Why is lab work important in horses?

Lab work can be important to help diagnose a variety of conditions or diseases that might require changes in management, exercise, or treatment in some cases. Blood work can recognize an abnormality before you even see clinical signs of it, thus protecting your horse and other horses.

Dr. Kari Bevevino
Roaring Fork Equine Medical Center

What health conditions could lab work help to diagnose?

Lab work can be helpful at diagnosing disease of multiple systems including the kidneys, the liver, the neurologic system, the endocrine system, as well as looking for signs of infection or blood loss.

What is a Coggins test?

A Coggins test is a test that is usually run annually on your horse. It requires a blood draw and the blood is put into a tiger top tube. The Coggins test is designed to evaluate if your horse is infected with equine infectious anemia, EIA, which is a virus that's spread by flies. Once a horse is infected, it is infected for life and can pose a risk to other horses. If we find that a horse is infected, we have to report it to government officials, who will become involved and ensure your horse is quarantined. Fortunately, Coggins disease is relatively uncommon, though still prevalent across the US.

Is DNA testing good for your horse?

DNA testing can be very helpful to recognize a variety of genetic conditions we do see in horses. It is particularly useful in certain breeds like the American Quarter Horse that do have genetic diseases that we test for to determine the risk to themselves as well as the risk to their offspring.

How do you take blood from the horse?

The blood is taken from the jugular vein using a syringe. Depending on what we're testing for, we usually take anywhere from 5 to 20 ml of blood. The blood is then put into different tubes depending on the test being run - a purple top tube, a green top tube, or a tiger top tube.

These tubes are different in the anticoagulant that's in them, and it depends on what we can get from them, as well as the specific test we're running and the machine it requires. Each particular type of anticoagulant or blood sample may be needed.

Therefore, you'll always see us pulling out a variety of tubes. We do this because it helps us acquire different types of samples to test for various things. That's why we usually end up collecting quite a bit of blood. While it may seem like a substantial amount for a horse, it's hardly anything, so no big deal there.

How often should lab work be done on a horse?

The frequency of lab work depends on your horse. If your horse is healthy and performing well, we might not need to do it that frequently. If your horse has been diagnosed with a particular condition, the nature of that condition will likely determine how frequently your horse needs monitoring. For instance, if your horse is severely affected by kidney disease, you might need to monitor them weekly. On the other hand, conditions like equine Cushing's, or Pars Pituitary Intermediate Dysfunction (PPID), an endocrine disease seen in older horses, may require testing every three to six months or even just once a year.

The monitoring frequency depends on your horse's overall health, their specific condition, and any changes you may observe. If your horse is healthy and doing well without any noticeable issues, there might not be a need for frequent blood work unless there are changes or concerns that arise.

How long does it take for blood work results to come back?

It all depends on what we're testing for. The CBC (complete blood count) test takes about five minutes to run. The chemistry test, which evaluates liver disease or kidney disease, electrolytes or proteins, takes about 20 minutes.

This one, and we usually use it for what we call blood gases. I use it frequently during anesthesia, providing quick results on how well your horse is oxygenating its blood and checking blood gas levels. We have the capability to run many of these tests in-house. However, there are still many tests that we send to outside labs depending on the specific test and the lab's capabilities.

For example, a tox screen test sent to the lab typically takes a day once it reaches there. So, you can usually expect these results back in two to three days, ensuring a relatively quick turnaround time. In contrast, tests like EPM (equine protozoa myelitis) may take up to four to five business days when we send out blood collected in one of these tubes.

The turnaround time depends on the nature of the test, but many of the field tests provide same-day results, allowing us to report them to you promptly. While some tests have a quick turnaround, others may require a bit more patience.

What do you do if your horse has an abnormality on blood work?

It depends on what the abnormality is. Some things we might just monitor, while others might guide us in treating your horse for something, monitoring certain conditions, or even pursuing another test. The key is not to panic, as there's always more information that we can gain about the problem and possibilities of treatment.

If you still have other questions and you'd like to reach out to us, you can call us directly at (970) 987-4757, or you can email us at [email protected]. But please do reach out, and we'll get back to you as fast as we can. Don't forget to follow us on social media Facebook, Instagram