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The objective of this study was to determine the diagnostic performance of an electronic beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHBA) hand-held meter (Precision Xtra) for use in dairy cattle. Specific objectives were to compare the electronic BHBA meter with serum BHBA concentrations determined photometrically and 2 commonly used chemical cowside tests (Ketostix, Ketolac) and to evaluate accuracy in a field study employing 35 investigators. Of the 196 blood samples collected in experiment 1, 17 (8.7%) contained > or =1,200 micromol of BHBA/L of blood and 10 (5.1%) contained > or =1,400 micromol of BHBA/L of blood. Pearson correlation coefficients were highly significant for all tests. The highest correlation coefficient (0.95) was found between measurements of whole blood BHBA determined with the Precision Xtra test and the serum BHBA concentrations determined photometrically. Correlation coefficients between serum BHBA and BHBA in urine using Precision Xtra and Ketostix, and milk using Ketolac were lower. The Precision Xtra test was both 100% sensitive and specific at > or =1,400 micromol of BHBA/L of whole blood. Using milk and urine, positive and negative predictive values were considerably lower for both chemical tests as well as for the electronic meter. In the second study undertaken with 35 bovine veterinary practices, 926 blood samples were collected. In this study, the Precision Xtra test had sensitivities of 88 and 96% at 1,200 and 1,400 micromol of BHBA/L of whole blood, respectively. Specificities were 96 and 97%, respectively. Level of agreement was lower in the second study employing multiple investigators. Considerable differences in variance occurred among investigators. We conclude that the electronic hand-held BHBA measuring system using whole blood is a useful and practical tool to diagnose subclinical ketosis. Sensitivity and specificity are excellent for a cowside test and higher than 2 commonly used chemical dipsticks (Ketostix and Ketolac).