Cat Lab Work/Laboratory - How Lab Work Is Used to Keep Your Cat Healthy

What is lab work for a cat, and how is it done?

Lab work, in general, is a test that usually involves blood. It may involve other samples like urine, so that test is looking at values to help us determine why your pet may be sick. That would include drawing blood from your cat or collecting a urine sample, depending on what type of lab work we're doing.

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How does a baseline lab test impact the health and well-being of my cat?

Having a baseline gives us a reference for your pet and what your pet's normal is, so that's a good thing to have if we later find that your pet is sick or we find abnormalities. So one reason we do that yearly is to see any ups or downs that we wouldn't necessarily know about. If the cat only came in when they were sick, we couldn't tell due to not having that baseline.

What are some reasons that my cat might need lab work done?

Cats will come in for various reasons. One will be wellness, and we talk a lot about that, as we recommend yearly wellness checks that include lab work, which also gives us a baseline. But on the other side of that, it might detect something that's going on with your pet. So cats are excellent at hiding things. They don't always show us when they're sick, and so what we would consider routine lab work might pick up a problem.

What are some possible cat health conditions that the lab work can help detect?

I think about three big things that lab work helps us with, particularly for our older cats. Hyperthyroidism, which is an elevated thyroid, kidney disease, and heart disease, are the three big ones I think about for older cats. Then another common cat issue, if you've had cats or multi-cat households, would be urinary issues—those are two different types of lab work that might help us to determine what's going on.

What specific things are being looked at using my cat's blood work, and what will they tell you about my cat's health?

That's a really broad question, but in particular, some examples, if it's a new cat or new to you or new to the household, we would want to screen for infections. And so one big one in cats is the viral—a blood test. We look for feline leukemia and FIV, so that's one blood test that's done. Those two viruses can be highly contagious from cat to cat when they're interacting, and so that's a good baseline to know as far as risk factors to your other cats. The complete blood count, or CBC, looks at just what it says—red cells, white cells, and platelets. And then, the chemistry looks at more of the organ values.

There are three big categories. One was the kidneys in cats, and the BUN stands for blood urea nitrogen, which is a big name for the kidney and creatinine. These are actually toxins that the body naturally filters out. The kidneys filter, but when the kidneys are not working well, those toxins build up in the bloodstream and then when we detect them on blood work, or routine lab work, and then we can determine if the kidneys are healthy or if there's a problem.

The ALT and the bilirubin are focused on the liver and cats can get various liver issues, but we do worry about a big named condition called hepatic lipidosis, which other values would detect, but cats can have issues with their liver, and the ALT is an enzyme that we would test for.

Diabetes in cats is something that we see, which is why we also test blood sugar. Now, one thing that we don't get too excited about is when the blood sugar is mildly elevated because we know that just thinking about coming to see us elevates their blood sugar because of stress.

Even though there are normal ranges, we also don't just treat blood work. We treat the patient, and so we look at what the patient is doing and how that might be normal in a certain situation, even though a value might technically look high or low, as it could be normal, and that's where the interpretation and our knowledge comes into play.

Electrolytes are also often included in blood work. What are they and what do you get from them?

If your pet is vomiting a lot, their electrolytes might be off. We're looking specifically at the sodium chloride and potassium and that helps us to determine the health of the cat.

Is blood work alone enough to ensure a proper diagnosis for my cat?

As I was saying, we don't treat blood work alone. We are big believers in the physical exam, so putting our hands on the cat and assessing the pet individually is critical, but blood work makes a more complete picture to determine what's going on with the pet.

With blood work, sometimes the machine gets off, or the sample is hemolyzed, which means it's just not the perfect sample, or some breakdown has occurred either due to the sampling method or different things can happen, so we want to assess the cat as well as the lab results, all in one.

Why is early detection and diagnosis of an illness using lab work so important?

Early detection and diagnosis are especially critical for cats because we know that cats hide things. That's their survival mechanism, so I think it's so much more important in cats for early detection because usually that carries a better prognosis if we can treat a disease or condition early.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Cat Lab Work/Laboratory - FAQs 1

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

When will you order blood work for my cat?

We may order that as a general baseline or wellness test to determine if your pet is hiding anything or having some reference values. The other time is most likely when your cat isn't feeling well, and they can't tell us why they don't feel well, so we'll run specific lab tests to help determine what's wrong.

What is a baseline lab test, and why is it important?

Baseline is your pet's normal. We know the general normal values on a lab screen, but it's what your pet's normal is. And so, if we have a baseline and later there are some abnormalities, we know the degree of the abnormality based on your pet's baseline.

Can blood work provide a diagnosis for my cat?

Often it can. Combined with the physical exam and the history of clinical signs of what's going on at home, your cat could be diagnosed with certain diseases or problems.

Do blood tests detect cancer in cats?

That's a great question. Yes and no. Certain values might help us determine if there's a risk or an indication of cancer. But I typically say that there's not an exact cancer test on routine blood work. The thing with cancer is it can hide, and many times that can come up from pet to pet that the blood work looks great, but the pet still has a huge problem going on. It depends on the type of blood work that's run. One of the viral tests, feline leukemia, can be determined by a blood test. We worry about that causing cancer in cats.

How effective are lab tests in cats?

I think that they're very effective. Lab tests give us answers to many of our questions. Even if everything is, quote-unquote, normal, then that means it rules out things. Normal can be good in certain situations. We think about normal being good. But sometimes we think that that was a wasted test, but it's not because we have ruled out certain things, even if the numbers and values come back normal. Stress can cause an elevation in blood sugar, which is why we wouldn't get too excited about it if we saw that in a stressed pet.

What type of lab tests do veterinarians use?

There are many different lab tests. We've talked about some of those. It may be a routine screen of infection for cats, which is very common—feline leukemia or FIV test. Lab tests can also be something other than blood work. We've talked about blood work, but other routine lab tests could be a stool check on your pet for parasites. It could also be a urine check, so there are many different lab tests that we can run.

What lab tests are the most accurate, and why is that?

That's a great question. I think that most lab tests that we would choose to run, we would choose them because of their accuracy. We know that other factors can also call some values to be high when they're not. For instance, the heart test for cats, the BNP test—we know that if they have thyroid disease or something else going on, that could elevate that superficially or inadvertently, and it may not necessarily be an abnormal value.

We're looking at the physical exam combined with the history, clinical signs, and blood work. Let's say we have a cat that's running a high fever, and they are dehydrated. We're going to expect certain values, like perhaps some of the kidney values, to be elevated when this doesn't necessarily mean kidney disease. But it is affecting the kidneys because of other problems. We would interpret that with everything else going on.

How does my veterinarian decide which lab tests to order for my cat?

The pet's age would determine that, along with the results of other tests that you do that might spur you on a different test. We usually do what's most common. We're looking for what's most common, but not all cats read the books, so sometimes we have to dig a little deeper to find an answer to these problems. We usually take it step by step. Owners appreciate it when we're not just running five tests at one time.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.

Cat Lab Work/Laboratory - FAQs 2

Dr. Nichola Gaither
Animal Hospital of Statesville

How is blood work drawn for my cat?

We collect the blood through the cat's vein. We often do that from the back leg or perhaps from the jugular. The latter's advantage is that we can get it quicker and usually get a larger volume without stressing the cat out.

Is sample collection painful for my cat?

It is a needle poke, so the cat reacts as they might to a vaccine. We know some cats are over-reactors while others let us do whatever we want to do. It's not pain-free, but we make it as painless as possible. We like to use distraction and some other fear-free methods. We'll spray catnip. We spray catnip on a towel, sometimes hiding their head or letting them hide in a towel. They like that. They feel more secure. There are other things we can do, like leaving them in the carrier. We have a whole video on carriers that we like and don't like. But if the top easily comes off and the cat can stay in the bottom part of that, that's an excellent carrier for your cat because they feel more secure not being completely removed from that carrier.

How is the safety of my cat insured when getting lab work done?

We try to make it as stress-free as possible, whether we are distracting by petting or using the catnip or treats if they're food motivated. Some cats are too nervous to take treats when they're here. And so, the proper restraint method is essential in protecting your cat from getting hurt, as well as protecting our staff from getting hurt. We don't want that to happen to either side, so well-trained staff goes a long way. If we know the pet is too stressed, then we stop. We also have the kitty comfort kits if we know we need to run tests, then you can give them something to calm them, to take a little of the stress off of them. Most of our cats do great, but we have those few that get too stressed. By giving them something to calm them, it helps everyone involved.

Why might my kitten need lab work done?

One of the tests we've talked about is screening for the viral diseases, feline leukemia and FIV. Another lab test might be a stool check. So, we want to make sure your kitten doesn't have parasites that can be contagious to you, me, or other cats in the household. We want to ensure that the cat or kitten is as healthy as they can be.

Why might my healthy adult cat need blood work?

Adult cats can hide things. So, that would be one reason to do a well check—to detect problems early and serve as a baseline.

Why might my senior cat need blood work?

The lab work for our senior cats would be to ensure that they aren't developing a problem that can commonly occur as cats age.

Will follow-up lab work need to be done on my cat?

If we detect abnormalities, we want to follow up and make sure that they have improved with the treatment. We don't want just to assume because the pet is acting better that they are genuinely better. Again, we know that cats, like all of our animals, hide their sickness and disease much of the time.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (704) 872-3625, you can email us, or you can reach out on Facebook. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as soon as we can.