Blood tests for dogs: Are they necessary or a money grab?


What tests would you do for your dog?

My plan is to talk about blood testing and lab testing in general today. Recently, I received a question from someone in our community asking if blood tests were necessary or if they’re “just a money grab.”

You may already know I am big on disease prevention through a raw and home cooked diet, regular cleansing and detoxing, and essential supplements, but I guess I have not talked about blood tests and testing in general with the exception of hair testing for dogs.

In the course of working with thousands of dogs and their people, I have used blood testing as one of the most important tools in the following areas.

Pre-anesthetic testing

Anesthesia is much safer then it used to be; however, you can further decrease the risk of complications by asking your veterinarian for a blood test, even for young dogs and puppies.

It may surprise you that many dogs, even puppies, have undetected abnormalities that can compromise their ability to cope with the stress of anesthesia.The problems that I commonly find are liver enzyme elevation, kidney disease, undetected urinary tract infections, and hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism.

As a vet, I follow a simple rule and choose the tests for my patients that I would choose for my own dog. This makes the suggestion-making process easy. You can see the pre-anesthetic blood-work as the motorcycle helmet or a car seatbelt. It greatly increases the safety of your dog during anesthesia no matter what age she or he is.

I believe that pre-anesthetic blood work is one of the reasons why I haven’t lost a single dog under anesthesia in my 30 years in practice. If I detected a problem, I could treat it before putting the patient under.

Blood test prior to dental cleaning

If your dog needs dental cleaning and other oral care, a blood test is very important because many dogs with teeth issues have elevated kidney or liver values. This is partially due to the spread of bacteria and toxins in the bloodstream and the risk of organ damage in dogs with severe periodontal disease, fractured teeth, or abscesses. Here is information about a natural approach to dental care.

Pre-anesthetic blood work is also beneficial to determine post-anesthetic problems such as side-effects of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). I have also seen many dogs (and especially older ones) end up with renal failure because these drugs were used.

Preventive Blood Tests and Screening

A few months ago, I thought about changing our old fridge because, at some point, fridges start leaking. Then Christmas came. I was busy, and our fridge was the last thing on my mind. Surely enough, a month later, the fridge started leaking. This damaged our hardwood floors, and we had to pay for a floor repair in addition to buying a new fridge!

In no way am I comparing your dog to a refrigerator. However, like the new fridge, preventive blood work detects any problems (a.k.a. “leaks” such as anemia, infections, blood parasites, and organ problems) before they become serious.

If a house has a termite infestation, it is good to catch the problem before there is structural damage. In the same way, your dog benefits the most from prevention because it is generally much less expensive than treatment. Most importantly, it leads to a happier and longer life for your dog, which is your ultimate goal.

Here is a recommended blood work schedule for dogs:

Blood test your dog prior to an elective surgery such as a spay or neuter.

Start yearly blood and urine testing at five years of age unless your dog has had obvious health problems earlier.

When your dog reaches ten years of age (or eight years for giant breeds), perform blood and urine tests every six months.

Which blood tests are good or necessary for your dog?

Generally, your dog’s screening test should include the following:

Complete blood cell count

Chemistry of the internal organs such as liver, kidneys, pancreas, protein levels and electrolytes

Thyroid gland screening

Fecal test for parasites

It is usually wise to start with the core results and add more tests based on the core test results or the area in which you live. A good example is the Lyme disease test in areas with a high incidence of this tick-borne disease.

If your dog happens to be in a more critical situation, a greater number of tests may be needed at the beginning to establish the diagnosis as soon as possible.

Can general blood tests reliably detect toxins?

The answer is both yes and no. If a dog gets into antifreeze or rat poison and the guardian either knows about it or clinical signs are present, there are blood tests to confirm the exposure.

Generally, there are too many toxic substances in our environment, and measuring exposure to multiple toxins from blood can be difficult. Blood test results tend to show a “snapshot” in time, and it does not show long-term exposure or deficiency.

Hair Testing

To test your dog for toxins and deficiencies, I recommend the HairQ test, which has made this task much easier than before. As your dog’s hair grows, it serves as a “time capsule,” sealing the minerals from plasma in the hair shaft. When you collect a piece of hair – lets say one inch – this sample contains the information about your dog’s mineral content and heavy metals for the past four to six months (depending on how fast your dog’s hair grows).

The results are extremely helpful to determine if your dog’s diet is balanced or if your dog’s food and/or environment contains toxins. Here is more info on hair testing.

Blood testing instead of vaccinating as a safer alternative

It is true that general preventive blood testing should be started when your dog is five years old, but there is one exception, and that is the titer testing for dogs. A titer determines the level of your dog’s antibodies against the most common diseases such as parvovirus, distemper, leptospirosis, and rabies.

I suggest that you do your dog’s first titer test at the age of 12 weeks and then at five months and one and two years. Here is a complete guide to a holistic approach to vaccination in dogs.