Understanding Veterinary Diagnostic Tests & Procedures
Veterinary science has entered an exciting time. New breakthroughs are allowing our dogs to live longer and healthier lives. Unfortunately, the average dog owner is often unaware of all the specialties, diagnostic tests and procedures available to their four-legged family member. Below is a list of veterinary tests that help veterinarians diagnose and treat illness and injury.
Abdominal radiographs are X-rays. They allow visualization of tissues and organs with the abdominal cavity or belly.
Abdominal ultrasound evaluates the internal organs of the abdomen using high frequency sound waves. Ultrasound and X rays often go hand-in-hand because ultrasound shows a motion picture of the organs while they are functioning, while an X-ray takes a static image. Also called: sonogram.
Abdominocentesis is the removal of fluid from the abdomen using a needle (to determine the type of fluid present or to relieve fluid buildup). Also called: abdominal tap.
Acetylcholine receptor antibody titer is a simple blood test performed specifically when a disease called myasthenia gravis is suspected. Also called: AChRAT.
ACTH plasma test is a blood test to determine concentrations of plasma adrenocortioctropic (ACTH) hormone concentrations. This help determine the health of the adrenal gland.
ACTH stimulation test is a blood test to diagnose hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease) or to diagnosis hyperadrenocoriticism (Cushing’s). Also called: ACTH
Activated clotting time is a test that helps to determine the ability of the blood to clot by checking the intrinsic clotting system (Factor XII, XI, IX and VIII). Also called: ACT.
Ammonia tolerance testing analyzes a blood sample for ammonia levels after fasting. Afterward, ammonia is administered (ammonia is normally removed from the blood by the liver, but liver disease may cause ammonia to accumulate in the blood) and blood is drawn and evaluated. Also called: ATT.
Antinuclear antibody test is a blood test that can indicate immune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome and/or rheumatoid arthritis. Also called ANA.
Aqueocentesis is a procedure in which a sample of fluid is collected from the anterior chamber of the eye with a small needle.
Arthrocentesis helps to determine abnormalities in joint fluid. The technique consists of clipping and scrubbing the skin over a joint, and inserting a small needle to withdraw fluid. Also called: joint tap.
Bacterial cultures are taken to determine what bacteria are present in a sample. A culture can be taken of any body fluid or secretion. Also called: culture.
Barium enema is a test in which dye is placed directly in the colon to visualize the entire colon on X-ray. It is sometimes recommended to reveal masses or changes within the colon. Also called: barium enema contrast radiography.
Bile acid studies involve analyzing a blood sample obtained after fasting and then giving the animal food. Eating causes bile to be released, but then should be removed by the liver. The test can indicate liver disease. Also called: serum bile acids or SBA.
Biopsy is a tissue sample removed from the animal for examination, usually to determine if a tumor is malignant or benign.
Blink reflex involves a gentle tap with the finger at the corners of the eye, and observing the completeness and speed of the eyelid closure.
Blood gas tests can help determine oxygen levels of the blood. Tests can be run on blood from an artery, though sometimes blood is taken from a vein.
Blood glucose levels can help diagnose diabetes mellitus or insulinoma. Also called: BG, blood sugar.
Blood pressure is a test done to determine the pressure of blood against the walls of blood vessels. This can tell how well the heart is pumping, the resistance to blood flow and blood volume.
Blood typing determines your pet’s blood type in case a blood transfusion is necessary. It involves taking a blood sample from the animal.
Bone marrow evaluation involves taking a sample of bone marrow, which manufactures red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. A syringe is inserted into a bone and a bit of marrow is drawn out. Also called: bone marrow aspirate.
Bone scan involves injecting a small amount of radioactive material that would normally accumulate in bone. This can help detect the cause of lameness or bone pain.
Bronchoalveolar lavage is a test in which fluid samples of the bronchus and alveolar (lung tissue) is obtained, usually through use of a bronchoscope. The fluid is sent for cytology and culture. Also called: BAL.
Bronchoscopy involves passing a fiberoptic tube into the mouth of a patient and snaking it to the tracheal and bronchopulmonary tree to obtain a visual examination.
Brucella canis serology involves obtaining a blood sample. This test can determine if the dog has been exposed to the Brucella bacteria.
Cerebral spinal fluid test samples the fluid surrounding the spinal cord and brain. It is collected using a small needle. Also called: CSF tap.
Chest radiographs are X-rays of the chest cavity to visualize the heart and lungs.
Cobalamin is a blood test used to determine intestinal absorptive function and the status of the “flora” (natural intestinal bacteria).
Colonoscopy is a procedure in which a flexible scope is inserted into the colon to visualize the colon. This helps diagnose abnormalities such as chronic colitis.
Complete blood count is a sample of blood that is evaluated for red and white blood cells. It is used to determine anemia, abnormal platelet number and abnormal white blood cell count. Also called: hemogram, CBC.
Computed tomography is a specialized X-ray technique that uses ionizing energy to display a cross-sectional view of the anatomy. Also called: CAT scan or CT scan.
Contrast cystourogram is an X-ray taken of the bladder and urethra after a dye has been injected into the bladder to evaluate the lower urinary tract.
Coombs testing determines certain antigen-antibody reactions. This is performed on a blood sample and help diagnose certain immune diseases.
Crossmatching is a blood test used to determine the compatibility of blood with donor blood.
Culture and sensitivity testing is done to determine what bacteria are present in a blood sample (the culture) and which antibiotic works best to kill them (sensitivity).
Cystocentesis is a procedure to obtain a urine sample. A small needle is placed through the abdominal wall into the bladder. This is considered the best method to examine urine. Also called: cysto.
Cystogram is the x-ray obtained by cystography (X-rays of the urinary bladder using a contrast medium so the outlines of the organ can be seen clearly).
Cystoscopy is the examination of the bladder using a cystoscope, a tool that is inserted into the urinary tract.
Dacryocystohinography is a procedure in which contrast media is flushed through the entire tear duct system to enhance its visibility on X-rays.
Dermatophytes is a fungal culture taken to determine the presence of ringworm fungi. A small bit of hair is plucked from the edge of the lesion and placed on a special culture media. Also called: fungal culture, DTM.
Digoxin level is a blood test for patients on the drug digoxin to determine therapeutic blood levels.
Direct and indirect ophthalmoscopy provide a magnified examination of the back segment of the eye.
Ear swab exam is a test to determine the cause of abnormal ear discharge.
Echocardiogram is an ultrasound image made of the heart. Noninvasive equipment uses high frequency sound waves to see inside the heart as the heart is functioning. Also called: echo, cardiac ultrasound.
Electroretinogram evaluates the electrical responses of the retina to light stimulation. This can help determine if a pet is blind. Also called: ERG.
Electrocardiogram is a noninvasive test used to determine the electrical activity of the heart. Small electrodes are attached to the limbs and the body. Also called: ECG, EKG.
Endoscope is a long, flexible tube with a pinhead-size camera at the tip. The tool is inserted into the sedated patient to view the inside of organs, obtain a biopsy sample or remove a foreign object. Also called: scoping.
Esophogram is a procedure that involves swallowing barium and following the path of the barium through the gastrointestinal tract by using X-rays. Also called: barium swallow.
Eye pressure testing can detect glaucoma or uveitis. A small device called a tonometer is used to detect the pressure within the eye.
Fecal culture testing is done to diagnose bacterial causes of diarrhea.
Fecal fat analysis is conducted to confirm the presence of fat in feces. The test consists of fecal collection for a 24 to 72-hour period while the patient is confined and fed a standard diet.
Fine needle aspiration is a procedure that involves placing a needle in a mass or organ and pulling back on the syringe to obtain a sample. Also called: FNA.
Fluid analysis can be performed on any body fluid. It often includes cytology and cell counts.
Fluorescein stain is an orange stain that is applied to the cornea and the excess is rinsed off. The stain will adhere to ulcerated areas. Also called: eye staining test, corneal ulcer test.
Folate tests are used to determine intestinal absorptive function and the status of the “flora” (natural intestinal bacteria).
Food trial testing may be done to rule out food allergy. During testing, the pet is fed a food containing ingredients that the animal has never been exposed to. If the symptoms don’t improve, food allergy can be excluded.
Force plate analysis is a computer test used to measure the amount of weight placed on a flat surface, and can be used to evaluate subtle lameness. A plate is placed on the floor. The dog crosses over the plate many times. Sensors in the plate analyze the force each step makes.
Glucose curve tests monitor diabetic pets and determine the effectiveness of their insulin therapy. Also called: serial glucose checks.
Gonioscopy is a procedure that provides a magnified view of the fluid drainage angle within the eye. This test often helps determine the cause of glaucoma.
Heartworm testing involves obtaining a blood sample. Samples may be used for a microfilarial test or an antigen test. Also called: HWT.
Hepatic function tests are blood tests that determine the function of the liver. These tests may include bile acid studies or ammonia tests. Also called: liver function tests.
Histopathology is a study of tissue, such as that obtained by a biopsy.
Holter monitors are a type of EKG. They record the heart rhythm over a period of time. Also called: continuous ambulatory EKG.
IgE allergen test is a blood test that measures the levels of antibodies to different allerens that are present in the bloodstream. IgE is the type of antibody involved in the allergic response.
Intradermal allergen testing is done to determine which allergens will cause a reaction. The hair is clipped from one side of the thorax and small amounts of many individual allergens are injected into the skin. Also called: allergy testing.
Intravenous pyelogram is an X-ray study to identify the kidneys and the ureters. It involves the injection of a dye into the veins, followed by X-rays of the kidneys.
Joint fluid analysis is used to determine abnormalities in joint fluid. Also called: joint tap.
Laparotomy is an exploratory surgery that involves looking into the abdomen for abnormalities (such as foreign bodies, tumors, intestinal obstruction, gastric outflow obstruction) or to perform biopsies of abnormal tissues when the probability of abnormalities is high. This is an invasive “test” and required general anesthesia.
Lead level testing is a blood test used to determine the amount of lead (a toxic metal) to which a pet has been exposed.
Lipase is a pancreatic enzyme normally present in small concentrations in the blood. A serum lipase level test is often done as part of a biochemistry blood profile.
Liver function tests determine liver function. It is often referred to as either serum bile acid concentrations, bile acid studies or blood ammonia concentrations.
Lyme disease titer involves blood tests called IFA or ELISA. These can detect Lyme disease in dogs that have not been vaccinated. It involves taking a blood sample and sending it to a diagnostic laboratory.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging is a specialized X-ray technique that uses powerful magnets to display the cross-sectional anatomy of both soft and bony tissue. Also called: MRI.
Mucosal bleeding time is a crude test of platelet function, vascular (blood vessel) function and von Willebrand’s disease. A small, precise cut is made inside the dog’s lip, and the time until a clot forms is measured. This test will help the veterinarian decide if more specific testing is indicated. Also called: MBT, bleeding time.
Mycoplasma culture is a test to determine if an infection is due to the mycoplasma organism. A sterile cotton swab is swiped in the area and the contents are placed in a culture tube.
Myelography is an X-ray of the spinal cord following the injection of a contrast medium. This can help determine tumors or trauma to the spinal cord or vertebra.
Ocular ultrasound evaluates the back segment of the eye. An ultrasound probe is placed on the eyeball using a topical anesthetic.
Oral bentiromide digestion test is used for diagnosing exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. An oral bentiromide test substrate is given, and then blood samples are taken 60 to 90 minutes later.
Partial thromboplastin time is a test used to determine blood clotting abiltity (expressed in time). Also called: PTT, activated partial thromboplastin time (APTT).
Parvovirus tests are done by obtaining a sample using a rectal swab. The most practical method for diagnosing parvovirus enteritis is the ELISA test.
Pericardiocentesis is a puncture of the sac that surrounds the heart. This is done to obtain fluid for examination, or to relieve a condition called cardiac tamponade (fluid buildup around the heart).
Prothrombin time is a test used to determine how quickly blood clots. Also called: PT.
Pulse oximetry is a method to determine blood oxygen levels. Also called: pulse ox.
Radiograph is an X-ray.
Reticulocyte count is a blood test done to check for regeneration of red blood cells in anemic pets. If the bone marrow is responding to the anemia and rapidly regenerating replacement red blood cells, the reticulocyte count will be elevated. Also called: retic count.
Rose bengal is a type of stain used on the eye to detect surface defects, ulcers and erosions.
Schirmer tear test helps determine if low tear production (“dry eye”) is to blame for inflammation. A small strip of calibrated filter paper is placed inside the lower eyelid and left in place for approximately 1 minute. The height to which tears “climb” this test paper is a measure of the volume of tears produced. Also called: STT, test for “dry eye”.
Serology is the testing of antigen-antibody reactions in vitro. It is performed to check on several different diseases, including distemper, Lyme, toxoplasmosis, etc.
Serum biochemistry profile is a blood test that evaluates 15 to 25 enzyme levels to determine general health or the presence of disease.
Skin scraping is done by gently scraping a bit of skin using a small scalpel to determine the cause of irritation. This test is most often performed to detect the presence of mites.
Slide agglutination is a test that involves taking a blood sample from the pet. A drop of blood is placed on a glass slide to determine if it “agglutinates.” Positive results are suggestive of immune mediated hemolytic anemia.
Slit-lamp biomicroscopy is a test that provides a magnified view of the surface and front chamber of the eye.
Stone analysis is used to evaluate a stone removed from the urinary tract for mineral content. Also called: urolith analysis.
Thoracentesis is a procedure that consists of inserting a small needle into the chest cavity to determine if fluid is present and if so, what type. It can also therapeutically remove the fluid. Also called: chest tap.
Transtracheal wash is a procedure in which a fluid sample from the trachea is obtained. The procedure usually involves sedating the pet, clipping and scrubbing an area on the neck, and placing a sterile catheter into the neck. The catheter is then passed into the trachea and the fluid obtained. Also called: TTW.
TSH stimulation test consists of a blood sample to determine the thyroid level (T4) followed by the injection of a hormone to stimulate thyroid production. A blood sample is collected about 6 hours later for analysis.
Urinalysis is a laboratory test of urine. The test can evaluate the urine for the presence of white blood cells, red blood cells, abnormal amounts of glucose, ketones and protein. It can also determine the urine concentration.
Vaginoscopy allows for the evaluation of the vulva and vagina by introducing a scope through the external genitalia directly into the vagina to examine tumors, inflammation, etc.