Understanding your pet’s diagnostic report

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Understanding your pet’s diagnostic report - Vetster

When you take your pet to the vet you may feel overwhelmed when you get their results back—regardless of whether they are noticeably sick or just getting a routine check-up to maintain their health. BUN, ALKP, HCT—what does all this alphabet soup mean? Becoming familiar with some of the common lab tests your pet may undergo will help you to better understand your pet’s diagnostic testing results.

Why is it important to understand your pet’s lab report?

An IDEXX study reported that preventative lab testing reveals health issues requiring follow-up care in 15% of adult dogs and cats, 21% of seniors, and 42% of the geriatric age group. As they age, preventative testing is more than twice as likely to reveal hidden health issues in pets. Additionally, routine testing is recommended for apparently healthy pets of all ages to identify potential issues before they escalate. This is especially important once pets reach their senior years at age seven or eight. But how many owners understand the intricacies of results, bloodwork and other diagnostic testing reports?

Preventative lab testing reveals health issues

Looking at your lab results in their entirety can be overwhelming. Don't get distracted by the medical jargon and scope of a diagnostic report. Instead, look at each element of the findings separately.  With a basic understanding of what each element of the diagnostic panel measures, you can start to see the overall picture of what your vet may be looking for more clearly.

Common diagnostic tests

Regardless of whether your pet is undergoing routine testing or has a specific problem, there are several types of tests vets typically utilize. Performing multiple types of tests provides your vet with a broader picture of how your pet’s body is functioning. When a pet is sick, test results can be used to make decisions about what kind of treatment is likely to be most helpful, and repeating tests can allow your vet to track their response to treatment.

Complete blood count

A complete blood count, or CBC, can give your vet a broad perspective of your pet's overall health. Measuring the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets provides information about several factors, such as hydration status, inflammation, immune system health, anemia, and bone marrow problems that your pet may be experiencing. These numbers can change quickly so it is common for this test to be repeated to monitor a pet’s progress during treatment for an illness.

Blood chemistry

Blood chemistry tests measure the levels of different products from the kidneys, liver, pancreas, and other parts of the body. For example, changes in blood levels of compounds like urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine (CREAT), or glucose (GLU) in the blood are associated with different types of diseases. Every specified result listed on your pet’s blood chemistry profile can be traced back to one or more organs in your pet’s body and provide some clues about how well that organ is doing its job.


Urinalysis is a diagnostic test performed on the urine rather than the blood. Urinalysis can give your vet insight into a variety of aspects of your pet’s health including information about:

  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Endocrine diseases like diabetes, adrenal gland disease, and thyroid disease
  • Infectious diseases like bladder and kidney infections
  • Urinary conditions like bladder stones
  • Inflammatory illnesses like cystitis
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Toxin exposure
  • Some types of cancer

Fecal analysis

Do you think your dog is worm-free because you pick up his poop and aren’t seeing anything?  Think again.  While some of the most common intestinal parasites are visible to the naked eye, they don’t usually end up passing in the stool. Instead, their strategy is to live inside the digestive tract and shed only their microscopic eggs. Our pets are exposed to intestinal parasites on a daily basis and don’t usually develop symptoms as a result of infestation.

Routine screening helps to identify and eliminate the worms we don’t want our entire family, including other humans, exposed to. Microscopic analysis of stool samples is useful for both healthy pets and pets experiencing digestive woes like diarrhea, and along with other evidence of diseases - specific species of worm eggs passing in the stool can be identified. This allows for targeted treatment plans which are better for both pets and the environment. Unfortunately, false negative test results are common, so be sure to follow your vet's advice about routine preventive parasite control.

Other tests

Other common tests include those for specific parasites, tick-borne diseases, and viral illnesses like parvo for dogs and feline leukemia in cats. These may seem more straightforward as the name of the disease is more familiar to most people than acronyms for specific components of blood, so ask yo

What to do when you have more questions

When you don’t understand your pet’s diagnostic report, you have a question about the information, or you just want help to piece it all together, you can book a virtual vet appointment to address your questions and concerns about your pet’s health. Being informed can help give you peace of mind and make the best decisions possible regarding your pet’s health and wellness.