Bloodwork for Your Cat: Why it’s Important and What it Means

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Regular and routine blood testing is an important part of your cat’s preventive healthcare.

Most vets recommend annual testing for cats seven years and older, and, depending on a cat’s health history, annual or bi-annual testing for senior cats over the age of eleven. It’s also a good practice to at least get a baseline for a younger cat. It is critically important that every cat, regardless of her age, has complete bloodwork done before undergoing any kind of anesthetic procedure, even a routine dental cleaning.

Typically, your vet will run a blood chemistry panel and a complete bloodcount. For cats age seven and up, she will also run a thyroid function test.

Blood Chemistry Panel

A blood chemistry panel screens organ function for several organs. The makeup  of a chemistry panel may vary slightly depending on which laboratory runs the tests. Some of the most common parameters screened in a chemistry panel are kidney function (BUN and creatinine) and liver function (Albumin, ALT, Bilirubin and Amylase). The panel also measures glucose, calcium, cholesterol, potassium, and total protein. Click here for a complete list of parameters and detailed explanations.

Complete Blood Count

The complete blood count measures the number of cells of different types circulating in the bloodstream. There are three major types of blood cells in circulation; red blood cells (RBC), white blood cells (WBC), and platelets. White blood cells include neutrophils, lymphocytes, monocytes, eosinophils and basophils.

Thyroid Function Test

The thyroid test evaluates the function of the thyroid gland. Typically, veterinary clinics will run a T4. However, if there is suspicion of thyroid disease, or if the T4 test comes back elevated, a more comprehensive feline thyroid panel, which includes T4, T3, free T4 by equilibrium dialysis and TSH, will need to be run.

Interpreting Bloodwork Results

Unless your veterinary clinic has an in house labaratory, your vet will send blood samples off to an outside lab for testing. Test results are usually available within 24 hours.

Interpreting results is both a science and an art. Laboratories establish “normal” reference ranges, but “normal” is relative. And the numbers don’t tell the whole story. The vet needs to look at the whole picture, not just the lab results. For example, elevated BUN and creatinine levels don’t necessarily mean that there’s a kidney problem. It could simply mean that the cat was midly dehydrated in the period prior to when the blood was drawn. Additional testing, such as a urinalysis, may be needed to allow the vet to make an accurate diagnosis.

Cats can’t tell us how they feel, so regular bloodwork is one of the best ways to identify potential health problems even before your cat shows any symptoms.

Photo: istockphoto

17 Comments on Bloodwork for Your Cat: Why it’s Important and What it Means

  1. Jacqueline
    July 28, 2017 at 2:05 pm (2 years ago)

    Urinalysis wouldve saved my precious 15 yo Marco…bad vet didn’t take blood work either despite 3 exams cuz thought I couldn’t afford it!. Sudden CRF death decimated me with grief. Now, my senior girl gets the works every year.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 29, 2017 at 5:22 am (2 years ago)

      I’m so sorry, Jacqueline. It absolutely infuriates me when vets make assumptions about a client’s ability to pay.

      Reply
  2. Anali Walker
    April 28, 2017 at 7:27 pm (2 years ago)

    Hello,
    I’ve been taking my one year old cat for blood work lately because she lost weight since the last time I brought her to the vet. Turns out that she has hypercalcemia. The vet has been wanting to do more tests to make sure it’s not a thyroid problem or cancer. I have taken her in for blood draws 3 times already in the past 2 weeks. They want to do another test since there was an accident where blood got mixed for her last test. Is there a certain amount of time I should wait for her to recover because of all the blood that has been taken? I’m afraid she can develop anemia.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 29, 2017 at 5:06 am (2 years ago)

      Since the amounts of blood that are taken for these tests are very small, this shouldn’t be a concern, Anali, but how frustrating that they mixed up the blood!

      Reply
  3. J.R.
    January 24, 2017 at 1:24 pm (2 years ago)

    My cat had bloodwork done 4 months ago before having dental surgery. It showed a creatinine level just inside the normal range. The vet recommended a urinalysis, which I did not have done at the time but just got at home. She would not order the urinalysis unless another blood test was done. Is this necessary?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 24, 2017 at 4:53 pm (2 years ago)

      Your vet probably wants to see whether the creatinine level in your cat’s blood has changed over the last four months.

      Reply
  4. erica
    January 7, 2014 at 8:48 pm (5 years ago)

    My cat was just diagnosed with a mass in his abdomen and enlarged lymph nodes. My. ? Is how
    Did this get undetected if all his bloodwork came out
    Perfect.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      January 8, 2014 at 6:53 am (5 years ago)

      I’m sorry about your cat’s diagnosis, Erica. Unfortunately, cancer does not always show up in bloodwork.

      Reply
  5. Bernadette
    August 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm (7 years ago)

    Many people think they can pass on this because it’s technically not “necessary”, just for the records, but it helps immensely down the line in tracking potential developing illnesses.

    Reply
  6. Glogirly and Katie
    August 13, 2012 at 11:49 am (7 years ago)

    Don’t tell Katie…but her annual check up is coming up very soon. Since she’s turning 7 this year, I’m going to ask about bloodwork and each of the points you brought up. I’ll probably print out your post so I don’t forget anything! Thank you for this…the timing is perfect.

    …I won’t tell Katie it was your idea.
    : ) Glogirly

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 13, 2012 at 1:01 pm (7 years ago)

      I’m glad this came at the right time, Debbie – but please don’t tell Katie. I want to remain on her good side!

      Reply
  7. Amy Sikes
    August 13, 2012 at 11:35 am (7 years ago)

    I can’t agree more strongly! My Casey-cat’s CKD was caught at an early stage ONLY because I asked the vet if we should do bloodwork for her, since she was a senior kitty who hadn’t had any done in years. The vet said, “Well, it can’t hurt, though I don’t expect to see anything.” (Casey was a 16-year-old who looked maybe 10 or so – at 19 she still looks like a much younger cat!) She was stunned to see the indications of Stage 2 renal failure.

    After I got over being shocked, horrified, and certain the diagnosis meant my beautiful Bunny was about to leave me, I was able to embark on a course of kidney-supportive treatment that has kept her with me for 3 years post-diagnosis! I’m sure Reiki has been a big help to her as part of that. 🙂

    If I hadn’t asked for the bloodwork, I probably wouldn’t have found out about her CKD until she experienced a crash, at which point it would have been much harder to help her. So DEFINITELY get periodic bloodwork for your furbabies!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm (7 years ago)

      Interesting comment from your vet, considering that Casey was a senior. “It couldn’t hurt?” In the veterinary practices I worked at, annual bloodwork was the standard of care for all cats seven or older. I’m glad Casey’s renal failure was discovered early, Amy – and I’m sure the Reiki is a big help as part of your supportive treatment!

      Reply
  8. ShellieAndBrutus
    August 13, 2012 at 11:34 am (7 years ago)

    At our hospital we catch a lot of health issues when we add on a urinalysis to the blood panels. Plus it gives a bigger picture.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 13, 2012 at 12:58 pm (7 years ago)

      I agree, Shellie. I think a urinalysis together with a full blood panel should be standard of care for cats seven or older (and I believe it is recommended by the AAFP).

      Reply
  9. Bernie
    August 13, 2012 at 1:12 am (7 years ago)

    This is a must for any new kitten or cat. Whether adopted, rescued or home born. I would not be comfortable if I did not vet my kittens/cats as soon as I could. With my last 4 rescues they were vetted within 4 days of coming into my home. Now I know all is fine with each of them.

    Blood tests are vital for so many reasons. Think about it, if the kittens were human babies, they are fully tested before leaving the hospitals. Kittens/cats fall right into that category. They will be your babies and wards for many years of your life. Protect their little lives. Start with a simple blood panel.

    Ingrid this is a really good piece of advice for all of us.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      August 13, 2012 at 12:57 pm (7 years ago)

      Thanks, Bernie. It’s especially important with rescue cats and kittens to at the very least make sure they’re FIV and FeLV negative before integrating them with any resident cats.

      Reply

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