Your pet’s urine can provide veterinary professionals with important information about your pet’s health. A urinalysis (urine + analysis) is a useful diagnostic tool when diagnosing or monitoring many medical conditions, including:
- Hydration level
- Renal (kidney) function
- Urinary tract disorders (e.g.: bacterial infection; increased crystals/sediment in the urine)
- Monitoring of a specific condition, e.g.: a Snake Venom Detection Kit can be used on blood or urine
How can they tell all this just from urine? There are several tests veterinary professions perform when assessing urine; some of these are done within your local vet clinic, but for other tests the urine sample needs to be sent to an external laboratory with more sophisticated equipment.
It is important to remember that urinalysis results on their own do not necessarily guarantee that your pet has a particular health problem. Results are always interpreted alongside your pet’s clinical history and individual circumstances, as well as their presenting clinical signs and other diagnostic tests.
However, urinalysis is a useful and non-invasive way of helping to diagnose problems and monitor known medical conditions. For example, some people with a diabetic pet can use a dipstick test at home to monitor whether their pet’s urine contains glucose or ketones, and therefore assist in determining the success of treatment.
The particular tests your vet performs can vary, but a basic in-house urinalysis consists of the following:
1. Physical appearance
This includes the colour of the urine, does it contain visible fats or blood, is it concentrated (darker) or dilute, is it clear or cloudy in appearance?
2. Urine Specific Gravity (USG)
USG is measured by placing a drop of urine onto a hand-held device called a refractometer, which determines the ratio of the weight of a volume of urine, compared with the weight of an equal volume of distilled water. This tells us about how well your pet’s kidneys are working, however other variables also need to be considered, such as hydration. For example, if your pet is dehydrated their urine will be more concentrated and usually appear much darker, as the body tries to excrete waste but conserve fluid. Conversely, if your pet is well-hydrated, e.g. if they’re receiving intravenous fluids in hospital, they generally produce urine which is more dilute because the waste products are in a larger volume of fluid.
3. Dipstick analysis
This test doesn’t test the oil in your car, but it’s a quick and straightforward way of helping to identify several potential health problems.
Each test strip is impregnated with multiple reagents which will change colour if the urine triggers a chemical reaction (no, it won’t tell you if your pet is pregnant). A dipstick test can help assist in the diagnosis or monitoring of:
- Diabetes – increased glucose in the urine could mean your pet has diabetes, however glucose can also be increased in stressed cats. Ketones in the urine can indicate Diabetic Ketoacidosis, which is a complication of uncontrolled diabetes
- Liver disease or other conditions causing jaundice – if urine contains increased bilirubin, this indicates a disease process causing breakdown of haemaglobin in the blood (this is what causes the yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Kidney disease – or other conditions causing protein (e.g.: albumin) loss in the urine
- Conditions affecting blood, causing blood or haemaglobin loss in urine
4. Sediment examination
This involves placing a small amount of urine into a tube and spinning it in a centrifuge. This forces the heavy sediment in the sample to the bottom of the tube. When the liquid component is siphoned off, the remaining sediment is transferred to a glass slide and examined under a microscope. A sediment examination can identify various types of blood cells, urinary crystals or bacteria, which could be causing a urinary tract infection or blockage (primarily male cats) in your pet.
Find out how to collect a urine sample from your cat or dog here.