Why Perform a Urinalysis?
Most pet owners have at some point been asked by their veterinarian to bring in a sample of their pet’s urine. Although it can seem like an extremely odd request (and sometimes a nearly impossible task!) performing an analysis of your pet’s urine can give your veterinarian some big clues about what’s going on in your pet’s body.
Urinary Tract Infection: Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are very common in both dogs and cats. The presence of bacteria as well as white blood cells indicates that your pet has an infection somewhere in their urinary tract. In cases of inappropriate elimination it is extremely important to determine if the cause of the problem is physical or behavioral. Performing a urinalysis to rule out a UTI is a great first step in this differentiation. Antibiotics are often prescribed based on the presence of bacteria and white blood cells in the urine; although in the case of recurring infections your veterinarian may suggest obtaining a sterile urine sample to send out for a specialized lab test called a “culture and sensitivity.”
Urinary Crystals/Stones: Crystals in the urine are often painful for your pet, and can create the perfect environment for UTIs. Additionally, crystals can sometimes clump together in the bladder forming urinary stones. Treatment with a course of antibiotics and a change of food can often readjust the pH of your pet’s urine back to a normal range- ridding their urinary system of crystals. If crystals are present in your pet’s urine your veterinarian may suggest an ultrasound or radiograph to check for the presence of urinary stones. In some cases, certain types of urinary stones are not dissolvable with a food change and will require surgical removal.
Kidney Disease: One of the kidney’s primary functions is to concentrate urine. During a urinalysis, urine density is examined using a handheld tool called a refractometer. Dilute urine (especially first morning urine) often indicates that the kidneys are not functioning properly. This diagnosis is confirmed with blood work that measures additional parameters of kidney function. Although there is no cure for renal disease a food change and supplementation with certain medications can make a big difference in your pet’s longevity and quality of life.
Diabetes: Pets who are suffering from diabetes often have excess glucose in their urine and in their blood stream. Increased glucose levels in the urine will become apparent during a urinalysis. Additionally, some diabetic animals will test positive for ketones in their urine. Ketones are sometimes overproduced in diabetic animals due to the excess breakdown of fat that occurs in their bodies. It is important that animals with increased glucose or ketones in their urine have blood work to check for diabetes.
Urinary Tract Cancer: In the case of some urinary tract tumors, large numbers of epithelial cells can be seen on a urinalysis. The presence of a few epithelial cells is normal, but increased numbers of cells or large sheets of cells can indicate that a tumor may be present. In this instance further imaging (a radiograph or ultrasound) and blood work will likely be recommended to check for the presence of a tumor.
Liver Disease: Bilirubin is a product of the liver that is created from the breakdown of red blood cells. A small amount of bilirubin in the urine of some dogs can be normal, but increased levels can indicate liver disease or the inappropriate destruction of red blood cells. The presence of any amount of bilirubin in the urine of a cat is always cause for concern and should be followed up with blood work to check liver function and the red blood cell concentration.