Collection and Preservation of Specimens

If you are unsure of what samples to collect or how they should be preserved or shipped, please call the laboratory for assistance. Our INTERACTIVE LAB TESTS & FEE SCHEDULE. will indicate the correct sample for each test. For all samples, remember to:

  1. LABEL all samples with animal name and tissue location
  2. Provide a medical HISTORY
  3. List any MEDICATIONS & antibiotics used
  4. Give a short list of DIFFERENTIAL diagnoses

Performed on fresh tissue or liquids, or swabs. Collect sample aseptically. Overnight shipping with ice packs is highly recommended. Do not freeze.

Tissue: Place each tissue in separate leak-proof containers with just enough sterile saline to keep the tissue moist. If using whirl-pak bags wrap the tissue in a piece of sterile moistened gauze. If possible, provide a 2-5 cm specimen, which includes the lesion. Fresh tissue is more desirable than a swab. Keep intestines separate from other organs. Tie off the end of intestines if an anaerobic infection is suspected.

Liquid specimens, e.g. milk and urine, should be collected aseptically in a leak-proof container. Collection of 2 to 5 ml mid-stream urine is acceptable for culture.Cystocentesis is recommended if anaerobic infections are suspected or from patients for which a definite culture has not been obtained.

Refrigeration of specimens for anaerobic cultures is not preferred since refrigeration may affect the viability of some anaerobes. Oxygen is toxic to many anaerobes. Swabs should be submitted in an anaerobic transport media.

The Molecular Biology section utilizes Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology to detect the presence of nucleic acids (DNA/RNA) from pathogenic organisms in clinical samples. Molecular diagnostic tests are fast and more sensitive when compared to other conventional methods such as bacterial culture or virus isolation. A wide variety of tests are available for bacteria, fungi, and viruses from many animal species, including pathogens of cattle, cats, dogs, horses, marine mammals, exotics, birds and laboratory animals.

Results can be obtained as early as 24 hours from sample receipt, in most cases.

Please see our INTERACTIVE LAB TESTS & FEE SCHEDULE for available tests, appropriate samples for submission, and turn-around time. Please, check our list on a regular basis as new tests are added frequently.

Note: It is important to remember that a positive PCR test result may indicate an active infection or presence of the organism (live/dead) in the sample submitted. False negative results may occur due to low numbers of the organisms or PCR inhibitory factors present in the sample. Like with any other testing methods, factors such as clinical signs, species of animal tested, and sample sites should be considered for reliable interpretation of test results.

The Virology/Serology and Electron Microscopy sections test specimens to obtain evidence of viral, rickettsial, fungal and protozoal infection. These sections conduct diagnostic testing for the major viruses of cattle, horses, dogs, and cats, and selected testing for viruses of pigs, sheep, goats, wildlife, llamas, alpacas, amphibians and marine mammals. The sections also conduct fluorescent antibody testing and serological testing for various viral, bacterial, rickettsial, protozoal and fungal pathogens of veterinary importance.

Two main groups of tests are offered:

  1. tests that determine the actual presence of the infectious disease agent or its components (antigens and toxins) including virus isolation (VI), direct fluorescent antibody (FA) examination, electron microscopy (EM), antigen-ELISA, and cytotoxic assays; and
  2. tests that provide evidence of exposure such as various serological assays.

The fluorescent antibody (FA) test is the most widely used antigen detection system for rapid laboratory diagnoses. The test is usually done on frozen sections of fresh tissue; formalin-fixed specimens cannot be used. Fluorescent antibody test results are reliable if fresh, and appropriate tissues are tested. Other rapid diagnostic tests include ELISA and electron microscopy (EM). When at all possible, separate specimens should be submitted for EM.

Specimens

Specimens from live animals may include nasal or ocular secretions, feces, and whole blood. Specimens collected at necropsy should include the organs or tissues affected by the disease process.

For details on appropriate specimens to submit for specific tests, please refer to our INTERACTIVE LAB TESTS & FEE SCHEDULE.

Virus Isolation

Specimens collected early in the acute stage of illness are preferred for virus isolation. These should be fresh with no preservative or fixative added. Materials can sometimes be conveniently submitted on sterile swabs if a viral transport medium is used. Tissue samples should be shipped refrigerated on ice packs.

Serology

Serology detects the presence of antibodies in serum samples. Results of serologic tests provide useful information for regulatory and export purposes, and planning herd-health vaccination programs. With the exception of certain life-long viral infections (equine infectious anemia, bovine leukemia, caprine arthritis encephalitis), the presence of antibodies in an animal does not necessarily indicate the animal is infected with that virus at the time of sampling. Therefore, serologic results are of limited use in the diagnosis of most infectious diseases unless the results of acute and convalescent sera are compared. The acute sample should be collected as early in the illness as possible and the convalescent sample 2-4 weeks later. More definitive results can usually be obtained faster if samples are submitted for other tests at the same time, (e.g. fluorescent antibody, electron microscopy, PCR, and virus isolation).

In the event of special requests or large numbers of samples, please contact the laboratory prior to submission. Blood samples for serology should be collected in sterile plain tubes without anticoagulants. Bangs' tubes may contain residues which may be toxic and thus produce non-diagnostic results. Do not freeze blood or allow it to become overheated. Submit serum rather than whole clotted blood if samples will not be received by the laboratory within 48 hours.

Electron Microscopy

Electron microscopy is used to detect and identify viruses in clinical specimens, primarily feces (rotavirus, coronavirus, parvovirus, calicivirus, etc.), but is also used with other specimens such as skin lesions (poxvirus, papillomaviruses) and tracheal or conjunctival swabs and scrapings (herpesvirus). At least 1 ml of feces, more if possible, should be submitted in leak-proof containers under refrigeration. Do not freeze! Do not use plastic gloves or OB sleeves! Plastic bags are acceptable if specimens are double bagged. Fecal swabs are often acceptable for detection of canine parvovirus/coronavirus. Swabs and excised skin lesions should be placed in tightly capped containers with a few drops of sterile saline to prevent drying.

Samples should be collected early in the course of the disease as the concentration of virus shed often decreases rapidly. In the case of herd problems, samples should be collected from more than one animal including an apparently healthy individual and several others in different stages of the disease. Multiple samples will also help in detection of viruses that are shed intermittently, as is frequently the case with infection by rota/reoviruses.

Possible Rabies bite/exposure case?

Call the Environmental Health Office in the county where the bite occurred. County Environmental Health Office numbers are here: (PDF)

The county's Environmental Health Office completes a bite incident report in a new program called SENDSS (State Electronic Notifiable Disease Surveillance System). They also make arrangements to send the animal/head/brain, along with the SENDSS report, to the Georgia Department of Public Health Laboratory for Rabies testing free of charge.

More questions? Call the Georgia Department of Public Health at 404.327.7900

The Athens and Tifton Laboratories are not public health laboratories and our results are not definitive in rabies bite cases. You must call the county where the bite occurred. NOTE: Rabies exposure, not involving a bite, is very rare and involves contact of saliva or brain matter of an infected animal with scratches, abrasions, open wounds or mucous membranes.

Serum specimens

Serum specimens are collected using whole blood in plain Red Top Vacutainer tubes. Serum is necessary for the vast majority of biochemical, hormonal, and drug tests. Serum must be spun down and separated from the clot and submitted separately in a sterile tube, refrigerated (on ice) and shipped overnight, ideally with a 1.0 ml minimum. When ordering multiple tests it is necessary to submit 2 ml of clear serum. It is necessary to separate the serum from the blood clot to minimize hemolysis in serum due to being left on the clot. This is critical for most chemical testing. Blood for glucose testing should be submitted either in fluoride tubes (grey top) or as serum which is separated from the clot within 1 hour of collection prior to shipping.

Whole Blood

Whole Blood is necessary for hematological analysis. The blood is collected in a Purple Top Vacutainer® tube with EDTA anticoagulant (2 ml or 3 ml draw) and shipped refrigerated with ice packs overnight (the tube should not be on ice or hemolysis may occur). Two fresh-drawn, unstained blood smears are required with complete CBC's (air dried and protected from the ice pack). BD Microtainer EDTA tubes are available for use with minimal volume specimens (1 ml).

Lithium Heparinized Blood

Lithium heparinized blood is recommended for most exotic species and for certain biochemical tests (e.g., ionized calcium, ammonia for which plasma is separated and submitted frozen, and for blood gases). Specimens are collected in a Green Top Vacutainer® tube with Lithium Heparin anticoagulant (liquid/powder) and shipped refrigerated (on ice) overnight. BD Microtainer® Lithium Heparin tubes are available for less than 1 ml volumes, and BD Microtainer® Lithium Heparin Serum Separator Tubes are also available for Chemistry specimens. However, a mini Avian panel can be done with 0.25 ml and calcium can be done with 0.5 ml. For non-exotic species, separation of plasma is encouraged. Lithium Heparinized Blood for all chemistry testing must be centrifuged and separated from the blood cells and submitted in a sterile tube.

Citrated Whole Blood

Citrated whole blood is necessary for coagulation tests. It is collected in a Light Blue Top Vacutainer® tube and should be shipped refrigerated (with ice pack) overnight, ideally with > 0.5 ml for a coagulation profile. Interpretation of coagulation tests is most accurate when blood from a control animal of similar age and breed is submitted along with the patient sample(s).

Interference

Gross Hemolysis and Lipemia should be AVOIDED. When heavy lipemia is present, use a larger gauge needle to collect blood specimens. This will minimize the hemolysis. Interference by hemolysis, lipemia, and icterus can invalidate certain results, specifically:

  • Lipemia
    Lipemia interferes with evaluation of bile acids, bilirubin, ammonia, ALT, AST, magnesium, and glucose.
  • Hemolysis
    Hemolysis interferes with evaluation of ALT; AST; bilirubin; potassium in horses, cattle, and certain breeds of dogs; LDH; magnesium; phosphorous; protein, urine creatinine/protein ratios, ammonia; creatine kinase; bile acids; GGT; and bicarbonate.
  • Icterus
    Icterus interferes with evaluation of cholesterol, creatinine, triglycerides, lipase, total protein and glucose.

Cytology slides should be clearly labeled as to patient ID and site or source of sample with a pencil and submitted unstained if possible. Protect slides from formalin; formalin fixes cells and prevents staining.

Due to the small space for writing, a number or letter key should be used for multiple sites (1, 2, 3, 4 or A, B, C, D).

Avoid the use of tape wrapped around the slide, which prevents slides from sitting flat on the microscope stage.

If you are unsure how to most appropriately sample a lesion, or what test to order, please review our INTERACTIVE LAB TESTS & FEE SCHEDULE. or call with questions (Athens 706-542-5568 or Tifton 229.386.3340 ).

Report types: Brief vs Extended

Brief/routine reports: This report includes diagnosis and comment. All information required for prognosis (e.g. mitotic rate, completeness of excision, vascular invasion, behavior of lesions, etc.) is included in the comment.

Extended reports: This report includes the information in the brief/routine report, as well as a detailed histologic description of the lesion.

Necropsy

Animals submitted for necropsy should not be frozen, but shipped overnight on ice in an insulated container.

The laboratories cannot return animals remains to our clients. However, if requested, remains can be released to registered pet cremation services. Animal remains designated as "hold for cremation service" will be held for a maximum of two (2) weeks, after which the Laboratory will dispose of them.

FFT (formalin fixed and fresh tissue/practitioner necropsy)

Submission of fixed and fresh tissue samples, which most accurately represent the disease process identified during a necropsy, is highly recommended. Alternatively, fresh tissues may be kept refrigerated for later submission pending the results of histopathology. There is a single charge regardless of the number of organs sampled. Please see Histopathology below for details on submitting tissues.

Histopathology

Specimens for histopathology need to be submitted in neutral-buffered, 10% formalin solution in wide-mouthed, leak- and shatter-proof containers. The volume ratio of tissue to formalin must be at least 1:10. Please double-bag formalin samples before shipping.

Containers should be labeled with names of the veterinarian, owner, and animal, date of collection, and information about the sample submitted. Please write in pencil – all markers and pens can wash off in formalin. When multiple biopsies are submitted with one case, each tissue should be submitted in a separate container and labeled appropriately. For neoplasms, inking of surgical margins is recommended for margin assessment.

Skin biopsies for Dermatopathology (skin conditions affecting more than one area)

Punch biopsies, at least 6mm in size, of multiple affected areas are recommended. There is a single charge for dermatophology cases, regardless of the number of punch biopsies submitted. Submit at least 4-6 skin punch biopsies with primary dermatological lesions is encouraged. Primary lesions are most diagnostic, so biopsy early lesions (e.g., papules, pustules, vesicles, bullae, wheals, etc) rather than chronic ones. Ulcerated lesions are typically not rewarding. Do not send the edge of the lesion as normal skin is not needed to make a diagnosis.

Electron microscopy is used to detect and identify viruses in clinical specimens, primarily feces (rotavirus, coronavirus, parvovirus, calicivirus, etc.), but is also used with other specimens such as skin lesions (poxvirus, papillomaviruses) and tracheal or conjunctival swabs and scrapings (herpesvirus). At least 1 ml of feces, more if possible, should be submitted in leak-proof containers under refrigeration. Do not freeze! Do not use plastic gloves or OB sleeves! Plastic bags are acceptable if specimens are double bagged. Fecal swabs are often acceptable for detection of canine parvovirus/coronavirus. Swabs and excised skin lesions should be placed in tightly capped containers with a few drops of sterile saline to prevent drying.

Samples should be collected early in the course of the disease as the concentration of virus shed often decreases rapidly. In the case of herd problems, samples should be collected from more than one animal including an apparently healthy individual and several others in different stages of the disease. Multiple samples will also help in detection of viruses that are shed intermittently, as is frequently the case with infection by rota/reoviruses.

The University of Georgia Diagnostic Laboratory system no longer has a Veterinary toxicologist or toxicology laboratory. All toxicology related samples will be shipped to the Breathitt Veterinary Center Toxicology Laboratory in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, or the Michigan State University Toxicology Laboratory for analysis. Fees charged by those two referral laboratories for each test and associated shipping fees will be added to the overall cost of the specific case.

What samples are to be submitted for testing?

The most critical component for a successful toxicological analysis is selection of appropriate specimen. Sample selection depends on the type of toxin or poison, duration and level of exposure, dead or live animal, etc. Tested materials include food suspected of poisoning in the stomach of affected animals, bait, animal bedding, tissues and biological fluids from poisoned animals including serum, plasma, whole blood, stomach contents, urine, bile, cerebral spinal fluid, etc. Fresh or frozen liver, kidneys, brain, and adipose tissue (fat) is also suitable. The submitting veterinarian can send appropriate samples based on his/her choice or in consultation with laboratory personnel. The samples must be submitted along with detailed history, clinical signs and information about the environment of the animal which are critical components in selecting the appropriate samples for testing and appropriate test(s) to be conducted.

For appropriate testing results, the following components are also critical:

  1. adequate sample sizes
  2. appropriate packaging
  3. proper shipping conditions
Both frozen and fresh tissue samples are accepted based on the test to be conducted. Whole blood samples should not be frozen. An adequate volume/size of sample must be submitted or results may be unreliable. Further information for shipping, packaging and volume/size of sample is provided in our INTERACTIVE LAB TESTS & FEE SCHEDULE.