A physical exam and medical history is, of course, the most important part of any visit to your veterinarian, but when your pet isn’t feeling well it may be time to bring in the help of diagnostic tests. I recommend diagnostic testing for my patients, because it helps me to determine a definitive diagnosis and come up with a solid treatment plan.
I have to admit – I love diagnostic tests because diagnosing disease is like being a detective, and test results are the clues that help to solve the mystery. I do realize that my zeal for looking for these clues may not be fully appreciated by the owners of the pets I see in my office. After all, the meaning of tests like CBC and chemistry may seem a little esoteric to most pet owners. I’d like to explain why we run these tests, what we are looking for and what valuable information we are learning when we receive the results. In this blog, I will explain what a CBC is and why we run them.
CBC stands for complete blood count, and it looks at the cells that are currently in an animal’s bloodstream. A CBC tells us the number and types of white blood cells, the amount and characteristics of red blood cells, the amount of hemoglobin (important for carrying oxygen), and the platelet count.
Knowing the white blood cell count is important for several reasons. A high white blood cell count may indicate that an animal has a bacterial infection. A really high count of certain types of white blood cells may raise our suspicion for certain types of white cell cancers known collectively as leukemias. A low white blood cell count may occur with certain viral infections, immune deficiencies or even with severe overwhelming infection that has exhausted the body’s infection fighting arsenal.
Red cell numbers are important for evaluating pets for something called anemia. Anemia occurs when your red cell count is too low and can be due to blood loss, destruction of red blood cells because of an autoimmune disease, or the body’s failure to produce enough red blood cells. The CBC also provides information about the shape and size of the red blood cells, which helps to determine causes of different anemias.
Platelets are also counted in a CBC. Platelets play an important role in clotting, which is essential to stop bleeding from being uncontrollable. A low platelet count alerts us to be on the lookout for spontaneous bleeding. Low platelets can occur from autoimmune disease or diseases of the bone marrow.
The CBC is a valuable tool especially when we combine it with our physical exam and history. It is an important “clue” to unraveling the mystery of a sick animal! If you're considering dog insurance or cat insurance for your best friend, be sure to look for a plan that covers diagnostic tests, in addition to veterinary exam fees, like Petplan.