A URINE sample? You must be kidding!
Often a phone call from a dog or cat owner concerns urinary accidents, or “Fluffy’s peeing all over the place!” (It’s okay to say “pee” and “poop”. They’re efficient words – one syllable and we know what they mean.) Our response is “We’ll need a urine sample.” And from the owner who hasn’t had to deal with this issue before, we usually hear “How on earth do I do THAT???” Good question! Mental movie: cat peeing in a cup.
What we need is a clean sample from the same day amounting to at least a tablespoon. With a dog, it’s usually not too difficult once you get the hang of it. Like many things in life, after you’ve done it once, it gets easier. Take a clean, small, low-sided container like the ones that dips and cream cheese come in, or whatever you have that looks like it might work. Ideally it should have a cover so the sample doesn’t get spilled. Take your dog for a walk, and when he or she starts to urinate, stick the container under the stream and collect. The dog may think you’ve lost your mind, and yes, your hand may get peed on. It wouldn’t hurt to bring a disinfecting wipe with you. You can transport the sample to the office in the same covered container, or whatever works for you. Before the days of digital cameras, a clean film container worked well. We’ve even gotten a sample in a plastic zip top bag. It’s okay to be inventive!
Occasionally there is a dog who just plain refuses to give her owner a sample. We have them come to the office and Stacey takes the dog for a little walk. She has a matter-of-fact, no-nonsense air about her, and most dogs simply agree to do whatever she asks them to do. The fact that we have a well-scented park next door doesn’t hurt, either!
Cats can be more of a challenge. A cat that goes outdoors and seldom uses a litter box will be difficult to get a sample from. You’ll probably have to shut him in the bathroom with an empty box overnight. As for the others, we’ve seen the whole range. We had one client who could collect a sample from one of her four cats – not the others – on command, even here at the office. One day she took the cat upstairs to the bathroom, put a plastic bag on the floor, and talked to the cat in a singsong voice for about five minutes and sure enough, good sample right in the middle of the plastic bag so it was easy to pick up! We wish we’d had a video camera for that one. My own Fearless Freep first came here for urinary issues, with a high pH, crystals, bacteria, and blockages. I ran a sample on him every week for a very long time. The first time, I presented him with a clean empty litter box with about a teaspoon of litter in the corner where he always put his nose. It worked: he gave me a nice sample in the other end of the box. After that if I presented him with an empty box, he would get in and pee. He seemed to say “I don’t know what you want this for – you must be crazy – but here you go!”
Then there was my sweet little gray cat named Mouse. When she had an issue there would usually be a little blood in her urine, and she would look for something white to pee on – a piece of paper on the floor, a towel or a bit of fabric – to show me something was going on. However, getting an actual sample from her was another story. I tried the litter in the corner of the box trick, and she turned around and peed on the tiny bit of litter, which meant the sample was contaminated. One time she saw the empty box and went out on the screened porch and peed in the saucer for a plant pot – yup, contaminated. I washed out the saucer and gave it back to her, and she went and peed in my shoe. She was the inventive one.
There are other methods to try – washed marbles or small tumbled river rock (available from a craft store or sometimes the dollar store) in place of litter in the box may work. Also dried peas or light colored dried beans, but they must be thoroughly rinsed first or they will contaminate the sample. If you’re having trouble getting a sample in time for an appointment and you have a plastic box carrier, wash the carrier thoroughly before putting Fluffy in without a towel. If she pees in the carrier on the way, we MAY be able to collect enough of it to use – or there may be too much of her hair or whatever she had on her feet to make it usable. If it comes down to it, we can get a sample with a needle IF Fluffy has a full bladder when she gets here.
Once collected, the sample must be refrigerated until you can get it to the office, which must be the same day. One of the factors we look for is crystals in the urine, and left unrefrigerated, a urine sample will develop crystals as it sits, so we can’t tell whether there were any crystals when it was collected. The doctor will look at the sample under the microscope and determine whether there is a bacterial infection or some other factor present and prescribe the appropriate treatment.
Is it really that important? Can’t we just prescribe something? No. Sorry, but it is that important. There are different things that can cause urinary issues, and treatment is not the same for all of them. Sometimes with bacterial issues, we even want another sample to send to the lab for a Culture and Sensitivity test, which tells the doctor which antibiotic to use for the particular strain of bacteria found. Or if all aspects of the sample are within normal limits, then the doctor knows she has to look elsewhere for the cause of the accidents, which may be behavioral or may involve an examination and/or bloodwork. With all urinary issues, it’s better to catch and treat them right away before they become more serious. Bacterial infections can spread and become much more difficult to knock down. Male cats, especially, can become blocked, causing toxins to back up into the kidneys, and this condition can become fatal within hours – which very nearly happened to Fearless Freep because I didn’t know then what I know now. Even behavioral issues can become so ingrained, so habitual, that they may be very difficult to break. So yes, it is worth the effort.