One of our nation's past vice presidents, Jack Garner, purportedly said about the vice-presidency that it "wasn't worth a warm bucket of urine." Only, he didn't say "urine." This offends me. Urine is NOT worthless - it can be a very useful diagnostic tool in my business! In fact, urine samples from our patients can be so precious that if one of our staff members mistakenly discards one prematurely, all Hades breaks loose. Only I don't mean "Hades."
Urine can tell us in mere seconds if a patient is a diabetic. Urine can contain cells that can lead us to diagnoses of kidney damage, urinary tract infections, bleeding disorders and even certain cancers. Crystals or pigments in urine can help us diagnose toxicities, metabolic disorders, autoimmune disease and muscle damage. The concentration of the urine can help us diagnose further disorders such as kidney disease and endocrine (hormone) diseases.
So, when I saw the bucket of warm urine sitting in the sink in the laboratory area of our veterinary hospital one fine day, I was inspired. It dawned on me that I had never truly laid eyes on an actual bucket of urine until that moment. After having a good chuckle about how valuable this authentic bucket of urine was (nobody dared to dump it out all morning, assuming it was being saved for a reason) - I decided to make it the subject of an article. Hey, sometimes you just gotta go where the wind takes you.
This unusual container of an unusual amount of urine was submitted for a urinalysis. Now, while this was much appreciated, and while there is nothing wrong with the container or the method of collection, it goes on record as quite possibly the largest container and quantity of urine ever submitted for this purpose to our office. We didn't mind - we had enough urine to test, and got the job done, no problem.
It's funny, though, not all owners have such a "can-do" attitude when asked to bring a urine sample from their pets.
Similar to the well-documented stages of grief, owners' reactions to being asked for a pet's urine sample progress generally in this sequence: Laughter - "Surely they're joking." Disbelief - "They must have meant a fecal sample." Confusion - "How do they expect me to do that?" Alarm - "Oh-my-gosh, they're serious." Acceptance - "I'll try ... but how?"
Collecting urine from a pet may be a challenge, to say the least, but it's well worth the effort. For dogs, the technique is simple: 1. Walk the dog on a leash; 2. As the dog begins to urinate, catch some urine in a clean container.
Use a container that can be easily slipped under the stream of urine without disturbing the dog.
Low, wide, shallow containers work well in many instances, but the size may vary with the size and height of the dog.
Although you'll look silly and feel like an idiot, don't worry about it - you'll give your neighbors something to talk about at parties and you'll feel a sense of accomplishment when you obtain your prize.
Some more skittish dogs may need a team approach - working with one person walking the dog while another tries to catch the urine may be easier.
Your neighbors will find this even more amusing, but if you ask them to help, they usually will disappear quickly, leaving you to your task.
Keep in mind that you can collect the urine in one container, such as a shallow bowl, but transfer it to something smaller to submit it to us.
There's no harm in bringing a large sample of urine, but it's pretty rare that any more than an 8-ounce cup of urine will be necessary for any test we do - in fact, a few tablespoons of urine are usually adequate. We have seen all sorts of creative containers from the usual Rubbermaid variety to Ziploc bags or even old plastic film canisters (remember when cameras used to use film?)
Be careful using containers that used to hold food or medicines - make sure they are clean and dry before using them for a urine sample.
We have had some interesting (and bogus) results popping up on our urine tests as a result of residual chemicals or foods in the container.
For instance, one family was relieved to learn that their dog was, in fact, not a diabetic, after a scare from a urine sample collected in an old prescription pill vial. The glucose reading was off the scale - presumably because of residual sugary coating from the pills that were previously in the container.
Urine samples taken first thing in the morning for a dog that holds its urine all night will be the most concentrated of the day, and tend to be easiest to catch, as the dog usually has a full bladder and is generally pretty urgent to empty it.
This also will provide your neighbors more ammunition for teasing you about your jammies and bedhead later.
Cats? Depending on the cat's delicate sensibilities (or lack thereof) urine samples may be as simple to collect as with a dog - only without the observations of the neighbors - by catching urine in a container while the cat is using the litterbox.
Admittedly, this method of collection is rarely used, as most cats are a bit more private and suspicious about you holding a cup in their stream of urine as they use their litterbox.
However, we have several clients whose cats are unruffled by it. No kidding.
The more common method for urine collection from cats involves the isolation of the cat with a clean, dry, but empty litterbox (empty equals NO litter).
The isolation of the cat is important, as it tends to encourage litterbox use when the cat is confined to a small area and it keeps other animals out.
The addition of tiny, nonabsorbent plastic beads to the box in place of regular litter can help the cat understand its purpose and use it. If the cat urinates in the box, the urine can be collected (without the plastic beads) and submitted for tests.
In lieu of these cleaner "free catch" collection techniques, we often will accept urine samples that have been siphoned off a clean linoleum or tile floor, or even test urine that has been deposited on our exam tables or in carriers. These are not the best methods, but when desperate, we sometimes use desperate measures. We must make some allowances for a dirty collection technique and look past some odd results, but these samples can still be useful.
If attempts to obtain a "free catch" urine sample at home are unsuccessful, don't be shy about asking the staff at your veterinary hospital for help - our technicians and most assistants are very practiced at catching urine and never cease to amaze those who thought it couldn't be done.
But even we have trouble sometimes, and need to resort to other means, which I'll leave you wondering about until next time. Is that puddle on the floor my dog's or yourine?
Daverio is a veterinarian at Williamsport West Veterinary Hospital. Her column prints every other Sunday in the Lifestyle section. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.