The Importance of Senior Cat Blood Work

It is with coffee in hand and cat on lap that I write today about a topic that elicits numerous questions (and the occasional eye roll) from owners: regular senior blood /urine panels.

Let’s begin by asking a couple questions:

  • Do you spend every moment of the day and night tracking your cat’s behavior?
  • Do you closely monitor how many millimeters of water your cat drinks, how many minutes it sleeps, the weight and appearance of each urine clump and stool?

If you answered “No” to these questions then you might be missing something! You are also a normal cat owner. The reality is that even if you followed your cat around all day, you would still be blissfully unaware of many diseases in their early stages – chronic, progressive diseases like Chronic Kidney Disease, Diabetes, Hyperthyroid disease, and many cancers are usually highly advanced by the time they are diagnosed. This is why regular senior blood/urine panels are recommended for cats 8 years of age and older.

You might think: “I’m a good cat owner – certainly I would notice something wrong!” To even the most discerning of cat owners, a sick cat may act entirely normally. First, cats don’t speak our language, so they can’t communicate to us that something hurts or doesn’t feel right. Second, domestic cats are a prey species, meaning they have evolved the behavioral tendency to hide signs of illness and injury in order to prevent becoming a target for predators. Last, owners may be aware that something is a bit “off” with their cat, but because it doesn’t seem serious, they may wait and let it “simmer”. Don’t wait! It is far easier, and in the end, less expensive for you if you have your Lomsnes Veterinary Hospital veterinarian manage and perhaps cure a serious illness in the early stages. Leave it too long and you may need to call a miracle worker instead.

What are we looking at when we run a blood panel? Answering this question can be tedious and detailed and suffice it to say that veterinarians take years of courses in order to analyze and interpret blood panel results in many different species.

A senior blood panel can be broken down into 3 components:

  1. Complete Blood Count (CBC): abnormalities on the CBC can help diagnose infection, anemia, blood disorders, clotting disorders, and some cancers.
  2. Chemistry: abnormalities on the chemistry panel can diagnose diabetes, liver and kidney disease, electrolyte imbalances, and gastrointestinal disturbances.
  3. Thyroid hormone levels: abnormally high and low thyroid hormone levels are consistent with hyper- and hypothyroidism respectively.

Once blood is collected, we then proceed to collect urine using a technique called cystocentesis. This involves the veterinarian locating the bladder manually or with an ultrasound and passing a sterile needle into the bladder to draw up a sample of urine. Although it might sound horrific, cats tolerate it very well. If your veterinarian has any concerns that your cat might struggle during the procedure, sedation will be recommended for its safety. Once obtained, the urine is analyzed in our lab machine and under the microscope and its concentration is determined. As a professor of mine used to say: “Urine is yellow to remind you that it is worth its weight in GOLD diagnostically!” In other words, urine tells your veterinarian a lot about your cat’s health.

Should any abnormalities be noted on blood work or urinalysis your Lomsnes Veterinary Hospital veterinarian may require further diagnostic tests to obtain more specific information about the medical problem.

In short, regular senior blood work is a vital and often underutilized tool in maintaining a healthy and happy cat. Although the cat is the most common pet in North America, it is frequently perceived as less valuable than its canine counterpart, and suffers the lack of regular veterinary care. Considering all the affection, laughter, joy, and lap-warming that our cats provide us daily, I would argue that they are invaluable companions and deserving of the best life we can offer them. Regular senior blood/ urine panels are a way that we can maintain our feline friends’ general good health and quality of life.

Written by: Dr. Rebecca