Healthy Dog = Healthy Skin: Understanding why ROUTINE BLOOD TESTS are an important tool!

Canine Skin Solutions, Inc.                                         Karen Helton Rhodes, DVM, DACVD                                     Terri Bonenberger, DVM, DACVD

Your Veterinary Dermatologist is first and foremost a veterinarian; just one with extra training (an additional 3 years) in a specialty!  We are tasked with not only promoting and maintaining healthy skin but also supporting your dog’s overall health.  There are many skin diseases that involve internal organs such as the liver and kidney.  Those internal diseases may actually provide the first clue that something is wrong via the presence of skin disease. So, skin disorders are not always only “skin deep”!  For example, a dog with crusting and ulcerations of the footpads might actually have a disease called Hepatocutaneous Syndrome or Superficial Necrolytic Dermatitis, which is a disease that also affects the liver.   A mass on the digit (paw) might indicate cancer originating in the chest (bronchogenic adenocarcinoma).  It is important to make sure the entire dog is healthy…not just the skin!

Why run blood tests?

Blood tests can help identify a specific cause of illness or they can be used to monitor the body’s response to medication and keep your dog healthy.  As a dermatologist, I am often required to prescribe “long term” drug therapy to control or manage your dog’s chronic skin disease.  For example, allergies cannot be cured but they can be controlled with topical therapy, allergy vaccine, and/or medications.  Of course, the recommendation is to use as low a dose of medication as possible or, best yet, none at all!  For some dogs with severe allergies….that is simply not possible!  Most long-term maintenance medication therapy should be monitored with routine blood screens.  Atopica (cyclosporine) and Apoquel (oclacitinib) are prime examples of “allergy medications” that require monitoring via blood tests. So, to answer the question of “is the drug safe?”, we need to monitor blood work.  Each dog handles or metabolizes a medication differently.  Blood work provides a window into your dog’s bodily functions.  


What is a routine blood screen?

There are two main types of profiles:  CBC and Serum Chemistry.

The CBC is the “complete blood count” and this test will evaluate your dog’s blood cells:  red blood cells and white blood cells.  The serum chemistry evaluates organ function.


How can I, as a pet owner, participate in my dog’s health?  Be informed and be knowledgeable!  The following list is a brief primer on understanding what routine bloodwork results can identify.  There is a wealth of information and clues that can be obtained from a simple blood test.  Yes, the list below is rather simplistic and intentionally does not discuss the nuances and exceptions that can occur when evaluating the blood work.  On the other hand, the listing is an excellent starting point for the pet owner and can be used as a template for asking questions and making difficult decisions.    

Be an educated pet parent!

The CBC (complete blood count ie blood cells)

 CBC: gives information on hydration status, anemia, infection, blood clotting ability and a window into the immune response.  This test is essential for dogs with fevers, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, pale gums or loss of appetite.  

CBC code phrases:

HCT= hematocrit; measures the % of red blood cells; can help detect anemia and  


Hb and MCHC= hemoglobin and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration; measures the blood cells ability to carry oxygen

WBC= white blood cell count; measures the body’s immune cells & may change with infections or certain diseases

NEUT= Neutrophils (a type of WBC), important in infections

LYMPH= lymphocytes (a type of WBC), important in immune response

EOS= eosinophils (a type of WBC), often prominent in allergy or parasitic problems

PLT= platelets; important in creating clots to prevent bleeding

Retics= reticulocytes; immature red blood cells; high or low levels help classify types of anemia

The Blood Serum Chemistry (ie blood fluid)

These tests evaluate organ function, electrolyte status, hormone levels and more.  They are vitally important to obtain a window into the health of your pet…..and you!  The values are extremely important when determining the “pre-anesthetic” status of a patient, toxin exposure, overall health, and in those pets receiving long-term medications.

Hydration, infection, overall

ALB= albumin; this is a serum protein that helps evaluate hydration, hemorrhage, intestinal, liver, and kidney health

TP= total protein; indicates hydration status & info about liver, kidneys, and infections

GLOB- globulin; blood protein that often increases with chronic infection


Primarily Liver parameters

ALKP=alkaline phosphatase; liver enzyme where elevations may indicate Cushing’s disease (natural steroid overproduction), steroid drug use, or active bone growth in young patients

ALT= alanine aminotransferase; indicator of liver function/damage

AST= aspartate aminotransferase; increases may indicate liver, heart, or muscle damage

GGT= gamma glutamyl transferase; enzyme when elevated may indicate liver disease or steroid excess

TBIL= total bilirubin; elevations may indicate liver (bile duct) or blood cell disease (anemias)

CHOL= cholesterol; aids in diagnosis of thyroid, liver, Cushing’s, and diabetes


Primarily Kidney parameters

BUN= blood urea nitrogen; reflects kidney function yet influenced by other parameters such as dehydration, liver disease, heart disease, shock, etc

CREAT= creatinine; reveals kidney function, more specific than BUN for kidney disease



GLU= glucose; blood sugar (high may indicate diabetes/ low may cause collapse)



CA= calcium; deviations can be caused by a number of diseases

CL= chloride; electrolyte often lost with vomiting or a disease called Addison’s/ elevations may indicate dehydration

NA= sodium; levels often low with vomiting, diarrhea, or Addison’s disease/ helps indicate hydration status

K= potassium; electrolyte lost with vomiting, diarrhea, excessive urination/ if levels high, then may indicate kidney failure or blockage, Addison’s disease, etc: high levels can cause cardiac arrest

PHOS= phosphorus, elevations often associated with kidney disease, high thyroid values, bleeding disorders


Primarily pancreas

LIP= lipase; enzyme, when elevated indicates pancreatitis

AMYL= amylase; enzyme, elevations indicate pancreatitis or kidney disease



Cortisol= hormone measured in tests evaluating for Cushing’s Disease (body produces too much steroid) or Addison’s Disease (too little steroid)/ it can also help determine if the clinical changes are due to overuse of steroid (cortisone) as a medication

T4= thyroxine is a thyroid hormone; often used a monitoring level for thyroid supplementation

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