Diagnosing Your Pet Faster

Going to the vet with a sick pet can be overwhelming! One of the first things any veterinarian will recommend is lab work. Why do we need these sometimes vital pieces of information? Imagine going to the doctor's office and being asked, "What is bothering you?" and not being able to answer. This is everyday life at Metairie Small Animal Hospital. Our pets cannot say that their stomach hurts because they ate the garbage. Thankfully, MSAH has an in-house laboratory that helps us figure out what our animals are trying to communicate so we can make the best treatment plan for them.

CBC and Blood Chemistry

Two of the most common tests are the CBC and Blood Chemistry because they give us a direct look into how your pet's body is functioning. CBC stands for complete blood count. This measures the distribution of red blood cells (RBCs), platelets, all of the different types of white blood cells (WBCs) and how many are in the body. A CBC can reveal conditions like anemia, dehydration, infection, and poor immune system function. Your veterinarian having this information can sometimes mean life or death for a pet. It also goes hand in hand with the equally and sometimes more important Blood Chemistry. The values we get from this test let us know exactly how specific organs are functioning. Our in-house Chemistry machine runs a multitude of panels that include Liver, Kidney, Pre-Anesthetic, and Comprehensive Profiles.

Comprehensive Profile
A single panel can provide the veterinarian with a lot of information. For example, the Comprehensive Profile includes:

  • ALB (albumin)
  • ALKP (alkaline phosphatase)
  • ALT (a liver enzyme)
  • AMYL (amylase)
  • BUN (blood urea nitrogen)
  • CA (Calcium)
  • CREA (creatinine)
  • GLOB (globulin)
  • GLU (Glucose)
  • K+, (Potassium)
  • NA+ (Sodium)
  • PHOS (Phosphorous)
  • TBIL (Total Bilirubin)
  • TP (Total Protein)

Another very common test is a cytology. A cytology helps us take a closer look at the structure of certain areas of the body. However, this word has a double meaning in the lab, which can cause a little confusion. A skin or ear cytology is very different from a fine needle aspirate (FNA), which is also commonly referred to as a cytology. When an animal with red, itchy skin or foul-smelling ears comes in for an ear or skin cytology, we use either a swab or slide with an adhesive on it to collect a sample from the irritated area. The slide is stained to help differentiate cell types.  Then, we look at the slides under a microscope. In addition to cells found naturally within the body, we look for other organisms like yeast, bacteria, or mites that could be making your pet uncomfortable.

Fine Needle Aspirate
An FNA, or cytology, is something your veterinarian will do if you find a bump or lump on your pet. They will take a 25 gauge needle (which is very tiny) and poke the bump a few times to collect the cells that make it up. The cells are then aspirated onto a slide, and go through the same staining process that an ear or skin cytology would. We also look at these slides on a microscope, and based on the cells found help us determine whether it is a lipoma, a benign fatty mass, or something potentially cancerous. This is a test that while it can be performed in-house, sending it to our outside laboratory is normally recommended. There, the Veterinary Pathologists help us to determine whether or not surgical removal of the lump is necessary. We will typically receive an answer within 24-48 hours.

If removal of the mass is recommended, a biopsy will typically be the next step for your pet. This test is always sent off to the outside lab and normally takes 3-5 business days to get a result. While some lumps and bumps are nothing more than fat, others are not. Just like in humans, pets can get cancer. There are many different types of cancer, and many are treatable with chemotherapy. By sending the tissue off after removal, we can also find out if the entire mass was removed or if we need to watch for additional growth in the area. Early detection and treatment are keys to beating cancer. With that in mind, routine veterinary examinations and being observant of any changes in your pet at home are crucial.

Our in-house laboratory is just one of the diagnostic tools that our veterinarians use to take the best care of your pets possible. During your pet’s next visit, feel free to ask your vet about the different laboratory tests being performed. To schedule your pet's next visit, click here.