Why does my pet need a chemistry panel?
Blood work is a basic diagnostic tool in veterinary medicine. When your vet says your pet needs some blood work, it usually means a combination of a complete blood count (CBC) and a blood chemical analysis or a chemical panel. Blood work allows a vet to identify the presence of an underlying health issue and allows monitoring of the progress of a disease. This article will focus on the importance of a chemistry panel for dogs and cats.
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What does a chemistry panel test for?
A chemistry panel, also known as a blood chem or chemistry screen, is composed of several tests to assess the function of major organs of the body such as the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It can also evaluate the electrolyte levels of the body.
A chemistry panel measures specific chemicals and enzymes in the blood, which can provide important information about organ health and function. Other important values that can be seen in a chemistry panel include the patient’s blood sugar level and the level of important electrolytes such as calcium, sodium, and potassium in the blood.
Alkaline phosphatase, alanine transaminase, total bilirubin, aspartate aminotransferase (AST), gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), and albumin provide information about the liver function of your pet. Elevated values may suggest an increase in your pet’s risk for liver disease.
Kidney function is evaluated by measuring blood urea nitrogen and creatinine. Between these two, creatinine is a more sensitive indicator of damage to the kidneys. Both BUN and CREA are substances that are normally cleared by the kidneys. Even a slight elevation should be a cause for concern.
Function of the Pancreas
What are the components of a chemistry panel?
The following tests are typically included in a chemistry panel:
- Alkaline phosphatase (SAP, ALP, ALKP)
- Alanine transaminase (alanine aminotransferase, ALT)
- Total Bilirubin (TBil)
- Blood urea nitrogen (BUN)
- Creatinine (Crea)
- Creatine kinase (CK, CPK)
- Total protein
- Amylase (AMYL)
- Lipase (LIP)
- Electrolytes - Calcium (Ca), chloride (Cl), potassium (K), sodium (Na), and phosphorus (P).
Alkaline Phosphatase (ALP)
An elevated level of alkaline phosphatase in pets can be present in liver injury, pregnancy, dental disease, and bone injury. An animal that is on or has been taking glucocorticoids (steroids) can also have elevated levels of ALP. Elevated levels of ALP can also be used as a tumor marker, particularly when metastasis to the liver is present.
Mildly elevated levels of ALP are a common finding in clinically normal animals as well as growing animals.
Alanine Transaminase (ALT)
Increased levels of ALT can indicate liver damage, myocardial infarction, an infection in the kidney, or chemical pollutants. On the other hand, a decrease in ALT in combination with high cholesterol levels can be seen in a congested liver.
Elevated bilirubin levels can be seen in liver disease and hemolytic anemia. Low levels of sun exposure and toxic effects to certain medications can also cause high bilirubin.
Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN)
Damage to the kidneys, excessive intake of protein, low fluid intake, and intestinal bleeding can lead to an increase in your pet’s BUN. Certain medications, as well as exercise, could also cause increases. Abnormally low levels of BUN can be caused by a poor diet, low intake of nitrogen, malabsorption syndrome, or damage to the liver.
Low levels of creatine can indicate severe damage to the kidneys, liver disease, or protein starvation. But it could also be seen in pregnant pets. Kidney disease causes excess production of creatinine leading to elevated levels. Increased creatinine levels can sometimes be seen when there is muscle degeneration. Certain drugs also cause kidney function impairment.
Glucose measures blood sugar levels. Elevated glucose levels can be seen in liver disease, diabetes, and steroid-triggered pancreatitis. Glucose levels can also be abnormally high in pets that are exposed to stress. Low glucose can indicate hypothyroidism, excessive insulin production, or liver disease.
Serum proteins include albumin, globulin, and total protein. Several medical conditions can cause low levels of serum proteins. It can also cause a delay in post-surgical healing. On the other hand, an elevated value may indicate dehydration.
Abnormally low levels of total protein may be associated with liver disease, poor nutrition, malabsorption, or severe burns. Elevated levels can be seen in lupus, leukemia, or chronic infections.
A primary cause of increased albumin levels in pets is dehydration. Abnormally low levels can be seen in pets with diarrhea, liver disease, hypocalcemia, fever, third-degree burns, poor diets, and inadequate intake of iron.
An increase or decrease in potassium, sodium, and/or chloride levels may occur with various health issues. It may also affect your pet’s suitability for anesthesia as well as healing after surgery.
How is a chemistry panel performed?
A chemistry panel examines the fluid component (serum) of a blood sample, compared to a CBC that examines the cell component in a blood sample. The results show the levels of various substances and chemicals in the blood that are associated with organ function.
Based on your vet’s initial diagnosis and/or the results of a CBC, only certain parameters will be included in the blood panel. Young, healthy pets generally require a smaller biochemistry panel than aging pets.
Because a recent meal may cause changes in the blood that can affect the chemistry panel results, your vet may recommend fasting your pet for 8-12 hours before a blood collection. In most cases, pets can still be given water.
Be sure to inform your vet if your pet is taking any medications or supplements, as some products can also affect the results.
What happens if the vet finds something wrong with my pet’s blood work?
If your vet finds abnormalities in your pet’s chemistry panel values, there are several potential outcomes. Some abnormal values, especially those that are mild, are unlikely to be clinically relevant.
In certain cases, such as an elevated creatinine or blood glucose, your vet may find it necessary to perform other types of diagnostic tests such as an x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan.
If the chemistry panel was performed as a pre-anesthetic procedure, significant abnormalities may cause your vet to recommend postponing your pet’s surgery until additional testing or treatment of the existing condition can be performed. Postponing surgery can help ensure that your pet’s condition can be thoroughly diagnosed, and appropriate treatment and medical intervention are given to help maximize your pet’s chance of undergoing a safe anesthetic procedure.
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