Give a fecal! No seriously, always bring us a stool sample at your pet’s annual checkup or when your pet is having intestinal issues. You may not be pleased having to raid the litter box for a sample, or for not immediately tossing your dog’s daily present, but pinch your nose and do it. Parasites are ubiquitous in the environment, but we check stool samples for several reasons.
What goes in must (or should) come out.
Our canine and feline friends may not be very discerning in what they ingest. Examining a stool sample can show if we eat woodchips, rocks, or in the case of cats, string or plastics. Dogs that live with cats frequently eat cat litter. By examining stool at home and at the veterinarian, we can help assess inappropriate ingestion and prevent intestinal blockage or damage.
A dog’s nose is forever close to the ground; it’s part of how they sense and communicate with the world around them. Sniffing poop on their daily walks is normal to them, albeit a bit gross to us. Sometimes they ingest feces outside, but more frequently they get it on their feet, then clean themselves off with their tongues later. This is the perfect set-up to ingests eggs of intestinal parasites.
Parasites are everywhere. In dogs the most common are those which inhabit the intestines and are spread through eggs in feces. The eggs enter the intestines and they turn into adults where they continue the lifecycle once again. These parasites can cause a wide range of clinical signs, from nothing, to diarrhea, vomiting, blood in stool, weight loss, and in puppies/kittens and the infirm, possibly death.
Often dogs and cats will be asymptomatic carriers, meaning that they do not show any outward signs of hosting a parasite. While not being ill right now, the infestation could worsen and cause problems or infect others in the future!
The most common parasites in dogs are roundworms, whipworms, giardia, coccidia, and tapeworms. Cats frequently host roundworms, tapeworms, coccidia, and giardia as well. Tapeworms are easy to spot – they look like little grains of rice on the stool or anus. Adult round worms resemble thin pasta, but the other parasites, and their eggs, are all microscopic.
Humans are not immune
Many parasites that infest dogs and cats can be transmitted to people. Routine parasite screening, especially in households with children, are an integral part of family health and safety.
Dogs and cats are usually excellent at self-grooming. And of course, when grooming, they swallow most of what they remove. Mites, such as scabies and demodex, parasites of the skin, may be swallowed and present in fecal samples. Often these mites may not be detected through skin scrapings/assessments, but can be found in the stool. A stool sample is important to check in itchy animals.
A frequent question is whether an indoor cat needs a stool screening. Absolutely. Remember that cats may eat mice and bugs, all which carry parasites. Certain food brands may also harbor parasites, based upon how the diet is prepared. Even commercial food may sometimes harbor unwanted pests.
Any ill pet
Stool can tell stories. The color and consistency may indicate certain disease processed. The presence of blood is important to assess. And even if you don’t think that the pet’s illness is related to a parasite, you’d be surprised how often it is!
So when your dog or cat has their annual wellness visit or is coming in for a not-so-well visit, please bring a stool sample. You can bring it in a Tiffany box, cream cheese tub, triple-bagged with a biohazard sticker, or whatever vessel your heart desires, but please be sure it is labeled well. Poop has a story to tell, and if we don’t need the sample, we are happy to dispose of it for you.
Dan Teich, DVM is Medical Director at District Veterinary Hospital Eastern Market.