Bloodwork is an important part of monitoring your dog’s health and may be performed for a variety of reasons throughout his lifetime. Two of the components monitored by bloodwork are the proteins albumin and globulin. These important proteins can serve as indicators of disease, and levels are affected by a number of conditions such as liver disease, kidney disease, infection and cancer. These two components together form a third parameter measured on bloodwork known as the total protein.
Protein with Purpose
Albumin is a very important protein produced by the liver. It is the most abundant protein in the blood plasma and plays a large role in maintaining blood in its normal state. Albumin levels can become high in the body due to dehydration, but are more likely to become low due to illness. The most common reasons for low albumin levels, known as hypoalbuminemia, are loss through the kidneys, loss through the intestinal tract or lack of production due to severe liver disease.
Consequences of Hypoalbuminemia
Albumin levels must fall below a certain point before clinical signs will become obvious to you. Although normal ranges vary between laboratories, as a general rule the normal range is 2.7 to 4.4 grams per liter. If the drop in albumin is severe (i.e. less than 2 grams per liter), your dog is most likely to develop swelling in one or all parts of the body due to changes in the fluid balance. You may initially notice swelling of a leg or on the lower part of the belly, which then may progress to other locations. It is also possible for fluid to leak into the body cavities, causing a pendulous or “pot-bellied” appearance of the belly. If the fluid leaks into the chest cavity, your dog may exhibit labored breathing or a cough.
Globulins: Actions and Abnormalities
Globulins are a group of different proteins in the body whose primary role is fighting infection and helping clot the blood. Globulins are primarily made by the immune system, with a small component being produced by the liver. Like albumin, low levels of globulins can result from lack of production (usually seen in puppies who have not yet fully developed their immune system) or loss through the kidneys or intestines. However, the most common abnormality of globulins is over-production resulting in a very high level of globulin proteins in the blood. Hyperglobulinemia, as it is termed, most commonly results from infection, severe inflammation, or cancer.
Canine globulin levels normally fall between 2 and 3.8 grams per deciliter in the blood. As the globulins rise above this level due to overproduction, the blood becomes thicker and less likely to flow well through the blood vessels. This can result in poor circulation which leads to a variety of signs. Nose bleeds occur due to increased pressure in small vessels in the nose, causing them to burst. Seizures can result when the thickened blood fails to carry adequate levels of oxygen to the brain. The liver and kidneys can be affected by the poor blood circulation and illness may result from liver or kidney dysfunction. In some instances the globulin levels become so high that blood must be drained from the affected dog, the extra proteins removed, and the red blood cells given back to the patient.
Managing Protein Problems
Since either of these proteins can be affected by a number of diseases and conditions in the body, it is very important to consult with your veterinarian regarding additional diagnostic tests that should be performed. Based on those results, a treatment plan can be established to best correct the abnormalities and provide you with more information about the underlying cause.