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From a single urine sample, your veterinarian can learn a lot of information about the health of your pet’s kidneys and urinary tract, as well as other organs such as the liver and pancreas.
There are times when your veterinarian may prefer to obtain a sample directly from your pet’s bladder, a sterile procedure that must be done at the clinic. But other times, your vet may ask you to bring one in, and the good thing about getting a urine sample at home is that it’s noninvasive and relatively stress free for your pet.
If your veterinarian requests a “free catch” sample from home, here are some tips to help you get it.
1. Keep it clean. There's no way for a free-catch urine sample to be sterile (i.e., free from bacterial contamination), but ideally, the urine sample you collect should be free from additional bacteria, pet hair, feces and dirt. That’s why you’ll want to catch a sample while your pet is urinating and avoid getting a sample from the floor.
For male dogs who lift their legs, you’ll need a clean glass jar or plastic cup. If you have a female dog or one who squats low to the ground, a flat, rimmed container, such as an aluminum pie plate, may work best to slide underneath the dog.
Beforehand, clean the container with hot, soapy water and dry it thoroughly. Since catching urine can be messy, consider donning latex gloves.
2. Collect a sample first thing in the morning. Unless your veterinarian specifies otherwise, it’s usually best to collect the first urine in the morning, when your pet’s bladder is typically full and the urine is most concentrated. To be on the safe side, try to get a tablespoon or two; your veterinarian usually doesn't need more than that.
3. Use a stealth approach. Most pets prefer a little discretion in the potty department, so yours will probably not appreciate a human hovering to obtain a sample.
One way to avoid disrupting your pet is to tape a clean stainless steel soup ladle to the end of a yardstick, so you can position the container into the urine stream without bending over your pet. You can also bend a wire hanger to form a loop for holding the cup at the end of a long handle.
Put your dog on a leash, so you can be close at hand and ready to act when your pet gets the urge. If you’re handling the leash, it might help to have another person to help get the sample.
Once your dog lifts his leg, place the container in the urine stream and get your sample. If your pet squats low to the ground, slide the container under the dog from behind. Try not to touch the container to your pet or allow grass or dirt inside.
4. For cats, use non-absorbable litter. These plastic pellets, generally available from your veterinarian or at retail stores, give your cat something to paw at in the box but don’t absorb the urine, leaving a sample behind.
To prepare, just empty the litterbox and thoroughly clean and dry it. Sprinkle the bottom with the plastic pellets. If you have more than one cat, you’ll want to isolate the cat you want the sample from in a quiet room with the litterbox.
Once your cat uses the box, you can use a clean syringe to transfer the urine into a clean, dry container. Any feces in the box are likely to contaminate the sample, so if this happens, discard the contents and start over.
5. Keep it fresh. Place the sample in a container with a leak-proof top. Your veterinarian may provide you with a sample cup, or you can use any clean container with a secure lid.
Samples should be brought to your veterinarian as soon as possible, ideally, within one to two hours. If that’s not possible, place the container in a plastic Ziploc bag and store it in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Never freeze the sample.
If your pet prefers privacy when urinating and won’t cooperate, or if your veterinarian needs a sterile sample, it’s best to take your pet to the clinic. At-home samples aren’t sterile, because the urine can be contaminated with bacteria as it travels through the urethra (the tube leading from the bladder to the exterior) and the genital area. Collection cups often have bacteria as well.
If your veterinarian suspects a kidney infection or urinary tract infection, she may want to culture the urine to identify the bacteria involved and the most effective antibiotic to use. In these cases, it’s better to get a sample directly from the bladder via cystocentesis, a relatively painless procedure than involves inserting a needle through the abdominal wall into the bladder. Less commonly, your veterinarian may get a sample by threading a catheter up your pet’s urethra into the bladder.
The urine sample can help your veterinarian diagnose your pet’s problem and get him on the road to recovery.
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