Blood Components in Dogs

A blood chemistry panel evaluates the enzymes that are important to many organ functions, and also looks at certain proteins and minerals that are important for normal body functions. Important tests include:

  • Albumin. This is an important protein made by the liver. It decreases in dogs with certain types of liver and kidney damage or intestinal problems, and can increase in dehydrated dogs.
  • ALT. Alanine aminotransferase is a liver enzyme that can increase in dogs with virtually any liver damage.
  • ALP. Alkaline phosphatase is an enzyme that may increase in dogs with liver or bone disease, or along with steroid use or Cushing's disease. It could also indicate bile problems. Phenobarbital, used to control seizures, may also increase the levels of this enzyme.
  • Amylase. This is an enzyme manufactured primarily by the pancreas and released into the digestive tract to help digest starch and glycogen. It may be elevated in dogs with pancreatitis, kidney disease, or steroid use.
  • AST. Aspartate aminotransferase is an enzyme normally found in red blood cells, the liver, the heart, muscle tissue, the pancreas, and the kidneys. The test is used primarily as a measure of liver function. AST levels may also increase in dogs with heart damage.
  • Bile acids. These tests are important for evaluating liver function. In this case, two blood samples are needed: one taken before eating and one two hours after eating.
  • Bilirubin. This is made in the liver from old red blood cells. This value may increase in dogs with liver or gallbladder disease, or with diseases that destroy red blood cells. Accumulation of this pigment in the body may cause a yellow coloring or jaundice.
  • BUN. Blood urea nitrogen is protein waste material made by the liver and eliminated via the kidneys. A low BUN may indicate liver disease and a high BUN indicate kidney disease or dehydration.
  • Calcium. This mineral is very important for muscle and nerve action as well as bone development. High calcium can be seen in dogs with certain cancers, kidney failure, certain rodenticide poisonings, and parathyroid problems. Low calcium can be seen in bitches after whelping and nursing large litters and with some parathyroid problems.
  • Cholesterol. This level isn't nearly as important in dogs as it is in humans, and is not a factor in canine heart disease. Still, it is a fat and increases can be seen in dogs with hypothyroidism, Cushing's disease, and diabetes, among other problems.
  • Creatinine. This is a waste product of muscles and is normally removed by the kidneys. An increase can indicate kidney disease.
  • CPK or CK. Creatinine phosphokinase or creatinine kinase are different names for a muscle enzyme that increases with muscle damage, including damage to the heart muscle.
  • Glucose. This is blood sugar. Levels are increased in dogs with diabetes mellitus or Cushing's disease, and with steroid use. Low blood sugar may be due to certain cancers, insulin overdose, liver problems or infection.
  • Phosphorus. Abnormal levels of this mineral indicate parathyroid problems, kidney problems, and possible dietary inadequacies.
  • Potassium. This mineral is very important for muscle and nerve functions and for proper regulation of the heart. Kidney failure, an obstructed bladder, Addison's disease, and antifreeze poisoning can all increase potassium levels.
  • Sodium. This mineral is important for normal muscle and nerve function. Levels can be affected by vomiting and diarrhea, and by Addison's disease.

Total protein. This is a measure of the proteins in the blood, including albumin and globulins (which are associated with infections and inflammations). High levels can occur in dogs with dehydration or immune stimulation. Low levels may indicate liver problems.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.