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Why does my pet need a urinalysis?

Why does my pet need a urinalysis?

A urinalysis can help your vet detect whether your cat or dog might have a disease or health condition that requires treatment. Here, our Gaithersburg vets discuss why regular urinalysis testing for pets is important. 

Urinalysis for Pets

A simple diagnostic test called a urinalysis helps determine the physical and chemical properties of your pet's urine. While our specialty and emergency vets most frequently use a urinarlysis to evaluate the health of a cat or dog's urinary system and kidneys, it can also uncover issues with other organ systems. 

All senior pets eight years of age and older should have a urinalysis done annually. Your veterinarian may also recommend a urinalysis if your pet is drinking more water or urinating more frequently than usual, or if blood is visible in their urine. 

Collecting a Urine Sample 

There are three main methods of collecting urine from cats and dogs: 

Mid-Stream Free Flow: The sample is collected into a sterile container while your pet urinates voluntarily. Frequently referred to as a "free catch" or "free flow" sample, this method is completely non-invasive and allows the pet owner to collect a urine sample at home.

Cystocentesis: A sterile needle and syringe will be used to collect urine from the bladder. The benefit of cystocentesis is that urine will not be contaminated by debris from the lower urinary tract. This sample is ideal for helping your vet to evaluate the bladder and kidneys. It can also be used to detect bacterial infection. This procedure is slightly more invasive than others and should only be performed if the pet's bladder is full. 

Catheterization: This is a less invasive method of extracting urine from a dog's bladder and is an excellent option when a voluntary sample is unavailable, especially in male dogs. A very narrow sterile catheter will be inserted into the bladder through the lower urinary passage (urethra). 

Understanding the Results of a Urinalysis

A urinalysis has four main elements: 

  1. Assess the appearance of the urine, including its color and turbidity (cloudiness).
  2. Measure the concentration (also known as density) of the urine. 
  3. Measure pH (acidity) and analyze the urine's chemical composition. 
  4. Examine the cells and solid material (urine sediment) in the urine using a microscope. 

Urine samples should be analyzed within 30 minutes of collection since other factors (such as bacteria, cells, and crystals) can alter its composition (causing dissolution or multiplication). 

If you collect a urine sample at home, please return it to our veterinary hospital as soon as possible. Unless we are evaluating your pet's ability to concentrate urine, or screening for Cushing's disease, the actual timing of urine collection is insignificant. However, if we are screening for Cushing's disease or evaluating your pet's ability to concentrate urine, it's ideal to take a urine sample first thing in the morning. 

Color & Turbidity 

Urine that is pale yellow, or light amber, in color and is clear or slightly cloudy is healthy. Dark yellow urine typically indicates your pet needs to drink more water or is dehydrated. Urine that is not yellow (for example, orange, brown, red, or black) can contain substances that are not normally found in healthy urine and may point to an underlying health condition. 

Increased turbidity or cloudiness in your pet's urine indicates presence of cells or other solid materials. When inflammatory cells, crystals, blood, debris, or mucus are present, turbidy will increase. The sediment will be examined to determine which of these elements are present and whether they are significant. 


Think of concentration as the density of the urine. If your pet's kidney is healthy, it will produce dense (concentrated) urine, where as dilute or watery urine in cats and dogs may be a symptom of underlying disease. 

If there is too much water in the body, the kidneys will allow it to pass through the urine, making the urine more watery or dilute. If there's not enough water in the body, the kidneys reduce the amount of water lost in the urine, making it more concentrated. 

A cat or dog passing dilute urine from time to time is not necessarily a cause for concern. However, if a pet continuously passes dilute urine, this may point to an underlying metabolic or kidney disease that needs further investigation and management. 

pH & Chemical Composition

The pH level of the urine indicates its acidity. The pH of urine in healthy pets is usually between 6.5 and 7.0. If the pH is acidic (pH less than 6) or alkaline (pH greater than 7), bacteria can thrive and crystals or stones can form.

Normal variations in urine occur throughout the day, especially when certain foods and medications are consumed. If the rest of the urinalysis is normal, a single urine pH reading is not a cause for concern. If it is consistently abnormal, your veterinarian may wish to investigate further.

Cells & Solid Material (Urine Sediment)

Some of the cells present in your pet's urine can include:

Red Blood Cells: Red blood cells may indicate bladder wall or kidney trauma or irritation. In pets with bladder or kidney infections, bladder stones, or interstitial cystitis, the technician will find red blood cells in the urine. It may also be an early sign of cancer of the urinary tract.

White Blood Cells: White blood cells could indicate an infection or an inflammatory process in the bladder or kidney.

Protein: Protein should not be found in urine on a dipstick test. A positive protein in urine test may indicate a bacterial infection, kidney disease, or blood in the urine.

Sugar: Urine should not contain any sugar. The presence of sugar in the urine may signal the presence of Diabetes mellitus.

Ketones: If your pet tests positive for ketones in its urine, a Diabetes Mellitus workup will be performed. Ketones are abnormal byproducts that your pet's cells produce when they lack an adequate energy source.

Bilirubin: Bilirubinuria is an abnormal finding that indicates that red blood cells in your pet's bloodstream are being destroyed at a faster than normal rate. It has been found in pets suffering from liver disease and autoimmune diseases. Remember that pets with blood in their urine due to a bladder infection can falsely stain the bilirubin pad on the dipstick, raising the possibility of a more serious liver problem.

Urobilinogen: Urobilinogen in urine indicates that the bile duct is open and bile can flow from the gallbladder into the intestine.

Blood: Blood in a dog's or cat's urine can indicate an infection, an inflammatory problem, or stones in the bladder or kidney. The dipstick can detect red blood cells or other blood components, such as hemoglobin or myoglobin, in your pet's urine.

Urine sediment should also be examined when conducting a urinalysis. Urine sediment is the material that settles to the bottom of a centrifuge after spinning a urine sample. Red blood cells, white blood cells, and crystals are the most common things found in urine sediment. Small amounts of mucus and other debris are frequently found in free-catch samples.

Crystals: Numerous types of crystals vary in size, shape, and color. Some crystals are one-of-a-kind and can aid in the diagnosis of a specific condition. In more common conditions, such as bladder infections, the crystals provide data that can influence how the disease is treated. Because crystals can form in urine after it has been collected, your veterinarian may want to examine a fresh sample right away.

Bacteria: The presence of bacteria as well as inflammatory cells in the sediment suggests that there is a bacterial infection somewhere in the urinary system. The urine should ideally be sent to a laboratory for culture and sensitivity testing to determine what types of bacteria are present and which antibiotic should be used to treat the infection.

Tissue Cells: While not necessarily a sign of disease, increased cellularity has been linked to several conditions, including urinary tract inflammation, bladder stones, prostate issues, and cancer. Catheterization samples frequently contain an increased number of tissue cells. If the cells appear abnormal, your veterinarian may advise you to have the sediment cytologically prepared. This enables a more in-depth examination of the tissue cells.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Have your cat or dog's drinking or urinating habits changed recently? They may have a condition that requires further assessment. Contact our Gaithersburg vets today.

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