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Types of Diagnostic Tests for Pets

Types of Diagnostic Tests for Pets

Veterinary diagnostic tests play an important role in pet healthcare. However, it's completely natural to feel concerned when your pet requires them. That's why our vets in Portland are here to guide you through diagnostic testing for your furry friend. 

Why Do Dogs Need Lab Work?

Lab work for pets is crucial when they're not feeling well. It doesn't have to be related to illness, but usually, lab work is done to discover the cause of an illness or to detect if there's any illness there at all, like in the case of heartworm disease or intestinal worms. Even if they seem fine, lab work can spot issues like heartworm disease or intestinal worms that aren't obvious. 

What Are The Different Types of Lab Work?

While there are so many different types of lab tests available, you will more often hear the umbrella term "lab work" as an all-encompassing term. But what are the different tests that fall under veterinary laboratory diagnostics?

Here are some of the most commonly requested types of lab work and how we use our Portland vet lab to provide the most accurate information possible:

Heartworm Tests

Mosquito bites usually cause this disease. These mosquitoes carry a worm called Dirofilaria immitis.

Pets such as cats, dogs, and ferrets can get these worms inside them. These worms live, grow up, have babies, and stay in your pet's heart, lungs, and blood vessels. This serious condition is called heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected animals. 

Sadly, you won't notice any signs of this disease in your dog or cat until it's quite serious. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include a swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing. 

Your vet can do blood tests at their lab to check for heartworm proteins. Heartworm proteins can't be detected until approximately five months (at the earliest) after a cat or dog has been bitten by an infected mosquito.

Preventing this disease is much better because treating it can harm your pet and is expensive. Treatment involves many vet visits, hospital stays, X-rays, blood tests, and infections. This is why our Portland vets say prevention is the absolute best way to treat heartworm disease. 

If your pet does get heartworms, your vet has treatments. One is a drug called FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochloride. It contains arsenic and kills adult heartworms. melarsomine dihydrochloride will be administered via injection into your dog's back muscles.

Fecal Testing

Fecal exams are important health checks for your pet. Your primary care vet's office has a lob where they can examine your pet's feces under a microscope. These yearly exams help your vet find and treat any infections that might compromise your dog's health and even everyone in your household.

During a fecal exam, your veterinarian will look for any signs of parasites, such as hookworms and roundworms. These parasites can make your dog uncomfortable and lead to serious problems. Some of them can even be transmitted to humans.

Most parasites hide in your pet's stomach and intestines. That's why fecal exams are the best way to find them. 

You should bring your pet to our Portland vet lab to be tested for internal parasites at least once a year. Puppies, kittens, and animals that have gastrointestinal problems might need to have fecal exams more frequently. Ask your vet how often you should bring your pet's stool sample in for a fecal exam. 


A urinalysis is a simple diagnostic test performed at our pet laboratory that determines the physical and chemical properties of urine. It is primarily used to evaluate the health of the kidneys and urinary system, but it can also reveal issues with other organ systems. All senior dogs and cats should have a yearly urinalysis. A urinalysis may also be recommended if your pet has increased water intake, increased frequency of urination, or visible blood in the urine.

There are four main parts to a urinalysis:

  • Assess appearance: color and turbidity (cloudiness).
  • Measure the concentration (also known as the density) of the urine.
  • Measure pH (acidity) and analyze the chemical composition of the urine.
  • Examine the cells and solid material (urine sediment) present in the urine using a microscope.

Urine samples should be read within 30 minutes of the collection because other factors (such as crystals, bacteria, and cells) can alter the composition (dissolve or multiply).

Cells & Solid Material (Urine Sediment)

Some of the cells that might be found in your dog or cat's urine can include:

    • Red Blood Cells
    • White Blood Cells
    • Protein
    • Sugar
    • Ketones
    • Bilirubin
    • Urobilinogen
    • Blood
    • Crystals
    • Bacteria
    • Tissue Cells

CBC (Complete Blood Count)

A complete blood count (CBC) and complete blood chemistry panel, including electrolytes and urinalysis, are common vet lab tests. The CBC identifies whether there is anemia, inflammation, or infection present. It can also indicate immune system response and blood clotting ability.

The chemistry panel and electrolytes tell your vet whether your pet's liver, kidneys, and pancreas are working as they should.

This important veterinary laboratory work can also detect and help identify complex issues within a pet's internal systems. For example, blood tests for dogs can detect whether internal or environmental stimuli are causing hormonal-chemical responses. This tells a veterinarian there may be a potential problem with the pet's endocrine system.

A CBC reveals detailed information, including:

  • Hematocrit (HCT): With this test, we can identify the percentage of red blood cells to detect hydration or anemia.
  • Hemoglobin and mean corpuscular hemoglobin concentration (Hb and MCHC): These are pigments of red blood cells that carry oxygen.
  • White blood cell count (WBC): With this test, we measure the body's immune cells. Certain diseases or infections can cause WBC to increase or decrease.
  • Granulocytes and lymphocytes/monocytes (GRANS and L/M): These are specific types of white blood cells.
  • Eosinophils (EOS): These are specific types of white blood cells that can indicate health conditions due to allergies or parasites.
  • Platelet count: (PLT): This test measures cells that form blood clots.
  • Reticulocytes (RETICS): High levels of immature red blood cells can point to regenerative anemia.
  • Fibrinogen (FIBR): We are able to gain important information about blood clotting from this test. High levels can indicate a dog is 30 to 40 days pregnant.
What Blood Chemistries Reveal (Blood Serum Test):

Blood tests, also known as blood chemistries or blood serum tests, provide valuable information about your dog or cat's overall health. These tests reveal how well their organs like the liver, kidneys, and pancreas are functioning. check hormone levels, electrolyte balance, and more. 

The test can be used to assess the health of older pets, do general health assessments before anesthesia, or monitor dogs receiving long-term medications.

These tests also help us evaluate senior dogs' and cats' health and those with symptoms of diseases (such as Addison's, diabetes, kidney diseases, or others), diarrhea, vomiting, or toxin exposure.

After these tests, our veterinary pharmacy can provide both medication and physical treatment to help manage your pet's condition effectively. 

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.

If your pet is not feeling well, contact our Portland vets today to book an appointment. We can perform in-house laboratory testing to get to the bottom of the issue.

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Cedar Mill Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Portland companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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