Antibodies are proteins found in cases of infections, bacteria, viruses or other disorders that cause the immune system to negatively affect red blood cell count. A Coombs test looks through blood samples for these antibodies. Costs vary depending on the facility and potential processing fees.
The Coombs Test
A Coombs test, also known as a direct antiglobulin test or an antibody test, detects the presence of antibodies on red blood cells. Antibodies, also known as Immunoglobulins, are proteins that white blood cells create when there is some sort of foreign substance such as infection, bacteria or virus in the body. The antibodies attach themselves to the foreign substance and destroy it. All that's needed for a Coombs test is a small blood sample.
When to Get a Coombs Test
Coombs tests are generally recommended when immune-mediated hemolytic anemia is suspected. IMHA is an immune-related disorder during which a dog's immune system overreacts to either normal cells or cells that are altered to due infection, medication or disease. Bacteria, viruses, infections and environmental toxins triggering immune reactions, and there are many factors that can trigger IMHA, according to the Upstate Animal Medical Center in Saratoga Springs, New York. In many cases, however, the cause or trigger is unidentifiable.
PennGen, a genetic testing facility at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine, offers Coombs' testing for $50. The Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine offers the test for $22, and Oregon State University's College of Veterinary Medicine charges $35. The Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station, Texas, provides the Coombs test to state residents for $14.40 and to out-of-staters for $19.60, plus a $6 to $7.50 processing fee.
Other Tests Add Cost
Some dogs with IMHA are anemic, leading to lethargy, pale or jaundiced gums, vomiting, appetite loss and panting due to respiratory problems. Dogs experiencing these symptoms might need additional tests like X-rays, ultrasound and other diagnostic tests to help determine the underlying problem. These tests create additional costs.
Gauging Test Results
A positive Coombs test means red blood cells are coated with antibodies, signaling an immune-related destruction of the red blood cells. Positive Coombs tests can also occur in animals who don't have IMHA, suggesting additional tests and costs. A negative Coombs test means there is no IMHA present. However, false negatives are seen in 10 percent to 30 percent of canine cases. One reason for false negatives is recent treatment with steroids.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
- PennGen Laboratories: Cost and Payment Procedures
- Upstate Animal Medical Center: Immune-Mediated Hemolytic Anemia, Canine
- VCA Animal Hospitals: Coombs Test
- Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine: MS Veterinary Research & Diagnostic Laboratory Fee List
- WebMD: Antibody Tests (Coombs Test)
- Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine: Available Tests
- Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory
Sarah Whitman's work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, websites and informational booklets. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in nutrition, and her projects feature nutrition and cooking, whole foods, supplements and organics. She also specializes in companion animal health, encouraging the use of whole foods, supplements and other holistic approaches to pet care.