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Cat Blood Test Normal Values & Results Explained (with Definitions)

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Dr. Leigh Wilder (DVM) Photo

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Dr. Leigh Wilder (DVM)

Veterinarian

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In addition to a thorough history and physical exam, blood work is often an important component of a veterinary visit for your feline friend. When the results come in, however, you may wonder—what do these values mean? Does an abnormal result mean that my cat is sick?

The following article will discuss indications for blood work in cats, common blood tests performed, and what certain values may tell your veterinarian about your feline’s overall health.

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Why Might Cats Need Blood Work?

Blood work is commonly performed in cats for a variety of reasons, including:
  • Preanesthetic screening of healthy felines: Your veterinarian may recommend blood work before anesthesia for procedures such as a spay, neuter, or dental cleaning. Preanesthetic blood work will allow your veterinarian to better evaluate whether your pet may be at a higher risk for anesthetic or surgical complications.
  • As part of an annual examination: Yearly blood work for your feline companion may seem tedious or expensive when they are feeling well. Annual lab work, however, is important—especially in older cats—as it can lead to earlier identification and treatment of chronic conditions, such as kidney disease or hyperthyroidism. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends considering annual blood work in cats starting between 7–10 years of age, with frequency increasing as they get older.
  • To further evaluate a cat that is feeling unwell: Cats with signs of illness such as lethargy, weight loss, or changes in eating or drinking habits require further evaluation at a veterinary clinic. Blood work is an important tool that will likely be used by your veterinarian to evaluate possible causes of your cat’s symptoms.
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Common Blood Tests for Felines

From parasitic infections, to heart disease, and everywhere in between, a plethora of feline medical conditions can be diagnosed with the aid of blood work. Many blood tests can be performed for same-day results in your veterinary clinic. However, some require samples that are sent to reference laboratories, and may take several days to receive results.

While an extensive array of blood tests exists for felines, commonly performed blood tests that may be recommended for your cat include the following:
  • Complete blood count (CBC): A CBC provides an evaluation of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. This test can provide evidence for the presence of a variety of conditions, including anemia (low red blood cell count), inflammatory conditions, or cancer.
  • Blood chemistry panel: A blood chemistry or biochemical profile provides information on the function of multiple organ systems, as well as protein values, and blood glucose.
  • Thyroid testing: Thyroid testing in your cat may include the measurement of the hormones T3 (triiodothyronine), T4 (thyroxine), free T4, and TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone). Quantification of these hormones is used to evaluate for hyperthyroidism, a common disease in middle-aged and older felines.
  • Symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA): SDMA is an analyte that provides information on kidney function. Persistently elevated SDMA may be used to diagnose early chronic kidney disease (CKD) in pets, a condition affecting up to 60% of geriatric cats.
  • B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) measurement: BNP is a marker of heart disease that may be used to screen cats at risk for cardiac disease, cats with respiratory symptoms that may be caused by heart disease, or cats that will be going under general anesthesia.
  • SNAP FeLV/FIV combo test: Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are common causes of infectious disease in cats that are found worldwide. According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), testing for FeLV and FIV is recommended when acquiring a new cat, before initial vaccination for these conditions, following exposure to an infected feline, or when a cat is sick.
  • Heartworm: Heartworm is a parasitic infection that can cause damage to the heart, lungs, and associated blood vessels of affected cats. Several different testing options exist and can be used to screen for heartworm in felines.

Specific Laboratory Values and What They Mean

Many blood tests, such as those for FeLV/FIV or heartworm, provide a relatively straightforward “positive” or “negative” result.

The values on tests, such as the CBC or blood chemistry panel, however, require further interpretation by your veterinarian to determine what an abnormal result means. Blood work values will be evaluated as high, low, or normal in relation to a reference range specific to the machine that is performing the testing.

If your cat has had blood work performed, the following values found in a CBC and blood chemistry panel will likely be evaluated:

CBC

  • Hematocrit: Hematocrit is the percentage of blood that is composed of red blood cells. An elevated hematocrit value in cats is often secondary to dehydration. A low hematocrit, also known as anemia, may be caused by blood loss (from trauma or parasitic infections), decreased production of red blood cells (from conditions such as FeLV, cancer, or chronic kidney disease), or increased destruction of red blood cells (from infectious disease, toxins, or immune-mediated conditions). Hematocrit is often evaluated in conjunction with hemoglobin and RBC values.
  • White blood cells (WBC): WBC are a group of cells that help fight infection as a part of the immune system. Specific WBC measured on a CBC include lymphocytes, neutrophils, monocytes, eosinophils, and basophils. An elevated WBC count may be indicative of infection, inflammation, or cancer.
  • Platelets: Platelets are important cells involved in blood clotting. Platelets may be elevated in cancerous or inflammatory conditions. Low platelets, on the other hand, are a common finding in feline bloodwork, as platelets will often clump together resulting in an artificially-reduced count. True causes of low platelets in cats include infectious diseases such as FeLV or FIV, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), cancer, or other inflammatory conditions.
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Blood chemistry panel

  • Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT): ALT is an enzyme released following injury or damage to the liver. Your cat may have an elevated ALT due to inflammation, infection, or cancer affecting the liver. Additionally, conditions such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, pancreatitis, or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) commonly cause elevations in ALT.
  • Albumin: Albumin is the main protein in the peripheral blood. Low levels of albumin may indicate gastrointestinal, kidney, or chronic liver disease, as well as massive blood loss. High levels of albumin can occur with dehydration.
  • Alkaline phosphatase (ALP): ALP is an enzyme found in the liver, bone, and other tissues. ALP may be elevated with liver disease, such as hepatic lipidosis, or cholangiohepatitis (inflammation of the liver and bile duct). An elevated ALP may be normal in growing animals.
  • Blood urea nitrogen (BUN): BUN represents the concentration of urea (a waste product produced by the liver, that is excreted by the kidneys) in the blood. Causes of an elevated BUN include dehydration, kidney disease, and GI bleeds.
  • Calcium: Calcium is an important mineral measured in the blood. Common causes of elevated calcium in cats include cancer and idiopathic hypercalcemia (elevated calcium with an unidentifiable cause).
  • Cholesterol: Cholesterol is a lipid that is both made in the liver and absorbed from food. Elevations in this value may result from a postprandial blood sample (taken after a meal), diabetes, or pancreatitis. Low blood calcium may be noted in cases of chronic liver disease or starvation.
  • Creatinine: Creatinine is a waste product produced by muscle and excreted in the urine. Elevated creatinine in cats is seen with decreased kidney function, while low levels of this value can be seen in animals with a thin body condition or muscle loss.
  • Globulin: Globulins are a group of large proteins found in the blood. Elevations in this value may result from dehydration, chronic inflammation, cancer, or FIP. Low globulin levels may be seen with GI disease or liver dysfunction.
  • Glucose: Glucose, also known as blood sugar, may be elevated in felines due to diabetes or hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), as well as secondary to epinephrine release in stressed cats.
  • Phosphorous: Phosphorous is primarily found in the bone, however, is also found in soft tissues and blood. Common causes of elevated phosphorous in cats include decreased kidney function and hyperthyroidism.
  • Total bilirubin (Tbil): Bilirubin is a byproduct produced by the breakdown of red blood cells. Elevations in this value may be seen due to liver disease or hemolytic anemia.
  • Total protein (TP): This value includes albumin, globulin, and other proteins. Causes for high and low values are similar to those noted for albumin and globulin.

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Conclusion

In summary, blood work is an incredibly helpful tool for evaluating the health of your cat, and may be recommended for your pet in a variety of situations. If your cat has had lab work performed, you can expect that your veterinarian will evaluate their blood work results, along with their history and physical exam findings, to determine whether abnormal results require further evaluation or treatment.


Featured Image Credit: SingingMedia, Shutterstock

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