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Why Is My Dog 's Total Blood Protein Level Abnormal ?

Why Is My Cat 's Total Blood Protein Level Abnormal ?

To see what normal blood and urine values are for your pet, go here

For an explanation of causes of most abnormal blood and urine tests go here

To see how tests are often grouped, go here

Ron Hines DVM PhD

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Your Pet's Total Blood Protein Level

TP In Blood

Your pet’s Total Protein (TP) tells your vet a lot of things. It is a clue to how well your dog or cat is hydrated. It also tells your veterinarian a lot about how well your pet’s liver and kidneys are functioning. When we known the amount of albumen within the TP fraction that part is subtracted from the TP to give your pet's globulin level. Low or high globulin can alert your veterinarian to chronic inflammation or infectious disease that may be present.

The blood of your dog or cat contain a large number of dissolved specialized proteins. Some of them transport vital nutrients to cells; others function as hormones or antibodies against disease. But the majority (55%) of your pet’s blood protein is albumin –the same protein that makes up much of the egg whites you eat. Albumin is produced in your pet’s liver. It helps keep your pet’s blood pH in a narrow range, binds to many hormones allowing them to circulate throughout the body and helps keep fluids in their proper place (osmotic effect).

When your pet is severely deficient in TP, fluid can leak into the space surrounding its lungs (pleural effusion) and abdominal organs (ascites). Respectively, that causes difficulty breathing or a potbelly.

The next most prevalent proteins in your pet’s blood that form part of the TP are globulins (38%). Some is produced in your pet’s liver and some (the immunoglobulins or antibodies) are made by portions of your pet’s immune system (lymphoid tissue).

The third most prevalent blood protein included in TP is fibrinogen (~ 5%). Fibrinogen converts to fibrin which is utilized in your pet's blood clotting process. If the laboratory is checking your pet's blood serum after the blood has clotted (red top tube) , that will not be included in your pets TP level. If the test was performed on whole blood plasma (purple top tube) the TP number will be a bit higher because the fibrinogen is still present.

Since the TP is mostly a combination of albumin and globulin, two different disease processes will make the TP level go up or down – one relates to the fate of the globulin produced by your pet’s liver and the other to its immune system function.

Reasons Why Your Pet’s Total Protein (TP) Level Could High :

The most common reason your pet’s TP level would be elevated is dehydration. That could be due to a failure to drink, chronic diarrhea, vomiting or prolonged fever.

The second most common reason is stimulation of your pet’s immune system to make globulin-containing antibodies. Infections and chronic inflammations are the likely cause.

In older pets, an immune system tumor needs to be considered (monoclonal gammopathy).

Most veterinary blood chemistry determinations give immune globulin values separately from total protein; although the TP includes it.

Elevated TP is very common in cats that suffer from FIP. It can also occurs with ehrlichia and autoimmune diseases (lupus).

Reasons Why Your Pet’s Total Protein (TP) Level Could Be Low :

Just as for abnormally high TP levels, abnormally low TP values can be due to either a low albumin or a low globulin protein portion.

A common cause in younger dogs is a heavy hookworm infection.

In mature dogs, chronic intestinal inflammation (protein-loosing enteropathies), such as IBD, certain food sensitivities (malabsorption syndromes) or pre-lymphoma states (primarily in cats) will also allow blood proteins to leak out of the body.

Dogs and cats with chronic liver and pancreatic problems (triad disease, cholangiohepatitis) also tend to have low TP levels.

Not getting enough high quality protein in their diet is another potential cause of low blood protein levels in dogs and cats.

Pet with extensive liver damage no longer have the ability to manufacture sufficient albumen. So their TP levels are usually low.

Pets in kidney failure often loose large amounts of protein in their urine. Urinalysis for urine protein content checks for that.

Protein can also be lost to abnormal fluids that pool in the chest and abdomen of dogs and cats in heart failure. Losses of large amounts of blood will also deplete your pet’s blood protein stores.

TP can drop in acute infections and inflammation when chemicals called cytokines are released into the pet’s circulation (a negative acute phase response).

Loss of large amounts of blood serum containing albumen and globulins through burns, wounds and extensive skin infections (such as sarcoptic mange) can also lower TP. In demodectic mange, it is the globulin portion that might be low.

Puppies and kittens tend to have lower TP levels because they are not yet producing globulin antibodies at the level of mature pets.

Dogs and cats with failing hearts tend to have lower than normal TP levels – probably due to poor circulation in their liver where albumin is made and pooling of protein-rich fluids in their chest and abdomen.

All the causes I listed for low blood albumin levels will also cause low TP levels.

Total protein is naturally lower in greyhounds and possibly other sighthounds as well (4.5-6.2 vs 5.4-7.8) (ref).

Complementary Tests :

WBC and blood chemistry values, serum protein electrophoresis (for hyperglobulinaemia), urine protein electrophoresis, radial immunodiffusion for IgG, IgA and IgM (canine) (for suspected immunodeficiency and classification of myelomas), pancreatic function tests, TLI, B12 /Folate blood test for intestinal leakage problems, fecal exam for parasites

.................... DxMe