One of the major progressions in veterinary medicine is the ability to perform more specific and accurate laboratory testing. This is of utmost importance when your pet is ill, but is also needed for routine wellness screenings, pre-anesthetic evaluations, and monitoring response to therapy.
As you may know, we are able to perform many laboratory tests ‘in-house.’ This means that we can obtain results the same day that your pet is in the clinic. We do this by using microscopes, blood machines, and urine analyzers located in the hospital laboratory area. Examples of different in-house tests we perform include: complete blood count, full blood chemistry and electrolyte analysis, heartworm / tick-borne infection tests, urine testing, fecal parasite screening, and microscopic evaluations of skin scrapes and ear swabs.
There are several benefits to in-house testing. One of the most apparent advantages of performing tests in the clinic is that we have the results right away. This allows the veterinarian to make appropriate treatment recommendations during the scheduled appointment. Also, if there is an analytical error (i.e. if there is a blood clot in the sample, inadequate amount of sample, or machine error) we can often repeat the test right away by collecting another sample from your pet before you leave the clinic. Furthermore, certain in-house tests are less expensive when performed in the clinic because reference laboratories require special shipping/handling and processing charges.
Although we have a diverse diagnostic toolbox available in the clinic, sometimes your pet may require more advanced laboratory testing to confirm a diagnosis, monitor therapeutic drug levels, or further investigate a systemic illness. These specific tests are known as ‘Reference Labs’ in which we send-out the samples to a specific laboratory.
For example, our in-house urine analysis may indicate that a dog has a urinary tract infection, but we can then send out a sterile sample of urine to a specific laboratory so that we can find out exactly what type of bacteria is present, and which antibiotic will most effectively treat the infection and get rid of it.
Another example is specialized hormone testing for reproductive (breeding) purposes. We can send-out blood samples to determine breeding time recommendations based on specific hormone levels (i.e. progresterone) that the reference laboratory can report within 24-48 hours.
One of the favorite benefits of using a specialized laboratory is the availability of specialized personnel (veterinary medicine internists and clinical pathologists) who are involved in sample analysis. Often, general practice veterinarians consult with these professionals to troubleshoot a patient’s illness and discuss more in-depth interpretation of the results and treatment guidelines.