What exactly is lab work for a cat, and how is it done?

There are lots of different types of lab work that can be run in our patients, starting with more generalized tests to more specific tests, depending on what we're looking for and what disease processes we're evaluating for. Common tests that we'll start with include what's called your minimum database, which is a CBC, or a complete blood count, that looks at your white blood cells and your red blood cells, as well as your chemistry panel that looks at overall organ function, like liver, kidney, and electrolytes, as well as a urinalysis, which evaluates for any abnormalities with our urine production, as well as looking for urinary tract infections.

Hannah Grant, DVM
Brunswick Veterinary Hospital

How does a baseline lab test impact the health and well-being of your cat?

Baseline tests are very important because they give us a general idea of what is normal for this particular patient, or if they're coming to us already with an underlying illness or disease, where are they at that point in time? This is important because as disease progresses or new clinical signs arise, if we were to do blood work moving forward to further investigate, this allows us to compare back to prior blood work to see if this is consistent with this patient or something new that we should be concerned about.

What are some reasons that my cat might need lab work done?

There are many reasons why your cat might need some lab work done, starting with just routine lab work to evaluate their overall health. Cats are very stoic animals, and sometimes we might not notice signs of illness until they get to a more progressive stage of their disease, which is why I recommend at least once yearly lab work on our adult and geriatric cats to evaluate for any changes that might be too subtle for pet owners or even us to pick up on at first glance.

What are some possible cat health conditions that lab work can help detect?

There are lots of different conditions that lab work can allow us to check, starting from more underlying and progressive diseases. Chronic kidney disease is very common in our feline patients as they age, in addition to hyperthyroidism or any kind of underlying illness like cancer. Routine lab work allows us to check in on these guys and see how their levels are starting to change, and if there's any particular area of the body that we're now concerned about that we should be focusing on with our diagnoses.

What specific things are being looked at using my cat's blood work, and what can they tell the veterinarian about my cat's health?

Lab work can tell your veterinarian a lot about your cat's health. Our minimum database allows us to look at overall organ function, evaluate what the immune system is doing, and detect evidence of inflammation, infection, and any inappropriate changes in the urine. It gives us a lot of information about whether there is a progressive or new disease going on with this patient that maybe wasn't present before.

Is blood work alone enough to ensure a proper diagnosis of cat illnesses?

Blood work alone does give us a lot of information. However, we really need a physical exam to physically put our hands on the patient to say for sure. Sometimes there might be some abnormalities on blood work that might just be incidental findings or normal for that particular patient. Sometimes even the method of sample collection can cause some abnormalities on lab work, and might not be related to any underlying or ongoing signs of illness. It is always important for an in-date physical exam to be paired with our lab work, as sometimes our lab work might suggest something that actually isn't problematic for that particular patient.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of cat illnesses using lab work so important?

Early detection of diseases is crucial because cats tend to be very stoic and our animal patients can't tell us when they're not feeling well. A lot of times, we won't notice obvious signs of illness with them just because they might be hiding that from us. There are also many illnesses that might be causing some discomfort inwardly, but might not present as any outward signs, but that doesn't mean that there isn't something brewing. Early detection and treatment is key for improving the quality of life for patients with conditions like chronic kidney disease.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (518) 279-0700, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Cat Lab Work - FAQs 1

Hannah Grant, DVM
Brunswick Veterinary Hospital

How exactly is blood drawn from a cat?

There are different ways that we can draw blood from a cat. Typically, this involves gentle restraint of our feline patient with them on their side. This allows us to access one of the peripheral blood vessels, very similar to how our blood is drawn in human medicine. Sometimes we might need to draw from other areas, too, like the jugular, but it's no more painful or uncomfortable than the routine blood draws that we experience at our own doctor's visits.

Is the sample collection painful for my cat?

The procedure is no more painful than a blood draw at your doctor's visit. We draw blood in a way that is very similar to human medicine, where we insert a needle into the vessel from the outside. Mostly, cats just feel a little bit of a pinch, but once the needle is removed, all the discomfort goes away.

How is the safety of my cat insured when getting lab work done?

The safety of the animal is ensured by having numerous hands available to help. This includes experienced veterinary staff who know how to gently and safely restrain animals to prevent them from hurting themselves, and also to keep us, as staff, safe. Having well-trained staff helps us prevent any accidents when drawing blood or doing lab work.

Why might my kitten need lab work done?

There are many reasons why kittens might need lab work done. One reason is that frequently, we get kittens either from off the street or from rescue situations. In such cases, there are often concerns for their feline leukemia and feline AIDS status. These two diseases are very common communicable diseases that can affect the feline community and can have long-term implications on your cat's health. We might also want to do a minimum database if they're showing any signs of illness to let us know what's making the kitten sick.

Why might my healthy adult cat need lab work done?

Your healthy adult cat may need lab work done to evaluate for overall organ function or any evidence of illness. Cats are very stoic animals and it can be hard to determine diseases early on if they're not showing outward signs of illness. By doing at least once yearly lab work on our adult and senior feline patients, it allows us to evaluate for any hidden diseases that they may not be showing yet, but might be something we'd want to address sooner rather than later.

Does follow-up lab work need to be done on my cat?

Follow-up lab work entirely depends on what we find. If we do an annual lab work and everything comes back normal, then we will just retest at your next annual visit. If we do find some abnormalities, we might want to recheck them to see if this continues or if we have an ongoing disease process that we want to monitor. We might repeat lab work in a couple of weeks or even a couple of months to see where we're progressing with our disease and to determine if we need to change our treatment methods.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (518) 279-0700, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram

Cat Lab Work - FAQs 2

Hannah Grant, DVM
Brunswick Veterinary Hospital

What is a baseline lab test and why is it important?

A baseline lab test is basically getting a lab test on a patient when they're healthy so that we have something to compare to in instances when they're sick or in cases that have an ongoing progressive known illness. It lets us know where that patient is at that point in time. In case they come back in the future with progressive or other illnesses, we can compare current blood work to what has been done previously as a baseline test. This helps us determine if there is progression if the current state is expected for this patient, or if there is something new or more concerning going on.

What other times will my veterinarian order lab work for my cat?

Your veterinarian might order lab work for your cat if they have any concerns for underlying illness. During a full nose-to-tail physical exam, we might find something that was not noticed before, like signs of muscle loss or signs of illness. This may indicate that we need to investigate a little further, so we order some general comprehensive lab work to see what may be going on with different body systems or with this particular patient.

Can blood work provide a diagnosis for my cat?

Blood work can sometimes provide a solid diagnosis. However, sometimes blood work might not tell us exactly what is going on but it can start directing us towards where the problem is, and what organ the problem is associated with, and help guide future diagnostic tests until we get to an answer.

Do blood tests detect cat cancer?

Unfortunately, there's no one particular test that tests for cancer. However, there are some indicators that we can see on blood work that might suggest cancer might be a concern in this particular patient. We always compare our baseline lab tests to the current clinical signs and current physical exam of the patient. Sometimes, what we see on our baseline or general minimum database lab work might suggest that there may be cancer.

How effective are lab tests in cats?

I find lab tests in cats to be very effective. Cats are very stoic animals, and they often don't show obvious outward signs of illness when they're not feeling well. This is why it's so important for us to do routine lab work on these guys for early detection of disease. They might not outwardly show us that they're suffering from an illness, but there might actually be something ongoing or chronic happening with them.

What type of lab tests do veterinarians use?

Our common lab tests fall under the umbrella of the minimum database. This includes a complete blood count or CBC, which looks at our different white blood cell levels as well as red blood cell levels to evaluate for any inflammation, infection, or things like anemia. We frequently do a chemistry panel, which looks at the liver, kidney, overall organ function, and in addition to electrolytes and blood sugar to give us an overall idea of how the body is doing. We often do a urinalysis as well to compare the kidney values that we see on the chemistry panel and to evaluate if there are any inappropriate proteins or difficulty concentrating urine. Having all of these together gives us a broad view of what is going on with the patient and if there's anything ongoing that we need to be concerned about.

What lab tests are the most accurate and why?

As far as lab tests that are the most accurate, it really depends on what we're specifically looking for. Your general minimum database - your CBC, your chemistry panel, and your urinalysis - are a good first step at directing where we need to go. Depending on what we see with lab work or if there's not much on that lab work, we might direct ourselves to diagnostic imaging, such as an ultrasound or a radiograph, or to more in-depth and specific tests. It really depends on the tests that we're doing and what we're looking for, but your minimum database is a good starting point for most diseases.

How does my veterinarian decide which lab tests to order for my cat?

It really depends on what we're seeing with our clinical picture. Depending on what is happening with the animal, we might want to prioritize certain lab work over others or add certain lab work on top of it. For example, with hyperthyroidism in cats, your chemistry panel and CBC might not include a thyroid panel. But if we're concerned that a patient might have hyperthyroidism, then we'll add an additional test to look at their thyroid levels to evaluate what's happening there.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (518) 279-0700, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram