Educational Articles

Cats + Diagnosis

  • FIP is one of the most challenging diseases to diagnose because feline coronaviruses are commonly found in the intestinal tract of many healthy cats. When this virus mutates or changes, clinical disease occurs. Unfortunately, routine blood testing for feline coronavirus is not clinically useful. Instead, testing is restricted to those cats in which a diagnosis of FIP is strongly suspected due to clinical signs and other supportive laboratory data. Histopathology remains the best way to diagnose FIP in the living cat.

  • Cytology is the microscopic examination of cells that have been collected from body tissues. Fine needle aspiration (FNA), also called fine needle biopsy, is the most frequently used technique in cytology. It is typically used to sample lumps and bumps on the body; however, it is also used to evaluate internal organs and body fluids. A sterile fine gauge needle is attached to an empty syringe and is introduced into the tissue. The tissue cells or fluid are aspirated when the plunger of the syringe is drawn back while the needle is held in the tissue. The cells are placed onto a clean glass slide, dried, and stained with special dyes. The cells are then examined under a microscope. Cytology by FNA does not always provide a diagnosis but contributes valuable information that ultimately leads to a final diagnosis.

  • Flow cytometry is a laboratory technique that can be used for counting, examining, and sorting cells. The sample is passed through a light source and as the cells move through the path of the light source, they scatter the light. The scattered light is captured by lenses, translated into an electrical signal, and is then analyzed and displayed as a graphical representation of the cell populations within the sample. Flow cytometry is used to count and group cells within a blood sample. It is also used in the characterization of cellular subpopulations; for example, to distinguish between benign and malignant lymphocytes.

  • Food allergies can be problematic for many cats, especially after years on the same diet. Clinical signs may manifest as gastrointestinal or skin problems. Some animal proteins are the most common causes and strict avoidance is the best way to treat affected cats. An eight to twelve-week elimination diet trial on a special veterinary diet is the only definitive method to diagnose a food allergy and, in some cases, the veterinary diet may need to be continued long-term.

  • Gastrointestinal endoscopy uses a flexible tube with a camera or viewing port to inspect the esophagus, stomach, proximal small intestine, or colon for evidence of disease-causing clinical signs characteristic of gastrointestinal disease. Foreign bodies can often be retrieved. Biopsies are taken of abnormal and normal tissue, as not all conditions cause gross changes to the stomach or intestinal surface. The endoscope cannot reach all areas of the small intestine, so other tests may be needed to diagnose disease in this area. Endoscopic pinch biopsies are not full thickness so if diagnosis is not achieved with endoscopic biopsies, additional testing including surgical biopsies may be needed. 12-18 hours fasting and enemas are required prior to endoscopy depending on the area being studied.

  • Genetic (DNA) testing is readily available, whether you are using it for fun to find out what breeds your pet is made up of or if you are looking into possible medical conditions. DNA samples can be collected either from a cheek swab or a blood draw. Knowing which breeds your pet is made up of can help you and your veterinarian prevent or prepare for health issues in the future.

  • A Holter monitor is a portable device used to monitor the electrical activity of the heart continuously and can be an effective and non-invasive way to help your veterinarian evaluate heart conditions especially when trying to determine the cause of fainting episodes or evaluate treatment. Many cats are not bothered by it and ignore its presence.

  • The term hypercalcemia is used when the level of calcium in the blood is higher than normal. Calcium levels are controlled by a pair of parathyroid glands. High calcium levels may signal the presence of serious underlying disease including kidney failure, adrenal gland failure, a parathyroid gland tumor, and some types of cancer. Pets with hypercalcemia may show signs of weakness, listlessness, increased drinking and urination, and loss of appetite. Your veterinarian will perform diagnostic tests which may include total calcium, ionized calcium, albumin, and parathyroid hormone levels.

  • Pets that have been diagnosed with epilepsy are usually prescribed one or more medications to prevent convulsions or seizures. Careful monitoring of epileptic pets is necessary, not only to make sure the dose of the medicine is right, but also to ensure there are no problems related to the long-term use of the medication. The most important thing to do is follow your veterinarian's instructions closely and give the medication regularly and consistently. This will ensure that the value reported on the blood test is reliable.

  • Pancreas-specific lipase is a form of lipase produced only in the pancreas and is highly specific to the pancreas. Blood values increase only when there is pancreatic inflammation. There is now a version of the fPLI test that can be used in-clinic (SNAP fPL© from IDEXX). Ideally, the sample should also be sent to the laboratory to get an actual value of fPLI to help with treatment and monitoring.