During your cats annual or semi-annual physical exam, your veterinarian may recommend wellness lab tests which may include blood tests, urinalysis, and fecal exams.
Lab tests are an incredibly useful tool to help provide your veterinarian with insight into your cat’s overall health. While the physical exam is invaluable, the blood work, urine, and fecal exam are a great complement to ensure a thorough health evaluation.
Lab work consists of several components:
1. A complete blood count (CBC) checks red and white blood cells.
a. Several parameters of red blood cells are evaluated including their number, size, concentration of hemoglobin, and the presence of immature red blood cells, known as erythrocytes. This information is helpful in the detection and monitoring of anemia, which can be secondary to many disease processes, and other blood disorders.
b. The CBC also includes a differential – which means a breakdown of the white blood cells into 5 cell types – neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, basophils and eosinophils. Variations in each of these different white blood cells can be associated with multiple disease processes and can also help us evaluate for underlying inflammation and/or infections.
2. The chemistry panel evaluates kidney function, liver function, electrolytes and several minerals including calcium and phosphorous. Because cats are not small dogs, we pay close attention to your cat’s kidney values as their ‘normal’ is not the same as dogs and thus can be considered elevated even if it’s within the reference interval. Many times, we can detect changes in the blood work prior to your cat showing clinical signs which allows for early disease detection and intervention.
3. Urinalysis is an excellent way to help us evaluate for early kidney disease in your cat. The urinalysis provides us with a cat’s urine specific gravity, or USG. This value is related to the kidney’s ability to concentrate urine. If the urine is dilute – meaning that the kidneys are not properly resorbing water – it could be a sign of early kidney disease if the lab values are normal. Hydration status can affect this value which your veterinarian will assess during their exam. The urine sample also checks for bacteria and crystals which can lead to problems in both male and female cats. As with blood work, early detection is best!
4. For cats over 7 years of age, their senior lab panel will include a thyroid screen. The thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone which helps regulate your cat’s metabolism. In cats with hyperthyroidism, this gland produces an excessive amount of thyroid hormone, thus elevating the metabolism and causing rapid weight loss despite a good appetite. Running a thyroid screen with senior lab work is a great way for your veterinarian to track your cat’s thyroid function and catch any abnormal elevations.
5. Fecal Parasite Screening is another important test for all cats, regardless if they go outside or not. Many intestinal parasites that cats get can be transmitted to people. It is very important to check a fecal sample at least once a year to keep you and your cat healthy.
Our goal is to make sure that you feel comfortable going forward with your veterinarian’s recommendations. Routine lab work helps your cat’s doctor assess and evaluate the overall health of your cat, either by providing a baseline or by detecting disease early. When we find disease early, before your cat is sick, we can institute recommendations and treatment right away. Studies show that we can save your cat pain and suffering, in addition to saving money with early disease detection. Regardless, when it comes to your cat, the more information we have about their health, the more informed both you and your veterinarian will be when making decisions for the wellbeing of your companion.