New Urinary Tract Infection Test Yields Results in Minutes

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

cat urinary tract infection test

Story at-a-glance -

  • Companion animals are overexposed to antibiotics not just through veterinary prescriptions, but also through the factory farmed meat used in almost all commercial pet food
  • Except in emergency situations, antibiotics should never be prescribed without a culture and sensitivity test to determine the bacterial strain and the most effective antibiotic
  • A new 2-step culture and sensitivity test for bacterial urinary tract infections is now available that can be completed in-house by veterinarians; the test looks for the presence of infection and determines which antibiotic will be most effective — it can be completed in under an hour
  • If your pet requires an antibiotic, be sure to give it exactly as directed, and also offer a probiotic supplement to reseed the gut with friendly bacteria

If you’re a regular visitor here and read my Healthy Pets newsletters, you’re probably aware that I have a major issue with the overuse of antibiotics in veterinary medicine. One reason is because like people, pets can develop allergies to medications that are overprescribed. In addition, antibiotics have side effects, many of which are long-term.

Another reason is antibiotic resistance, a rapidly expanding and deadly menace, which is the result of too frequent and unnecessary use of these drugs. In addition, antibiotic residues are passed up the food chain, so even if your veterinarian hasn’t over-prescribed them for your pet, there’s a good chance your animal companion is exposed to them regularly through the food he eats.

Dogs and cats ingest antibiotics when they eat food containing the meat of animals that were factory farmed, which includes about 99% of pet foods on the market today. The exception would be if you’re buying free-range, organic meats and making your own pet food, or if you’re purchasing one of a very small handful of pet foods that contain free-range, organic meats.

The Test You Should Insist on Before Giving Your Pet an Antibiotic

It’s important to understand that viral and fungal infections do not respond to antibiotics. Administering these drugs to treat a non-bacterial infection is a classic example of indiscriminate overuse, and I see it happen entirely too often in veterinary medicine. Veterinarians don’t know exactly what to do with a sneezing or coughing or itchy pet, so they send the owner home with an antibiotic.

That’s why I always urge every pet parent to insist on a bacterial culture and sensitivity test when your dog or cat is suspected of having or is diagnosed with an infection. Before you agree to a course of treatment, if your veterinarian doesn't suggest it, insist on that test.

A culture is simply a sample from the affected area. It could be a sterile swab dipped in urine, or a swab of infected tissue, skin, or ear discharge. The sample is incubated and monitored for organism growth, which typically starts the following day. When colonies of organisms form, each one is tested to determine what type of bacteria is present.

The sensitivity portion of the test involves placing tiny amounts of different antibiotics on the organisms to see which ones the bacteria are the most sensitive (susceptible) to. The minimum inhibitory concentration, or MIC, is the lowest concentration of antibiotic that prevents visible growth of bacteria, allowing the veterinarian to choose the correct antibiotic and dose to successfully treat your pet’s infection.

The decision-making process must also involve choosing an antibiotic that can be administered by injection, orally or topically for optimum results in the specific area of the body where the infection is located.

If your veterinarian prescribes an antibiotic without a culture and sensitivity test, he or she is making a guess at what type of organism is present and the best antibiotic to treat it — a practice known as empirical prescribing. Although lots of vets are very good guessers, given the growing danger of antibiotic-resistant strains of disease-causing bacteria, in my opinion, there’s no longer any room for error.

Each time an unnecessary or inappropriate antibiotic is prescribed, the potential for resistance increases. A bacterial culture and sensitivity test gives your veterinarian two very important pieces of information: the precise organism causing the infection and the best antibiotic to treat it.

Only in an emergency situation should your veterinarian prescribe an antibiotic before the bacterial culture and sensitivity test can be performed. He or she can then switch medications if necessary when the test results arrive.

A culture and sensitivity test takes a little extra time, usually a minimum of 72 hours, so you should be prepared to leave your veterinarian’s office without a definitive diagnosis of exactly what type of bacteria is growing, and without a prescription. Rest assured the additional time it takes to identify the type of bacteria present and the medication needed will allow precise treatment of your pet's infection rather than a risky hit-or-miss approach.

A New In-House Culture and Sensitivity Test for Urinary Tract Infections

With all the above said, I was very encouraged to learn recently of a new urine test developed by a company called Test&Treat.1 It’s an in-house test (meaning it can be performed right in your veterinarian’s office) that identifies urinary tract infections (UTIs) in pets and the best antibiotics to treat them. Signs your dog or cat may have a urinary tract infection include:

Suddenly urinating in the house or outside the litterbox

Constant licking of urinary openings

Visible blood in the urine or litterbox; dark or cloudy urine

Loss of bladder control; urine dribbling

Frequent trips to the litterbox; inability to pass urine or passing very little

Vomiting, lethargy, lack of appetite

Straining to urinate; hunched posture; crying out in pain

Drinking more water than usual

The “U-treat” test results are produced in minutes, which means veterinarians don’t need to play a medication guessing game while they wait for the results of urine samples that had to be sent to an outside laboratory. It also means your pet can begin receiving the correct therapy right away. According to VetSurgeon.org:2

“In addition, the company says that the test will help support the responsible use of antibiotics, which is particularly important given that Enterococci strains identified in canine urinary infections have been found to be resistant to three or more antimicrobials.”3

The U-treat test has two steps. The first step detects the presence (or absence) of a bacterial urinary infection and takes 5 minutes. The second step tests antibiotic susceptibility, and the results show the best choice of antibiotic as well as those that won’t work due to antimicrobial resistance. Step two takes 45 minutes.

U-treat was evaluated in cats and dogs at the University of Tennessee. According to VetSurgeon.org, the test demonstrated high levels of sensitivity (97.1%) and specificity (92%), compared to lab tests. U-treat is currently validated for use in dogs and cats and is being looked at for use in horses as well. It may also at some point cross over for use in human medicine.

Be Sure to Give Your Pet Antibiotics Exactly as Prescribed

A bacterial culture and sensitivity test will ensure your dog or cat heals more quickly and thoroughly. In addition, giving the proper dose of the antibiotic at the proper intervals and using up the entire prescription is important, even if your pet seems to be fully recovered before the medication has run out.

This will ensure the infection is fully resolved and prevent your pet from having to take another full course of antibiotics because the first one wasn’t finished, and the infection wasn’t effectively cleared.

Also Be Sure to Replenish the Healthy Bacteria in Your Pet’s Gut

It’s important to recognize that antibiotics literally mean “anti-life.” They indiscriminately kill off all bacteria, both the good guys and the bad guys. If your dog or cat has been treated with antibiotics, the trillions of healthy bacteria in her digestive tract have also been destroyed, which can set the stage for additional health problems, such as digestive upsets, intermittent diarrhea, poor food absorption, and dysbiosis (leaky gut syndrome).

It’s important to reseed your pet’s gastrointestinal (GI) system with friendly microorganisms — probiotics — during and after antibiotic therapy to reestablish a healthy balance of gut bacteria. This will also help keep your dog or cat’s digestive system working optimally and her immune system strong.