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Types of Diagnostic Testing for Pets

There are a number of reasons why your vet may recommend veterinary testing for your pup. It doesn't necessarily mean they are sick. Here, our Tigard vets share some of the different types of pet laboratory diagnostic tests that they may ask for and what this lab work shows us about your pet.

Why do pets need lab work?

There are many different kinds of lab tests, and those are typically carried out when we need to try to determine what may be ailing your pet. It need not be connected to illness, but typically lab work is performed to identify the origin of an illness or to determine whether there is even an illness present, as in the case of intestinal worms or heartworm disease. We conduct veterinary laboratory tests to see if those things are present in that specific patient, even though it isn't always obvious.

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What Are The Different Types of Lab Work?

Even though there are numerous distinct tests that fall into this category, the general term "lab work" is often used. What exactly fall under veterinary laboratory diagnostics are the various tests?

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

Heartworm Tests

Heartworm disease is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. These mosquitos carry a parasitic worm known as Dirofilaria immitis.

Pets such as cats, pets, and ferrets can become the hosts of these parasites, this means that the worms live inside your pet, mature into adults, mate, and produce offspring. This serious condition is called heartworm disease because the worms live in the heart, lungs, and blood vessels of infected animals. 

Unfortunately, the signs of heartworm disease don't usually begin to appear in pets until the disease becomes more advanced. The most common symptoms of heartworm disease include swollen abdomen, coughing, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty breathing. 

Your vet is able to conduct blood tests using the veterinary laboratory to look for heartworm proteins (antigens), that are released into the pet's bloodstream. Heartworm proteins can't be detected until approximately five months (at the earliest) after a cat or pet has been bitten by an infected mosquito.

It's important to understand that heartworm disease treatment may cause serious side effects and even be toxic to your pet's body. Additionally, the cost of the treatment is high because it calls for numerous vet visits, hospital stays, X-rays, blood tests, and a number of injections. The absolute best way to treat heartworm disease, according to our Tigard vets, is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.

Although, if your cat or pet is diagnosed with heartworms, your vet will have treatment options available in their veterinary pharmacy. FDA-approved melarsomine dihydrochloride is a drug that contains arsenic and kills adult heartworms. To treat the disease melarsomine dihydrochloride will be administered via injection into your pet's back muscles.

Fecal Testing

Fecal exams, which are microscopic examinations of your pet's feces, are performed at your primary care veterinarian's office using the veterinary diagnostics lab. These yearly exams assist your veterinarian in detecting and treating any infections that may be threatening the health of your pet or even everyone in your household.

When conducting a fecal exam your veterinarian will check for any signs of parasites such as hookworms and roundworms. These parasites could make your pet uncomfortable and irritable, as well as lead to many more serious conditions. A handful of parasites can even be transmitted to humans.

Intestinal parasites typically hide in the gastrointestinal tract of your pet. This makes fecal exams the most reliable way of diagnosing these parasites.

You should bring your pet to our Tigard vet lab to be tested for internal parasites at least once a year. Puppies 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 assess the health of the kidneys and urinary system, but it can also reveal problems with other organ systems. All senior pets eight years and older should have a urinalysis once a year. 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 pet'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 vital veterinary laboratory work can also detect and assist in the identification of complex problems within a pet's internal systems. Blood tests for pets, for example, can detect whether internal or external stimuli are eliciting hormonal-chemical responses. This alerts a veterinarian to the possibility of an endocrine system problem with the pet.

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 a specific type 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 pet is 30 to 40 days pregnant.
What Blood Chemistries Reveal (Blood Serum Test):

Blood chemistries (blood serum tests) give us insight into a pet’s organ function (liver, kidneys, and pancreas), hormone levels, electrolyte status, and more.

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

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

We will be able to then combine physical treatment with medications from our Tigard veterinary pharmacy to help manage your pet's condition.

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 vet has ordered a series of laboratory tests and you would like to learn more about their purpose, please contact our Tigard vets to schedule a veterinary visit and diagnostic imaging.

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