Urinalysis for Cats and Dogs: Why Is It Important?

Michael Kearley, DVM
By Michael Kearley, DVM on May 30, 2024
A vet holds a puppy and a kitten.

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What Is Urinalysis for Cats and Dogs?

A urinalysis for cats and dogs is a routine but essential component of a standard medical work-up that provides a wealth of information about the animal’s health status, particularly the urinary tract. 

Urinalysis is a safe, effective diagnostic tool that reveals a lot of valuable information. 

Analyzing your dog or cat’s urine sample helps evaluate fluid balance and hydration status, response to treatment, and is useful in detecting and managing certain diseases, such as diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s, liver disease, and even auto-immune diseases. 

A urine sample can be obtained one of three ways:

  1. Free catch: collected while the animal is urinating

  2. Urinary catheter: through the placement of a sterile urinary catheter into the bladder via the urethra

  3. Cystocentesis: a needle is inserted into the bladder and urine is aspirated, similar to a blood draw

Each method has its own risks and benefits, which should be discussed with your veterinarian. However, urinalysis is a safe, effective diagnostic tool that reveals a lot of valuable information. 

Types of Urinalyses for Cats and Dogs

In addition to noting the color and clarity of the pet’s urine, there are three components to a urinalysis for cats and dogs:

  1. Dipstick: utilizes reagent pads that turn color based on the presence of substances in the urine sample; evaluates for the presence of protein, ketones, glucose, bilirubin, pH, and heme (blood or muscle)

  2. Specific gravity: determines the hydration status and concentrating ability of the kidney; lower results often indicate kidney disease

  3. Microscopic sediment evaluation: reviews a concentrated sample of the urine under the microscope

Moreover, there are other urine tests that may be performed, such as:

  • Urine culture: a gold standard test for detecting evidence of bacterial infection and, if noted, which antibiotic is best suited for treatment

  • Urine protein-to-creatinine ratio: determines the amount of protein lost in the urine; useful in managing conditions like kidney disease and protein-losing nephropathy, among others

  • Uric acid: a relatively uncommon test that detects levels of uric acid in the urine that can lead to bladder and kidney stone formation

  • Urine cortisol-to-creatinine ratio: helpful in detecting Cushing’s disease

Why Would a Cat or Dog Need a Urinalysis?

If your dog or cat experiences any of the following symptoms, then a urine test is needed to get to the underlying cause:

  • Difficulty urinating

  • Blood in urine or any changes in urine color, transparency, or odor

  • Increased frequency of urinating

  • Increased volume of urine

  • Incontinence

  • Lack of urinating

  • Increased thirst

Additionally, your dog or cat may require urinalysis in response to certain therapies or when managing conditions like diabetes mellitus, Cushing’s, or thyroid disease, kidney, and urinary disease/disorders.

Based on the urinalysis findings, your veterinarian may recommend additional tests.

Risks of Urinalysis for Cats and Dogs

As with any test that requires human interpretation, there is the risk of error during processing and/or interpretation of the results.

The method of urine collection can certainly affect the results, as more epithelial cells can be seen when urine is collected via a urinary catheter. However, this can be overcome with proper training and education and urinalysis itself has little-to-no risks.

On the other hand, there are risks associated with the methods of urine collection, as the placement of a urinary catheter can cause slight discomfort and irritation.

Benefits of Urinalysis for Cats and Dogs

The benefits of a urinalysis for cats and dogs certainly outweigh the risks, as it is a cost-effective, easy bedside test that provides a lot of important medical information.

Effectiveness of Urinalysis for Cats and Dogs

Urinalysis for cats and dogs is an effective diagnostic tool for the veterinarian, provided that qualified, well-trained associates are involved in the processing and interpretation of the sample. 

Cost of Urinalysis for Cats and Dogs

The cost of urinalysis for dogs and cats varies, but in general, you can expect to pay anywhere from $80 to $150.

Most pet insurance companies typically cover some or all the cost of urinalysis unless specified in their terms and conditions. Alternative payment options may include applying for CareCredit or setting up a payment plan, if available.

Urinalysis Preparation for Cats and Dogs

If your dog or cat requires a urinalysis, or if you are considering having their urine tested, a first-morning urine sample is preferred. Do NOT let your dog or cat urinate prior to arrival at the veterinary office, because they will not be able to collect the sample. Provide adequate water the night before and throughout the day. 

Contact your veterinarian to determine the type of sample required, as you may be able to bring in a sample to the appointment.

Ideally, have the sample analyzed within the hour, but if not, refrigerate the sample and have it analyzed within 12 hours to avoid sample deterioration and inaccurate results.

If possible, get a container from your veterinarian ahead of time to collect the urine sample, as household containers can still contain contaminants that will affect the results.

Do NOT let your dog or cat urinate prior to arrival at the veterinary office, because they will not be able to collect the sample.

Also, keep the sample covered to avoid exposure to light.

Urinalysis Alternatives for Cats and Dogs

Unfortunately, there are no alternative tests to urinalysis for dogs and cats. The collection methods can vary, and if you’re concerned about the risks involved, ask your veterinarian if an alternative sample method collection can be performed—just know it may affect interpretation of the results. 

Urinalysis for Cats and Dogs FAQs

Is a dog or cat urinalysis worth it?

Definitely! Urinalysis for cats and dogs can provide a wealth of information regarding the health of your cat, from determining hydration status to detecting disease. 

References

Yadav SN, Ahmed N, Nath AJ, Mahanta D, Kalita MK. Urinalysis in dog and cat: A review. Veterinary World. 2020, 13(10), 2133-2141. doi: 10.14202/vetworld.2020.2133-2141.

References


Michael Kearley, DVM

WRITTEN BY

Michael Kearley, DVM

Veterinarian

Dr. Michael Kearley graduated from the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. He graduated with a certificate in...


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