What your vet learns from a blood test

Veterinarians look at red and white blood cell counts, platelets and other components.

Veterinarians look at red and white blood cell counts, platelets and other components.

Veterinarians look at red and white blood cell counts, platelets and other components.

Blood tests are one of a veterinarian’s basic diagnostic tools to figure out what’s wrong with your horse. A routine test includes a complete blood count, also known as a chemistry profile. This is an overall assessment of your horse’s health at the time of the vet visit. While a CBC doesn’t specify whether your horse has a particular condition, the results can hint at anemia, infections or other underlying issues.

A CBC evaluates your equine’s red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and plasma. The total number of red blood cells – the RBC count – and the percentage they make up in the blood – the hematocrit, packed cell volume or PCV – can indicate whether your horse is anemic or dehydrated.

An elevated white blood cell count signals your horse is fighting an infection or inflammation. There are five types of white blood cells: basophils, eosinophils, lymphocytes, monocytes and neutrophils. Each type gives a vet clues as to the problem your horse has. For example, a high neutrophil count suggests pneumonia, according to Equus Magazine. Vets can also use specific white blood cell counts to diagnose allergies and parasites. Changes in a white blood cell’s structure are also useful for diagnosis, indicating infection, inflammation or blood cancer.

The platelet count indicates your horse’s clotting ability. Platelets have a life span of a few weeks, according to Washington State University, and are constantly replenished by the bone marrow.  A low count indicates damage to the marrow or an outside source causing the platelets to die faster than normal. As a result, your horse is at risk for uncontrolled bleeding. Low platelet counts can be caused by drugs, parasites or issues with the immune system.

“The plasma contains electrolytes, enzymes, proteins and other chemicals.”

Plasma, also known as serum, is the clear liquid that remains after all blood cells are removed. The plasma contains electrolytes, enzymes, proteins and other chemicals that indicate the health of specific organs and a horse’s overall well-being. For instance, elevated fibrinogen levels, a protein that helps blood clot, can indicate issues with the liver. Measuring fibrinogen is a quick way to diagnose infection, inflammation, trauma and abnormal growths.

The serum profile also shows levels of urea and bilirubin, which vets look at to make sure the kidneys are healthy. Liver enzyme levels indicate the health of this organ, while elevated muscle enzymes suggest cell death somewhere in the body.

Other blood tests check your horse for specific diseases, either by looking for antibodies or specific organisms.

Testing healthy horses
Routine blood work costs around $100, according to TheHorse.com. You might be tempted to forgo the expense, but a baseline test is necessary for observing future changes in your horse’s health. Plus, blood tests indicate potential health problems long before your horse starts showing symptoms.

To support healthy blood results in your horse, give it equine supplements like Finish Line’s Total Control or Total Control PLUS. These multisystem health care products contain the same active ingredients as Finish Line’s Iron Power for healthy blood and to help prevent iron deficiency anemia.