A lab technician using large equipment to complete diagnostic testing.

What diagnostic tests does pet insurance cover?

Team Walmart Pets

July 16, 2021

6

min read

A sick pet can be worrisome and challenging, because they can’t communicate their symptoms. That’s when pet parents turn to their veterinarians who are skilled to identify illnesses and injuries using physical exam findings and diagnostic test results. Typically, the results of multiple diagnostics are needed to obtain a diagnosis and guide therapy. While these diagnostic tests can contribute to a longer, happier life for our beloved pets, their medical expenses can be expensive.

Luckily, comprehensive pet health insurance coverage will reimburse a large portion – up to 90%, depending on the policy you choose. Here, we break down a few of the most commonly recommended diagnostic tests and the cost you can expect to pay out-of-pocket if your four-legged family member isn’t protected with pet insurance.

Diagnostic tests covered by pet insurance

Blood tests for dogs and cats

Just as with humans, your pet will need blood testing throughout their life. This is a common tool to diagnose and treat various medical illnesses and injuries and can identify everything from glucose (blood sugar), liver and kidney values, electrolytes, proteins and more. Blood tests, like a complete blood cell count or biochemical profile, give veterinarians important information about how well your pet’s body is functioning internally. For this reason, blood work may be necessary prior to anesthetic procedures. 

If your pet has a chronic illness, he or she may require more frequent testing throughout their life. Similarly, blood tests will become more common as your pet ages since illnesses and disease are likely to strike in their golden years.

A routine blood test can cost anywhere from $150 to $200.*

Urinalysis for pets

The urinalysis is the most common type of urine testing, because it checks the urinary tract for inflammation, infection and proper kidney function. If your pet has chronic kidney disease, he or she may require more frequent testing throughout their life. Thinking about at-home testing? Though its convenience can be tempting, the most efficient way to help your pet is by partnering with your veterinarian to get your pet the care it needs.

Expect to pay around $75 for your pet’s urinalysis.*

Fecal testing for dogs and cats

Also referred to as fecal flotation, this test can detect many intestinal parasites such giardia, tapeworms, hookworms and roundworms. These parasites can cause serious problems for your pet such as diarrhea or even hematochezia and melena. In addition to the fecal test, pet health insurance providers will cover the treatment provided there is proof your pet receives monthly preventative medicine.

The price for a fecal test averages $30 to $40.*

Skin testing for pets

Skin tests are not painful and are commonly performed right in your veterinarian’s office. Skin cytology is a type of skin test that detects skin infections by examining a sample from the surface of your pet’s skin. If your veterinarian suspects a mite infection, they would use a skin scrape to check for these pesky critters in the hair follicles. Skin biopsies on the other hand are reserved for persistent skin lesions, more serious skin diseases or uncommon skin diseases like sebaceous adenitis. These skin biopsies identify and guide treatment for many skin issues including skin inflammations, fungal infections and skin cancer.

To test your pet’s skin, you’ll likely spend $40 to $50.*

Diagnostic imaging

These tests allow veterinarians to see disease internally prior to pursuing invasive surgery. The most common are radiographs, ultrasounds, CT scans, and MRIs.

X-rays for dogs and cats

The pictures we commonly refer to as X-rays are really radiograph images that are produced when X-rays (a form of electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength in the range of 0.01 to 10 nanometers; or said otherwise, shorter than UV rays, and longer than gamma rays) are passed through your pet’s body to expose film in a cartridge. 

Because these X-rays pass through body parts differently, the denser the tissue, the whiter the image. So when a veterinarian is looking for something like a broken bone, the bone will be white, and the area of a break will show up as a dark fragment in the image. 

Since X-rays are relatively inexpensive, almost all veterinary practices are equipped with this technology.

Multiple view radiographs will cost at max, $350.*

Ultrasounds for dogs and cats

Sometimes, a two-dimensional image like an X-ray just isn’t enough. In these cases, an ultrasound examination can work to complement the X-ray image and help determine what may be causing pain or illness. During an ultrasound, sound waves are transmitted through your pet’s body and either become absorbed, pass through or bounce off of organs in the body. When the sound waves return to the sensor, they form an image that can be seen on a screen or determine what may be causing pain or illness. 

An ultrasound can cost $250 to $500.*

CT scans for dogs and cats

Computed Tomography (CT or CAT scans) are based on X-ray technology. Like radiographs, CT images are created using the relative opacity of a body part (for instance, bone is denser than soft tissue). The benefit of CT scans is that they produce a superior image to that of a traditional X-ray, and additionally, can distinguish between different types of soft tissue. An X-ray can tell your veterinarian that your pet’s liver is enlarged, but a CT scan can reveal the tumor that tells your veterinarian why it is enlarged. 

CT scans can be expensive, and therefore they’re usually not available for use in your standard veterinary practice. However, you can find CT in all veterinary schools with radiology residency programs in North America, as well as in some specialty practices. 

Apart from the high cost, there is another drawback, CT scans require anesthesia. Since the patient has to lie completely still as the machine produces narrow beams of X-rays rotates around the body, using a computer to then mathematically reconstruct all of those two-dimensional images into a cross-sectional view of the target area. Although minimal, anesthesia always poses some risk, even in a healthy animal.

You’re likely to spend $1,500-$2,500 for a CT scan.*

MRIs for dogs and cats

Magnetic Resonance Images, more commonly known as MRIs, use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to create cross-sectional images of the body.  The patient is placed in a machine that is essentially a very large magnet. The machine produces cross-sectional images of the body by creating a very strong magnetic field where different tissues absorb and release radio wave energy at different characteristic rates. These changes are detected by a computer, which analyzes the data and reconstructs it into an image. 

MRIs compose an incredibly detailed image and allow us to visualize cartilage, tendons and muscle, as well as differentiate between internal organs, and even distinguish the grey matter from the white matter of the brain.  

Like CT scans, the machines that make MRIs possible are very expensive; therefore it is very unlikely that you will find this technology available at your local vet. Some referral practices can perform MRIs, and mobile units that can travel from place to place do exist. 

Just as with CT scans, MRIs require anesthesia to ensure the patient is motionless during the image capture process. And while using strong magnets allows us to skip the radiation doses, MRIs can pose a problem in patients with metal implants (like bone plates) or pacemakers (yep, pacemakers can help pets, too!). 

Leave your wallet outside; your credit card will be rendered useless by the magnet, and at costs that start at $1,500, you’re probably going to need it. Thankfully, Walmart Pet Insurance can cover the cost of advanced diagnostics like MRIs and CT scans to help make your pet’s pretty pictures as affordable as they are important.

When an MRI is required, you can expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000.*

Treating your pet with imaging

Whether your veterinarian recommends an X-ray, ultrasound, CAT scan or MRI largely depends on what, and where, they need to see inside your pet’s body:

When to X-ray your pet:

  • Any disease or injury involving your pet’s bones including broken bones, bone tumors and bone deformities.
  • Lung disease like asthma or tumors can be easily spotted on radiographs.

What conditions need an ultrasound on your pet:

  • Abdomen: Ultrasound is best at picking up disease in the abdomen when there is free fluid around the organs. Additionally, tumors in organs can be seen with ultrasound.
  • Chest: Heart disease is narrowed down with a cardiac ultrasound (echocardiogram). Chamber and wall size as well as blood flow through the heart are easily measured.
  • Pregnancy: Suspect your pet is expecting? They may be pregnant.

When pet CAT scans are preferred:

  • Chest and abdomen: Variations in densities of organs in the chest and abdomen allow CT to shine. Liver shunts and abdominal masses are easily identified.
  • Skeleton: Three-dimensional images of bone fractures and limb deformities can allow surgeons to formulate a plan for difficult surgeries.

Using MRIs on your pets:

  • Central nervous system:  Subtle changes can be seen in the brain and spinal cord. Intervertebral disc herniations are easily identified with MRI.
  • Skeleton: When bone cancer is suspected, MRI imaging is preferred.

The future of vet care

The future of veterinary imaging is very exciting. Three-dimensional ultrasounds, CAT scans and MRI images will continue to aid veterinarians in diagnosing our pets’ ailments, planning complex surgeries and treatments, and who knows what else on the horizon. These advanced diagnostics are much more than just a pretty picture — they improve the quality of care we provide to our pets, both now and in the future.

These advanced diagnostics improve the quality of care we provide to our pets, both now and in the future. 

Pet Insurance

Photo by the National Cancer Institute on Unsplash