Laboratory tests are used by vets to help diagnose disease in animals. Tests are carried out on animals that are ill. Increasingly they are also used as part of a routine health check to detect hidden disease before the development of obvious symptoms. This allows your pet to be treated earlier and more effectively. A very important test is to test the efficiency of your pet’s kidneys and liver (an important consideration when giving a general anaethestic) before a surgical operation.
Here at FORREST HILL VETERINARY CLINIC & HOSPTIAL we have our own small laboratory and an IDEXX blood machine for routine blood testing. If more extensive testing is required samples are couriered daily to a commercial laboratory. Results are then faxed back to the clinic.
• BLOOD TESTS
These are the most commonly performed laboratory test. It is possible to tell a great deal about your pet’s health or disease from the concentration of different chemicals in the blood. Samples are usually taken from a vein in the leg or neck using a hypodermic needle and syringe. A patch of fur above the vein is shaved and disinfected with surgical alcohol to clean the skin and allow the vet to find a vein with greater accuracy. The procedure is not painful although some animals resent being held while the sample is taken. There may be a little bruising if the animal has delicate skin or struggles when the sample is being taken. A few millilitres (about a teaspoon) of blood are put into special containers to prevent clotting.
• URINE TESTS
These are carried out to check for diseases such as diabetes, or for signs of an infection of the kidneys or bladder. The presence of proteins or sugar will indicate whether the kidneys are functioning properly. When it is not possible to wait for a naturally produced sample your vet will collect urine using a needle inserted into the bladder through the skin called Cystocentesis. It is generally possible to do this without sedating the animal, (especially cats) as it is no more complicated or dangerous than taking a blood sample.
• FAECAL TESTS
Small samples of faeces often help to identify diseases of the digestive system. The sample can be tested to see if any bacteria grow that will indicate an infection in the intestines. Further tests may be carried out to see if your pet is unable to digest certain foods or if the faeces contain eggs from parasitic worms.
Your pet’s eyes, ears and nose or skin can often become infected with disease causing bacteria, viruses or fungi. Swabs are taken by gently rubbing the affected area with a small sterile cotton bud and then transferred on to a glass slide for examination under a microscope or cultured in the same way as a sample of faeces.
• SKIN SCRAPINGS
The skin is scraped gently with the edge of a scalpel blade, which may cause minor discomfort. There are usually only small numbers of mites and scrapings may have to be taken from several areas before finding them. The skin sample is transferred to a glass slide and examined under a microscope.
• TISSUE BIOPSIES
If your pet has a growth on its body it is normal to take a tissue biopsy –removing a small part of the lump and examining it to see what sort of cells it contains and whether they are dangerous.
With many diseases it is not possible to come up with an instant diagnosis. Your animal may have to undergo various tests so that the vet can rule out possible causes. While some diseases can be confirmed using a single test, others will need a range (profile) or a sequence of tests on one or more tissues or body fluids. There are occasions when repeat tests may be needed.
Your vet may need to perform diagnostic tests on your pet or on samples from your pet to help them provide the best possible care for your pet. If you are unsure what a test involves or why your vet needs to do it please ask for more explanation, we are only too happy to explain it further.
© Forrest Hill Vets (2000) Ltd