A question that frequently comes up is whether blood values can or cannot determine the nutritional needs of dogs. For the most part, the answer is ‘No’. Blood work results are described as a ‘snapshot’ of your dog’s blood values at the time the blood work is done and shows if infections, disease or other abnormalities may be present. It also indicates how the body is metabolizing certain values. For instance, if a blood work test shows high calcium, it does not mean that too much calcium is in the diet. Certain diseases or ailments can cause the body to metabolize calcium so that more is circulating in the blood and does not apply to what is in the bones (where calcium is stored).
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High phosphorus levels does not mean the dog is getting too much phosphorus, but rather the body is having problems filtering it so it is staying in the blood. This may indicate renal problems, but it is important to look at the blood values for more clues. The same holds true for other blood work results.
What blood work can do is help with diagnosis and discovery of certain conditions such as liver problems, renal issues, adrenal disorders such as Cushing’s Disease or Addison’s Disease, dehydration, infection, hypothyroidism, and diabetes, to mention a few. Some of these may require diet changes depending on the severity of the problem.
What blood work values do not tell you, and cannot tell you, is what nutrients or supplements your dog may be lacking. , or if the diet you are feeding is insufficient. Usually, a dog will show physical symptoms of the nutrient loss (such as calcium) before it shows up in a routine blood analysis.
I will briefly explain each of the conditions and values that may require diet change, with links to explore more in depth.
Generally, some blood levels that show the liver may be affected include:
ALP (Alkaline phosphatase)
GGT (Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase)
AST (also called aspartate aminotransferase or SGOT)
TBILI (Total Bilirubin)
ALT (alanine aminotransferase or SGPT)
As mentioned before, blood work values are a ‘snapshot’ in time, and repeat tests are needed to make sure the results are consistent. Moreover, while blood work reflects the ‘normal’ for the test, some dogs (and people) may be normal at slightly high or low levels in many of these. For further details on liver blood work explanation, see the following links:
If there is a liver issue, diet changes can be made that are beneficial for supporting the liver. See the recipe link below:
BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen)
There are other blood levels that can be used to determine possible renal disease, but generally, these are the first three blood levels to become elevated. Renal disease can be caused by many factors, including genetics (malformed kidneys), tick borne disease, leptospirosis, chronic urinary tract infections, NSAIDs and other drugs or poison insults. It is important to get a good diagnosis from your veterinarian and to understand if the problem is acute (treatable) or chronic. Simple diet adjustments can be helpful for dogs with renal problems, especially when the BUN is over 80 and creatinine is over 2 or 3. Two simple diet adjustments that can be very beneficial are providing moist foods and foods lower in phosphorus. Moist foods will help keep the dog’s body from pulling other body fluids to the digestive tract to help digest the food. Additionally, dogs with impaired kidneys have trouble processing phosphorus, so feeding foods with reduced or lower levels of phosphorus helps reduce the strain on the kidneys. For more diet information for dogs with kidney disease, see the link below:
For dogs with struvite or oxalate crystals and stones, the following link provides helpful information:
Please note, the biggest cause of struvite crystals and stones in dogs is a urinary tract infection. This condition does not require a diet change, but rather a sterile urine culture to find the correct antibiotic to stop the infection.
These are both enzymes and when the levels become elevated, it can indicate pancreatitis.
Pancreatitis is another problem that can be caused by many things and these need a veterinarian’s diagnosis. These can include medications (steroids), hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, to mention a few. Low fat diets can help a dog through the healing and recovery of Pancreatitis. The following link gives some examples:
It is a good idea to do a yearly blood chemistry test on your dog, and to keep each year’s records on file in the event any issues arise. Blood work panels are a great diagnostic tool. They help indicate health problems that might occur, and are an excellent way to monitor your dog’s health. This is especially important for senior dogs. However, blood work does not give you information on diet, nutritional needs or deficiencies, or diet changes and/or adjustments that may be needed, except when needed in the event of specific illness.
For further information on canine blood chemistry values:
Interpretation of Canine Blood Test Results: