Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis is commonly referred to as a spinal tap. During this procedure, a small volume of spinal fluid is collected and submitted to a laboratory for analysis of protein content, white blood cell count and determination of the types of white blood cells that are present. Spinal fluid is very sensitive for identifying disease in the central nervous system, but is not very specific to which disease is present as there is a great deal of overlap between diseases.
CSF analysis is used in conjunction with other tests, including MRI, to narrow the list of possible neurological diseases. In some cases, CSF will provide a definitive diagnosis, such as lymphoma, a type of cancer. Tests for several infectious diseases (Figure 2) can be performed on spinal fluid if needed.
In animals this procedure is performed under general anesthesia. While a person may be asked to lie still for a procedure, an animal cannot. However, since the animals are under anesthesia, there is no pain associated with a CSF. In addition, animals DO NOT suffer from spinal headaches as humans do following a spinal tap.
Spinal fluid can be collected from the space between the brain and beginning of the spinal cord or from the lumbosacral region of the spinal cord near the patient’s hind end.
The procedure is quite safe and complications are uncommon to rare.