When an animal’s medical situation is unclear or requires additional testing to determine a diagnosis or accurate treatment options, veterinarians need to take samples. Blood, urine, feces, and bladder stones are samples that may require further analysis. Blood samples usually include a CBC, or complete blood count, and CHEM, or a biochemical profile, a test that evaluates organs, electrolytes, and enzymes. After retrieving the samples from the animals, the veterinarian considers using reference laboratories or in-house laboratories for analysis.

What Is the Difference Between In-House and Reference Laboratories?

In-house labs are at the ready in the facility where caretakers bring their pets to see the veterinarian. Reference labs are separate facilities that require extra time and safe transportation of samples. They specifically employ board-certified pathologists and trained technologists and have accreditation from the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians. Veterinarians may use both types of laboratories for different reasons.

Why Veterinarians Use an In-house Laboratory

  Analyzing results within the in-house laboratory allows for quick results, especially if the animal’s medical condition is an emergency and requires immediate answers. A veterinarian can control the machines and where the sample is and does not have to worry about sample transport complications. Sometimes, a veterinarian uses both the in-house and bio reference labs to double-check results against each other. However, when a situation is not life-or-death, reference laboratories can provide the most accurate results.

Benefits of the Reference Laboratory

Per the American Animal Hospital Association, veterinarians send more than 60% of blood samples to reference labs. The board-certified pathologists in reference labs are able to oversee testing. During complete blood cell count testing, a microscopic blood film examination is crucial. As a result, in accredited, highly standardized reference labs, this step is required. However, veterinarians sometimes skip this critical step when examining results in-house due to a lack of time or expertise. Ultimately, the standards in reference labs are so well-established that results can stand up in a court of law, in the case of malpractice lawsuits.

In situations involving anesthesia, getting blood sampled and analyzed in advance rather than the day of is critical to an animal’s well-being. A veterinarian samples blood to make sure the animal is able to tolerate the anesthesia for a future surgery or procedure. Taking these samples and sending them to reference labs allow for a focused, accurate analysis. The results can help the veterinarian and caretakers to either receive reassurance or follow up on abnormal findings.

Types of Equipment Used to Examine Blood Samples

To determine a complete blood cell count, three types of machines, known as hematology analyzers, are the most common. All three machines are effective at counting only one or two particular types of cells, e.g., white blood cells, red blood cells, or platelets.

  • Laser flow cell counters utilize a laser to count cells. The cells reflect light at varying angles, allowing this method to work effectively. This machine is most useful for counting red blood cells.
  • Impedance technology analyzers uses electrical conductance to count cells and approximate sizes of cells. This analyzer works well for overall red blood cell and white blood cell counts.
  • Quantitative buffy coat analyzers use centrifugation to separate cells and determine the heights of various cell layers. This analyzer works best for red blood cell and platelet counts.
Both Labs Can Help

Having access to both in-house and reference laboratories allows a veterinarian to serve animals and reassure caregivers. When time is of the utmost important, important machines are available in-house. However, when time is flexible, the most reliable option exists in reference laboratories, with whom the veterinarian has established a strong working relationship.