Why Is My Cat Or Dog’s Blood Albumin Level Low Or High?
Ron Hines DVM PhD
Many foods contain albumin: egg whites, beef, pork and poultry are all high in it. However, the albumin they contain is broken down into its constituent amino acids by pepsin, chymotrypsin and trypsin enzymes in your pet’s digestive system before it is absorbed. So you can’t directly raise your pet’s blood albumin level by feeding high-albumen foods. Once in your cat or dog’s body, a healthy liver reassembles some of those amino acids into the albumin in its blood. The rest is used for cell construction throughout the body and for the creation of other protein-containing elements.
Here are some of the common reasons that your pet’s blood albumin level could be low. Many less common reasons exist:
Reasons That Your Pet’s Blood Albumin Level Might Be Low (=hypoallbuminemia):
When food absorption problems such as IBD in cats or in dogs are present that limit protein absorption from your pet’s diet. Similar maldigestion/malabsorption problems can also lower the amount of protein available for albumin formation in your pet’s liver. The inflamed intestines that often accompany these diseases also allow the blood albumen that is formed in your pet’s liver to leak out into its intestine and exit its body.
When your cat suffers from Chronic Pancreatitis: Chronic pancreatitis is much less common in dogs. In those cases your pet’s ability to produce digestive and absorptive enzymes become reduced or lost lost. The fpl test is the best way for your veterinarian to confirm that your cat has this problem.
When your pet develops Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI): EPI is much more common in dogs than in cats. German shepherds rank high on the list of the common breeds affected. In EPI cases, the acinar cells in your dog’s pancreas that produce digestive enzymes atrophy (wither away) for unknown reasons. When their pancreas can no longer produce enough of those important digestive enzymes, not enough protein is absorbed from food for its liver to produce sufficient replacement blood albumen. The cPL test is the best way for your veterinarian to confirm that your dog has this problem.
When your cat suffers from one of many forms of Triad Disease: This syndrome including cholangiohepatitis, a situation when your cat’s liver, intestine, pancreatic and/or gall bladder functions have been compromised by chronic inflammation. All of those situations can result in lower than normal blood albumen level. The underlying cause(s) of this disease which takes many different forms remains unknown.
Intestinal parasites: When heavy intestinal parasite burdens due to organisms such as hookworms or strongyloides , tritrichomonads, etc. produce intestinal inflammation severe enough to leak blood proteins and hinder the absorption of new replacement protein nutrients from your pet’s diet. Tapeworms and roundworms, although disgusting, rarely cause this problem. In well-kept dogs and cat, chronic Giardia infections are almost always due to some other underlying health issue – not the parasite itself.
Diet: When your dog or cat is fed a diet that is too low in protein; or when the quality of the protein ingredients in that pet’s food is poorly digestible, blood albumen levels are likely to be low. Starvation or anything that lessens your cat or dog’s appetite or its willingness or ability to eat will eventually cause its blood albumin level to drop.
Destructive Liver Disease: When your pet’s liver’s role in albumin synthesis (formation) is interfered with, its ability to produce albumen is reduced. Your dog or cat’s liver is the source of the majority of the albumin that circulates in its bloodstream.
When your dog or cat suffers from Portosystemic liver shunt(s): This is a situation where absorbed nutrients and toxins abnormally bypass (“short circuit”) your pet’s liver and pass directly into its bloodstream. In those cases, many of your pet’s liver functions are reduced. A bile acids blood test the usual way your veterinarian detects this problem.
When your dog or cat suffers from Chronic Kidney Disease: Chronic kidney disease (nephrotic syndrome) allows blood albumin to escape (“leak”) from your pet’s blood stream and into its urine. From there it is lost from its body. A measure of your pets blood creatinine and urine microalbumin level usually detects this problem.
When your dog suffers from generalized Demodectic Mange: In untreated generalized (wide spread) mange cause by this parasite, your dog’s general health will decline and its body will enter a negative nitrogen balance. Cats are more commonly affected by different mange mites, but in severe cases their health is affected in similar ways regardless of the mite species involved.
When your dog or cat suffers from Sarcoptic Mange: Inflammation and skin damage allow the loss of blood serum proteins in the fluids that ooze from the pet’s skin lesions.
When inflammation and skin damage due to bacteria allow for blood serum loss (oozing): The skin damage caused by pyodermas such as staphylococci bacteria of various strains allow the loss of serum proteins into the fluids that ooze from the skin wounds. Many of the pets that face this issue are severely allergic. Their skin damage is due to their constant chewing and scratching (self-trauma).
When you dog or cat suffers from severe skin burns: Burns can be due to heat or to chemicals. Skin damage allow the loss of serum proteins in the fluids that ooze from the wounds. Another common cause are pavement burns when a dog or cat is hit by a car.
When Large amounts of emergency IV fluids are given: When the volume of fluid administered is sufficient to dilute the concentration of albumin in your dog or cat’s blood stream.
When major blood loss occurs: Car accidents are a common cause of major blood loss. Much less commonly, a major blood-containing organ such as the spleen or liver is ruptured – either due to trauma or perhaps a bursting hemangioma. When that occurs, blood pools in the abdomen. With time, the blood is all reabsorbed and recycled. But until then the remaining blood is more dilute. More albumin protein in the blood is lost than its liver can rapidly replenish.
Reasons That Your Pet’s Blood Albumin Level Could Be High (hyperalbuminemia):
Over-production of albumin is not known to occur. But dehydration, prolonged fever or shock can concentrate the ingredients of your pet’s blood, making albumin and globulin in your pet’s blood appear to be high. In those cases the A:G ratio remains normal and the dog or cats hematocrit / PCV will be above normal.
Albumin levels can also falsely appear to be high when the sample was improperly drawn, handled or is lipemic.
CBC / WBC and Blood Chemistry panel, Fecal exam for parasites, Tritrichomonas (in cats) , Blood total protein, trypsin-like immunoreactivity test (=TLI), B12 / Folate level, fecal alpha-1 test, Diet nutritional analysis, ultrasound, liver or kidney biopsies
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