Dog Bio-Chemistry Panels: Some Things to Consider

 

I wanted to talk about this subject for two reasons: in my experience sole reliance on these tests can result in misinformation (a real life example from my own dog is discussed) and because pet guardians who have raw fed dogs, may encounter situations where biochemistry results are indicating questionable levels in their pet, but are they really questionable?

Clinical biochemistry refers to the analysis of blood plasma for a variety of substances.  The intent is to assess the function of internal organs, electrolytes and enzymes and give an overall level of functionality of your pet.  Most pet guardians know these as “wellness tests” and/or CBC’s (complete blood counts).  These tests can be a valuable source of information BUT the numbers themselves are not the only thing one must consider in interpreting the results.

The levels we see listed as normal to compare our pet’s findings with are actually an average of many “healthy” dogs over time.  The problem is these healthy dogs being used for comparison are kibble fed dogs whose diet tends to be very high in carbohydrates, low in protein (and generally filled with vegetable sources of protein), low in moisture and contain synthetic vitamins and minerals.  This is not a species appropriate diet for our carnivore pets.  Therefore, the “normal” levels may in fact be normal for dogs fed similar diets, but it does not necessarily mean all of those levels are “normal” for our raw fed dogs.

The type of food, how the body digests and utilizes nutrients, environment, stress and lifestyle all have dramatic impacts on biochemistry and the functionality of systems in the body.  So, it would seem logical to suggest that dogs fed raw diets can present with levels that may fall outside the normal levels of dogs fed traditional kibble diets, or raise concerns as being “borderline”.  It is not to say that one should disregard abnormal or borderline levels; that would be a dangerous thing to do.  However, it is important to take a closer look at what that means for YOUR dog, given their history, diet, lifestyle and other indicators of health.  These numbers can become a critical part of assessing wellness, but I do not believe they should be taken without the context of the previously mentioned factors.

I have personally experienced an issue with my own raw fed dog, several years ago.  As a puppy, I ran a CBC baseline as the beginning of determining what is “normal” for him.  He presented with no symptoms, behavior changes or other sings of illness; it was merely a good-to-know test in my opinion.  The numbers for him, if taken solely on their own, provided an inaccurate picture.  The conventional veterinarian decided that based on the results, my dog had a few options of what was “wrong” with him, varying significantly in severity.  These were: poor nutrition, chronic infections, protein losing enteropathy (possibly from giardia) and neoplasia (a potentially fatal condition).  He was quick to rule out poor nutrition, but decided the next course of action was a fecal analysis and drugs to “treat” giardia or an infection.  This perplexed me.  I was confused because as a follower of holistic health (albeit somewhat new at it), I knew it was important to consider all aspects of the pet’s life including  physical symptoms, diet, emotional changes and stress related incidents- Dexter seemed the picture of health.  I had just lost my last dog to terminal cancer, it had been a tough road.  This was my new puppy who was living a vastly different life from any other dog I had ever shared my life with.  I was terrified and I cried at the mere thought of neoplasia and what that could mean in such a young boy.  I gathered my thoughts and stayed true to my beliefs.  I rejected further tests and any treatments at the time; I wasn’t convinced we even knew what we were testing/treating for.  I elected instead to have a conversation with a local homeopathic vet.  He seemed perplexed initially why I took my dog to the vet in the first place.  My reason was just to have a baseline CBC and I summarized the results for him.  His question next was “would you have taken him if you didn’t want the test? Is there something about him that worried you or is wrong with him?”  I said no nothing, I wouldn’t have taken him, and he is happier and healthier than ever, nothing has changed.  His response helped change my view of health forever: “Why are you worrying? He probably does have a parasite or similar.  It seems his immune system is dong what it is suppose to all on its own, why interfere?”  He suggested that if in 30 days I was worried, or if I noted any changes or symptoms in him, to bring him in and he would examine him.  Other wise, let his body be!  That discussion re-enforced what I knew in my heart, but just couldn’t seem to reconcile in my head, in the moment of being faced with such a scary range of illness in my new puppy.  I got scared and didn’t trust my beliefs.  It’s hard to do sometimes, but in time we become more confident in our abilities.  How did it end? Well, I got a new veterinarian and Dexter was just fine, all on his own- there was nothing ‘wrong” with him. I shared this real life story because simply focusing on biochemistry tests alone left me with a list of illness from my vet that ranged from highly treatable, all the way to potentially fatal; that was stressful!  In fact, dehydration, spaying/neutering, medication, stress (also a factor here, Dexter was afraid of vets!), diet and environmental factors can skew some results. Now I take a close look at the results of the test but, I make decisions about those numbers by taking many other factors into consideration.  If I am still worried, perhaps I would run another panel to confirm the first results.  I do believe we should have a number of biochemical panels completed on our pets throughout their lives; they are good things.  This allows us to have a general idea of what is normal for OUR dog over time.

Other issues have emerged in our raw fed dog’s panel results which if taken at face value could again, provide an inaccurate picture; numbers that appear borderline/questionable.  There is now some emerging evidence that can help pet guardians and veterinarians interpret some differences in their raw fed clients.  Dr. Jean Dodds, DVM was involved in a study comparing the differences between normal blood values for dogs fed a raw diet and normal blood values for dogs fed traditional kibble diets.  The study looked at over 200 different dogs of various breeds fed a raw diet for at least 9 months prior.  There were many levels comparable, but there were a few that were notably different.  Hematocrit, BUN and creatinine were all slightly higher.  All of the values for these dogs were in the normal range, but the raw fed dogs scored higher on those three components.  This is a small, isolated study but does show us more work needs to be done.

Last year in an article on cats that looked at raw, cooked and dry diets, blood work revealed higher creatinine and triglyceride in cats eating the cooked and raw diets, though the diets remained in the normal range.  NOTE: the increases in creatinine and BUN from the previous study, are important to note because increases in these levels can raise concerns of kidney disease.  It has sometimes been suggested that a pet with an elevated ALT (an enzyme that becomes elevated with liver disease) on a raw fed diet, is advised to change to a lower protein diet; it is thought the raw diet is too high in protein and caused the level to increase.  This is not necessarily the case. Medications, parasites, infections and inflammation can all elevate this enzyme.  Again, while these tests have a role in monitoring our pet’s health, they are not the only means of doing so; and a single test with elevated numbers may not be the best means of diagnosis or a reason for significant diet change; it is more complicated than that.

I am a firm believer that we need “new normals” for our raw fed dogs.  The components of a raw fed dog’s diet differ dramatically from conventional kibble fed dogs.  How raw fed dogs metabolize their diet also differs dramatically.  To me it makes perfect sense that there will be differences in certain biochemistry results.  In any body, everything is related.   That means that changes in one area can and often does, have an impact on other areas; so, we would see differences elsewhere.  Raw fed dogs are a “new breed” in mainstream society and we will have some additional growing pains.  However, we are finally seeing there is more work to do in this area.  My biggest fear is that pet guardians feeding a quality, balanced, species appropriate raw diet may be deterred from this diet for the wrong reasons.  My opinion is that if the level(s) are of concern, a closer look at all aspects of the pet’s life (including diet, stress, physical symptoms, environment and history of drug/medication use) and a comparison to past tests is in order.  Then, make decisions based on the totality of information.  If you are not sure, wait and take more time to gather the information you need to make the decision best for you (unless of course it is an emergency situation).

As always, if you have a veterinarian that does not support your health and lifestyle choices for your pet, I recommend you seek a qualified holistic vet that can work WITH you for the health of your pet.

 

Stayed tuned next time for Stress: It’s Not Just for Humans Anymore!

 

Wishing you and your four-legged family health and wellness.

 

Michelle Sykes, B.A., Cert. C.N
Canine Nutrition Consultant
Tail Waggin The Dog
K9 Health & Nutrition The Way Nature Intended

“It’s not just dog food; it’s food for dogs!”

tailwagginthedog@eastlink.ca

 

About the Author:

 

Michelle is the owner of a private consulting company focusing on canine health and nutrition.  Having completed a Certificate in Canine Nutrition through a lengthy program under the study of a registered holistic vet, Michelle has gained valuable knowledge and tools that focus on using nutrition to improve health and mitigate illnesses and disease in our dogs lives.  Additional courses through Hill’s Pet, Purina Veterinary and several other continuing education credits created for practicing veterinarians and experienced vet techs in areas of parasites, urinalysis, hematology and GI, Pancreatitis and Thyroid disease, have provided her with a well rounded range of information to draw upon.  Michelle believes in the holistic health perspective and encourages pet guardians to do so as well.  If you are interested in locating a veterinarian that supports and encourages this approach, please go to http://ahvma.org/Widgets/FindVet.html or here   http://www.civtedu.org/canada .

 

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