It’s important to make vet checkups a routine part of your dog’s healthcare and know what to expect. In addition to blood work, your vet may also want to test your dog’s urine—and might even ask you to collect it at home. You may wonder how to get a urine sample from your dog—after all, it’s a bit more complex than collecting a stool sample.
Why is it so important to get a urine sample? Urine samples provide vets with lots of information, including kidney function, white and red blood cells, bacteria, and protein levels.
For routine blood work, or going to the vet due to urinary issues, Dr Shannon Barrett, Charleston-based house-call veterinarian and owner of Downward Paws suggests collecting a sample before your visit. Though your vet may take an additional sterile sample, it’s important to have one ready, in case your dog can’t pee at the crucial moment.
The steps involved in collecting a urine sample depend a bit on your dog, which we’ll get into below. But the basics include making sure that you have a sterile container, collecting the sample at the right time, and considering enlisting a friend or partner to help you.
Without any further ado, let’s get into what it takes to get a good dog urine sample with the help and guidance of Dr Barrett. Read on!
Getting A Urine Sample From Your Dog
Unless otherwise indicated by your vet, first thing in the morning, before your dog has eaten, is the best time to collect a urine sample. “Your dog has slept all night and hopefully not urinated throughout the evening. Therefore the first-morning urine will be the most concentrated. This will give us the best information about their urine,” says Dr Barrett who notes that a higher concentration makes it easier to look for bacteria. “Trying to find bacteria in a bathtub (concentrated urine) is much easier than trying to find it in an Olympic-sized pool (dilute urine). The more concentrated the urine, the more likely we are to find bacteria if it is present.”
You can obtain a sterile urine cup from your vet or purchase your own. If using a ladle (more on that below) or another such tool to help collect the urine, Dr Barrett says to be sure to run it through the dishwasher and let it air dry first.
“If you cannot get it to your veterinarian within 30 minutes, place it in the refrigerator until you can. We want a sample that was collected the same day,” says Dr Barrett, explaining that samples that sit around too long are at risk of having the bacteria die or can be susceptible to crystal formation. In other words, get to your vet with your sample ASAP.
Steps for urine sample collection
Dr Barrett recommends the following steps and tips to help you collect a good, usable sample from your dog:
Make sure you have a clean container, preferably a sterile urine cup from your vet. “Small dogs, especially females, tend to squat very low to the ground,” says Dr Barrett. “In these cases, it can be helpful to tape a stick to the urine cup so that you don’t have to bend down to collect it.” You can also use a ladle for small dogs as long as it has been through the dishwasher and air-dried first.
Plan to collect your dog’s first urine sample of the day in the morning. “However, there are certain diseases that your veterinarian may want you to collect at a different time, so please check this before collection,” says Dr Barrett.
- Find a safe way to keep your dog close while collecting their sample outside, such as keeping them on lead.
- Place the urine cup, container, or ladle, underneath your dog to catch their urine stream. As noted above, this can be more challenging with female dogs and small dogs. It may take more than one try, which is why Dr Barrett suggests having more than one cup at the ready or even taking some practice runs before taking the official sample.
- Once you have your sample in your container, be sure it stays free of dirt and debris so as not to contaminate the sample. Get to your vet as soon as possible, or refrigerate the sample to deliver later on the same day.
If you find the above challenging, Dr Barrett recommends asking a friend to help. “It can be helpful to have a friend hold the leash while you are collecting the urine sample. As we all know, dogs urinate pretty quickly and many become skittish when you introduce something new while they are urinating.”
What Are Some Other Ways Urine Samples Can Be Taken?
There are circumstances in which a urine sample must be collected at a vet practice rather than at home. Two common examples, which must be performed by a vet, are cystocentesis and catheterisation.
“If we are worried that your pet has an infection that will not show up on a standard urinalysis, we may want to submit a test called a urine culture,” says Dr Barrett.
To collect the sample, a needle is used—to ensure the process is sterile—to directly collect urine from the bladder.
Certain situations require catheterisation in order to obtain a sample. Using this method, a speculum is used to place a catheter into the urethra to collect urine.
The most common reason a catheter is needed for sample collection is to identify the source of any blood found in the urine. “In this situation, we would avoid using a needle, because there is a chance that we could inadvertently contaminate the sample with blood during the collection process,” says Dr Barrett. “This way [catheterisation], we know that any blood in the urine is coming from the bladder.”
What is Urinalysis and What Can it Reveal About My Dog?
A urinalysis is pretty much what it sounds like: an analysis of your dog’s urine. And it can reveal a lot about your dog’s health. Dr Barrett explains: “We are looking at the ability of the kidneys to concentrate the urine. This is referred to as the ‘urine specific gravity’. The higher this number, the more concentrated the urine.” Readings should usually sit in a healthy range; numbers over this level may indicate that not enough water is being passed through the kidneys, or dehydration. Meanwhile, lower scores could indicate a dog’s kidneys aren’t filtering out the right amount of waste.
Your vet will also look for things such as white and red blood cells, bacteria, and protein in order to determine if there are any signs of infection, kidney disease, diabetes, Cushing’s disease, and other potential health issues. Urine samples are also commonly checked for senior dogs or pre-anaesthesia for those having an operation.
But how is a urinalysis performed once your vet or lab receives the sample? “We use a special strip of paper called a dipstick which is placed into the urine,” says Dr Barrett. “The dipstick contains several different colour panels which measure the pH of the urine, the amount of blood, and the amount of white blood cells in the urine. A colour panel will also indicate the presence of protein in the urine.”
In addition to the colour indicators on the dipstick, Dr Barrett explains that the urine is also spun down in a centrifuge to create a sediment that can be read on a microscope. Bacteria, white and red blood cells are then quantified.
Possible markers your vet may look for in your dog’s urine include:
- white blood cells
- red blood cells
“Information found in your dog’s urine sample can be very helpful in diagnosing certain diseases,” says Dr Barrett. For example, urinalysis can help narrow down the cause of your dog’s inappropriate urination, identify a urinary tract infection, reveal diabetes if elevated glucose levels are present, or indicate kidney disease through high protein amounts.
The bottom line? Routine urinalysis is important to ensure your dog is healthy and rule out certain illnesses.
“We recommend routine blood work on dogs at least once a year and this includes a urinalysis,” says Dr Barrett. “As dogs become ‘mature’, we recommend bloodwork and a urinalysis every six months.” Dogs with a history of bladder stones, says Dr Barrett, may need a urinalysis every one to two months.
Don’t forget that when taking your dog to the vet for routine tests and checkups, it’s important to collect urine from your dog in the morning before your vet visit so that it can be tested along with your dog’s blood work.
For the most part, collecting urine for urinalysis is non-invasive and can reveal important information about your dog’s health. As Dr Barrett puts it: “Who wouldn’t want that?”