A veterinarian's gloved hand holding a dog's paw

Maximizing Canine Health: The Importance of Lab Work Through Your Dog's Life

Based on an article that first appeared at

From the playful puppy years to the golden senior moments, dogs, like us, go through various life stages, each with its unique health needs and challenges. As a veterinarian, I tell my clients that we have to look at lab work as a window into the intricate workings of their dog's health, offering insights that can guide preventative care, early detection of diseases, and tailored treatment strategies.

Whether it's a routine check- up or investigating a puzzling symptom, lab work provides the clarity and direction needed for making informed decisions about your dog's health care. In this blog, we'll explore how routine blood panels, chemistry tests, and other diagnostic tools play an important role in your dog’s overall wellbeing.

The Process of Drawing Blood from Dogs

First things first, how the heck do we draw blood from your dog?! Although it’s every veterinarian’s dream, we know our canines won’t simply sit there, make a fist, and breathe slowly.

But fear not. The entire process is quick, usually taking just a few minutes. Veterinarians and our staff are skilled at performing blood draws with minimal stress and discomfort to your pet. In the hands of an experienced veterinary team, most dogs handle blood draws well, with little to no fuss!

The most common sites for drawing blood in dogs are the jugular vein in the neck, the cephalic vein in the front leg, and the saphenous vein in the hind leg. The choice of site depends on the amount of blood needed and the dog's size and temperament. The jugular vein allows for larger volumes of blood to be drawn quickly, which is beneficial for comprehensive testing, while the cephalic and saphenous veins are often used for smaller samples.

When they are all done, if the sample was taken from a leg, there may be a small bandage (sometimes even in fun colors and designs) on the area to apply pressure a little longer and prevent bleeding and bruising. Typically these can be taken off once you are at home and your pet is settled. Make sure not to leave this wrap on too long, or it may cause swelling!

Small white dog getting blood drawn by a veterinarian.

Labwork by Life Stage: Tailored Testing for Optimal Care

Puppies and Adolescents

Navigating the journey of puppyhood into the adolescent stage is an exciting season for both you and your pup. This phase lays the groundwork for a healthy and joyful life ahead. Young dogs require a baseline to understand their normal health parameters. Initial screenings check for congenital diseases, infections, and proper organ development.

As puppies transition into their adolescent phase, around 6 to 12 months, their bodies undergo significant changes. This period is an optimal time for a follow-up set of lab tests, including a complete blood count (CBC) and a biochemistry panel. These tests monitor organ function, ensuring that your growing dog is metabolizing nutrients correctly and that there are no underlying health issues as they approach adulthood.

Adult Dogs

As our puppies blossom into full-fledged adults, their care evolves, reflecting their changing needs. Typically ranging from 1 to 7 years, we ideally like to see adult dogs once a year for an annual veterinary exam. These check-ups should include a comprehensive physical examination and discussions about diet, exercise, and any behavioral changes. It’s during these visits that lab work becomes a valuable tool in our preventative care toolboxes.

Lab work for adult dogs isn’t just about screening for diseases; it’s a preventive measure that supports their quality of life. By identifying subtle changes in their health markers over time, we can make adjustments to their care before minor issues become major concerns.

Annual exams for adult dogs often include a Complete Blood Count (CBC) and chemistry panel, we will talk more about these in the next section, to monitor their overall health and organ function. These tests can reveal hidden diseases not evident from a physical examination alone.

Senior Dogs

Transitioning into their senior years, dogs require even more attention and care from their owners and veterinarians alike. Typically considered seniors around the age of 7 (earlier for larger breeds, which age faster), these seasoned companions face an increased risk for various health issues. It's during this stage of life that lab work becomes indispensable, helping to support our pups through their golden years.

Senior dogs significantly benefit from two veterinary visits a year. This bi-annual check-up schedule provides closer monitoring of their health and quicker adjustments to their care plan as needed. Lab work becomes a focal point of these visits, providing critical insights into their changing health needs.

Breed-Specific Considerations: Beyond One-Size-Fits-All

Certain breeds are predisposed to specific health conditions, necessitating tailored labwork. For example, large breeds may require early screening for hip dysplasia, while breeds like Dobermans might need regular heart monitoring. Understanding genetic predispositions allows for proactive health management.

No two dogs are identical or even age the same way. Your veterinarian will tailor your dog's lab work based on their breed, age, medical history, and any symptoms or concerns that you’ve noticed, so be sure to keep an open dialogue with your veterinary team. They want your pet healthy as much as you do!

Veterinarian going over canine blood work results with owner for jack russel terrier.Decoding Blood Panels and Chemistries:

Conducting these tests annually can help detect diseases early when they are most treatable.

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC): This test gives us a snapshot of your dog's immune system, indicating infections, anemia, dehydration, and even certain cancers.
  • Chemistry Panel: A chemistry panel provides insights into the health of major organs like the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It can detect early stages of diseases, allowing for timely intervention.

This comprehensive panel becomes even more important as dogs age, offering early detection for conditions that are common in older pets.

Specific Tests for Comprehensive Care:

  • Heartworm and Tick-Borne Disease Tests: An essential annual test for all dogs, monitoring for heartworms and tick-borne diseases is imperative.
  • Thyroid Function Tests: Thyroid diseases are common in adult dogs, affecting their metabolism, energy levels, and even behavior. A simple blood test can assess thyroid hormone levels, making sure they are within a healthy range.
  • Urinalysis and Kidney Function Tests: Senior dogs are at an increased risk for kidney disease and urinary tract issues. Regular urinalysis, coupled with bloodwork, offers a window into the health of the urinary system, allowing for early intervention.
  • Glucose Testing for Diabetic Dogs: Regular glucose monitoring is essential for managing diabetic dogs, helping adjust insulin doses and dietary needs.
  • Diseases Such as Cushing's disease, Addison's disease, and Liver Issues: Advanced testing can diagnose these conditions, guiding treatment plans to manage symptoms and improve life quality.

Love Through Labwork

An integral part of your dog’s care is the relationship you build with your veterinarian. Open, honest communication about any changes in your dog’s behavior or health can guide the need for lab work. Your vet can recommend additional screenings based on your dog’s lifestyle, breed predispositions, and any symptoms they exhibit.

Remember that the goal of these tests isn’t just to treat but to prevent and catch issues early. We want your canine companion to enjoy a long, happy, and healthy life by your side. If you have any questions about your dog's health or the recommended labwork for their life stage, don't hesitate to reach out to your veterinarian.

If you have questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (843) 483-5838 , or you can email us at [email protected]. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram.

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  • Dog Laboratory