.) He only stares off and stands there a while.
    Some old dogs get stuck in a corner or behind the couch and seem to be incapable of getting out of their simple predicament.
    There is also the old dog who is agitated and restless in the middle of the night – waking to ask to go outside or just waking – pacing, panting and appearing anxious.
    And there are many an elderly cat that yowls in the night. This nocturnal vocalization sounds alarming, but there is nothing that seems to be wrong. (Is she hallucinating? Is she dreaming?) Sometimes she has an old sock or something that she’s carrying around while she makes that mournful sound.

    If you have a pet like this, you are not alone. In one way, you’re fortunate to have a pet that has grown with you this long to get to this age, but on the other hand, it can sometimes be difficult to deal with.

    A general health examination is a first step to see if there is anything that is treatable. Bloodwork and urinalysis can point to (or rule out) abnormalities in organ function that could cause behavioral changes in an elderly pet. Examples are: diabetes, Cushing’s syndrome, kidney disease, bladder infections, hyperthyroidism in old kitties, and many other possibilities.

    Hearing loss is common in this age group. It can explain a lot of the geriatric patient’s seeming lack of awareness. Vision loss sometimes plays a role in this as well. Rarely are these conditions reversible, but getting a checkup will determine if anything can be done. Sometimes an eye condition can be treated and some forms of cataracts can be considered for surgical correction (if the patient is doing well otherwise).

    For many other age-related cognitive change examples, there is no easy fix. Aging takes its toll on the brain, just as it does on all the other major organs. But sometimes your veterinarian can have helpful suggestions at this emotional part of your pet’s life.

    Anti-inflammatory medication can be discussed in cases that may have behaviors related to pain. And we don’t often know for sure that the pet is in pain – but a trial of pain medication can sometimes answer that question. WARNING: Don’t try these medications without veterinary consultation regarding your pet’s specific case, which product is applicable and the dosage.

    Decreasing stress in elderly pets is helpful too. Keeping schedules consistent and having predictable pattern of feedings, outings, and bedtimes can help the old dog or cat. Sometimes this isn’t easy as our families evolve and “life happens”. There are some products available – involving specialized pheromones in a spray or diffuser form – that can have a de-stressing effect on anxious dogs & cats. If it sounds like a reasonable thing to try, your vet may be able to suggest a trial with this type of product.

    Free radical scavenging supplements (anti-oxidants) may help the brain deal with some of the inflammatory chemicals and free radicals liberated over time. These products can help to soothe some of the effects of aging at the cellular level.

    Casein-containing supplements or foods may be helpful. This milk protein is known to have a calming effect on the brain. Also, there’s an amino acid supplement that has been found to influence and decrease stress signals in the brain.

    Sedatives can be used intermittently – and in more severe cases, they are sometimes required ongoing.

    Mainly, we want the best quality of life for our aging pets. They are so special to us throughout their lives, and seem to need us even more at this time.



    Summer Safety Tips

    Summer Safety Tips


    There’s a ton of online information and many warnings about leaving dogs (or anyone!) in the car on hot days. But still people keep doing it. Perhaps these people who continue to do so are not online. So please spread the word to all your friends and relatives about how dangerous and inhumane this is. Even with the windows open a bit, the car can get much hotter than the outdoor temperature and dogs can experience great distress and potentially life threatening harm via heat stroke. Keep in mind that dogs have to pant to decrease their body temperature. They don’t have the sweat glands than people have. Tell everyone: leave the dogs at home on warm days — please!


    Dogs feet are tough — but many people forget that they can still become traumatized by excessive heat from sun-baked asphalt or from excessive running on concrete, gravel, or or other surfaces. Dogs’ feet are prone to injuries and discomfort from these surfaces during high temperatures and extreme exercise. They’re often so devoted to their owner and the fun, that they will run through pain to keep up. Please remember to keep them cool (keep feet off hot surfaces) and prevent them from overdoing it — especially in the hot weather.


    We always remember to hydrate ourselves, because we can reach for a beverage whenever we wish. Dogs can’t communicate when they are thirsty. If it’s very warm and they’re panting a lot to cool their body temperature, they will need extra hydration — even more so if they are being active. Please remember to pack water for your dog whenever you’re out and about in the summer weather.


    Finally, hot weather seems to encourage more incidents of dogs riding in the back of trucks (or hanging out of windows to stay cool). Veterinarians see many patients who are very badly injured due to accidents that occur in these circumstances. Dogs fall out of the back of trucks and fall out of open windows! And often those injuries are devastating (for the patient, owner & vet!)  Please keep your pets safe and secure in a moving vehicle (or leave them safe and cool at home).