In my veterinary hospital, we typically run 50-100 blood samples a week, every week. This is because testing a dog’s blood allows us to evaluate many things, from general wellness to illness detection, and monitoring of health conditions and medications. In this article, we will review the different types of blood tests for dogs – and how much they cost.
About blood tests for dogs: how does it work?
In most veterinary clinics and hospitals, there is in-house lab equipment that is able to run many types of blood work immediately at the time it is drawn from the patient. This is a considerable advantage to veterinary medicine as we are able to determine things quickly, typically within 15-30 minutes. Dogs that are ill or hurt will benefit from this rapid turnaround time. Blood will be drawn from the dog’s vein and immediately analyzed by high-tech blood analyzers in the clinic. Most often, veterinarians are able to run common blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), metabolic panels (serum biochemistry), thyroid testing (T4), electrolytes, and others to evaluate the dog’s health status. Other testing, such as blood gases, heartworm antigen, pancreatic lipase, tick borne disease, and other hormone assays, are typically available in the clinic as well.
For other, more specialized testing, the dog’s blood may need to be sent out to a commercial reference lab. These high-tech labs offer a myriad of highly specific and specialized tests, including organ function testing, hormone assays, endocrine testing, cancer screening, medication levels, and many, many more.
How much does blood work for dogs typically cost?
Prices for blood works can range from $50-$75 for simple tests such as Compete Blood Count (CBC) – to thousands. Most tests cost $50 to $300. Prices for blood work for dogs are highly variable and mostly depend on the type of tests. Let’s review these costs in more details in the next section:
Types of blood work for dogs (with cost estimates)
Average pricing for dog blood testing varies between clinics and labs, and is highly dependent on what test or tests are being run.
Routine, in-clinic blood work:
1. Compete Blood Count (CBC) – $50 to $75
What it measures: red blood cells
A CBC is a blood test that examines the cellular components of blood. The CBC both quantifies and measures the sizes of the red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen from the dog’s lungs to the rest of their body.
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Example disease that this test can help with- anemia, dehydration, infections, blood cancers
Anemia, dehydration, and other issues with red blood cells may be identified.A CBC also looks at white blood cells, which function to fight infections and other diseases. The test breaks down the white cell count into the five different types and quantifies them. This can help your veterinarian know if an infection is present, and what type it may be. Certain blood cancers can also be suspected based on white cell numbers. Platelets will be identified and counted. These make up the part of the blood that aids in controlling bleeding.
A typical, in-house CBC will cost anywhere from $50-$75 at this time.
2. Serum Biochemistry tests – $125-$300 depending on which tests are included.
The cost of these blood tests can vary significantly, generally from $125 to $300, based on the scope of the test. For example, smaller serum biochemistry tests are used preoperatively for young, healthy dogs, and will typically fall on the less expensive side of this range (close to $125). More complex panels, such as those used for sick dogs, or for geriatric screening, contain additional tests and will therefore be more expensive (close to $300).
Serum biochemistry can measure many different things. We have outlined the main options below:
2-A: What this blood test can measure: proteins (both the total, as well as albumin and globulins)
The serum is the liquid portion of the blood after the red and white cells have been removed. A serum biochemistry panel conveys essential information as to how the body’s organs are functioning. This blood panel will look at many different aspects of the body’s function.
Example disease that this test can help with: hydration, liver disease, kidney diseases, inflammation, some cancers, gastrointestinal bleeding
Proteins specifically indicate hydration status, liver function, kidney function, and inflammation in the body. Some cancers will also elevate blood proteins.
- Liver: Liver enzymes are an essential part of the serum chemistry profile. Enzymes measured will reflect on the status of the cells within the liver, as well as the biliary (bile producing) portion of the liver. Increased bilirubin levels may be a sign of liver dysfunction or the intravascular destruction of red blood cells.
- Kidneys: Serum biochemistries will also investigate the functioning of the dog’s kidneys. Mainly, the tests for kidneys include blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, and phosphorus. Many chemistry panels also include SDMA (symmetric dimethylarginine) testing, which can signal very early kidney issues. Creatinine is essential in evaluating kidney function, and increased values point to decreased kidney function. High phosphorus levels may also indicate kidney function issues.
- Other: An increased BUN may indicate dehydration, kidney disease, or gastrointestinal bleeding. Decreased BUN can indicate overhydration, liver disease, or protein issues.
2-B: What this blood test can measure: pancreatic enzymes
Pancreatic enzymes will also be tested. Amylase and lipase are the two most common enzymes in serum biochemistries.
Example disease that this test can help with- pancreas disease or cancer
Increases in these two enzymes indicate pancreatic inflammation and other dysfunction, even possibly pancreatic cancer.
2-C: What this blood test can measure: glucose
Glucose is included in the panel and, if increased, may indicate diabetes mellitus, though it must be interpreted by a skilled veterinarian, as stress and excitement can also induce elevated glucose. Low levels of glucose occur in very young animals, as well as small breed dogs.
Example disease that this test can help with: diabetes mellitus, sepsis, some cancers
Diabetes mellitus can be life threatening and results in a high glucose reading. Sepsis, a severe infection in the blood, as well as some cancers, can cause a low blood sugar value.
2-D: What this blood test can measure: calcium
Calcium is measured in a serum biochemistry panel and is a mineral that can be associated with cancer
Disclaimer: This content is not a substitute for veterinary care. Always consult with your vet for health decisions. Learn more.
Example disease that this test can help with- some cancers.
An elevated calcium level may raise the suspicion of cancer, even in healthy dogs. It is imperative to understand that the vast majority of cancers, excluding blood cancers, will not make any changes to a dog’s blood work. It is a common misconception among pet owners that simply “running blood work” can detect whether or not their dog has cancer. This is not the case, unfortunately. In fact, a sick dog with normal blood work is often a red flag for the disease.
2-E: What the test can measure: muscle enzymes such as creatinine kinase (CK)
Additionally, a serum biochemistry panel will report levels of muscle enzymes such as creatinine kinase (CK). This enzyme can be used to assess levels of muscle injury and inflammation.
2-F: What the test can measure: Cholesterol
Example diseases when this test might be helpful: hormonal or endocrine diseases, kidney disease, and liver disease
Description: Most panels will include cholesterol levels. Though we use these levels slightly differently in veterinary medicine than human medicine, increases in cholesterol are often associated with hormonal or endocrine diseases, kidney disease, and liver disease.
Typically, a serum biochemistry profile will cost between $125-$300 depending on where it is analyzed and which tests are included.
3. Specialized Blood Testing – From $100 to thousands
Specialized blood tests are performed to gain specific knowledge about the dog or to investigate or monitor a specific problem. These tests include:
- bile acid testing to evaluate liver function,
- medication specific testing such as phenobarbital levels to ensure adequate concentrations of certain medications in the dog’s system, and
- specific disease testing such as endocrine testing and infectious agent testing.
The majority of these specialized tests will need to be sent to a reference laboratory or veterinary school lab. There are literally thousands of tests available, and costs vary widely depending on the test that is necessary. Ranges can fall between $100 and thousands.
Factors impacting decisions to do blood work
What testing is appropriate for your dog depends on many factors, such as their age, breed, health status, history, and clinical signs (symptoms). It is important to discuss these things with your veterinarian and allow them to come up with a proper diagnostic plan for your pet. Younger dogs may require blood work before surgery or if something is ailing them. Middle aged dogs that are healthy should have routine screening blood work to monitor their health and establish baselines. Older dogs will typically require more frequent routine blood work and, depending on their health conditions, may require specialized testing. Certain breeds, or dogs with a genetic predisposition to certain medical conditions, may require specialized or frequent blood work. Dogs with ongoing medical conditions, such as Addison’s, Cushing’s, seizures, thyroid issues, cancer, and others will typically require frequent blood work. The testing and frequency required for your individual dog will determine the cost incurred.
How your veterinarian will use blood work
Just as with humans, blood testing can tell doctors many things about the health of the patient. Blood work is often even more important for dogs as they cannot speak and tell their doctors what is wrong or how they are feeling. Below are the main benefits of blood tests:
1) Diagnose specific conditions: Blood testing for your dog enables the veterinarian to diagnose and then treat a variety of health conditions including, but not limited to diabetes mellitus, infections, kidney or liver diseases, some cancers, inflammations, and anemia.
2) Establish a health baseline: Routine blood work will give insight into your dog’s current health status as well as establish a baseline of what is “normal” for your pet when they are healthy. This information can be invaluable later in the dog’s life if they become ill, as the doctor can compare the current “sick” blood work to what is normal for the dog, as opposed to using “averages” for all dogs. Routine blood screening is also a powerful tool for finding medical issues before they are advanced and therefore allowing the best chance for treatment with early intervention.
3) Pre-surgery health check: Another common use for routine screening is to evaluate the health of your dog’s organs prior to anesthesia and surgery. Infections, clotting disorders, organ dysfunction, and other issues are often found on pre-surgical blood work. Your dog’s doctor will use the information from pre-surgical screening blood work to determine their health status and know what anesthetic protocol will be safest for them.
FAQ: What you need to know if your dog is getting a blood test
Does a dog need to fast before blood work?
Some blood testing in dogs requires that the dog has fasted. Other tests are not affected by eating. However, suppose a routine blood test is scheduled. In that case, it is often a good idea to fast the dog for at least 8 hours to avoid lipemia (increased levels of fat in the blood), which interferes with many of the serum biochemistry tests. If you are in doubt as to whether or not you should fast your dog, speak to your veterinarian. There are some dogs, especially diabetics, that should not be fasted prior to blood work.
What should you avoid before a blood test?
If fasting is appropriate, you should avoid feeding your dog. Water should not be withheld unless your veterinarian specifically instructs this. Vigorous exercise, such as running or playing ball, should be avoided in the hours immediately before the blood draw. Dogs should not be given excessive treats prior to testing.
How does a vet take blood samples?
Typically, a veterinary nurse will obtain the blood sample from your dog. Specially trained in phlebotomy, these team members will draw blood from an appropriate vein.
Does it hurt or scare dogs?
A blood draw is a quick, minimally invasive procedure that veterinary teams have been trained to make as comfortable as possible for your pet. A blood draw for a dog is the same as it is for a human. And like humans, some dogs dislike the procedure more than others. More often than not, dogs handle blood draws very well. In some cases, an owner’s anxiety can affect the dog as they feed off of this and worry something is amiss. It is essential to remain calm and act normally around your dog.
How can I help my dog after blood is drawn?
Once the blood draw has been performed, your dog can go back to their normal life. In the case of sick or injured animals, they may have restrictions based on their condition.
What is the best thing for my dog to eat or drink after getting blood drawn?
Your dog may return to their normal diet after a blood draw, unless you are advised otherwise by your veterinarian. It is likely not a good idea to feed dogs excessive treats or treats they are not used to after a blood draw as this may lead to gastrointestinal upset.
Does pet insurance typically cover the cost of blood tests?
Each pet insurance plan has rules and restrictions as to what they will cover. You should thoroughly research your plan before purchasing to ensure it meets your needs. Because the vast majority of pet insurance plans require the owner to pay the veterinarian up front and then apply for reimbursement, if finances do not allow for this, it may be prudent to instead establish a savings account for your dog that you can use when needed, for any care necessary.
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