The Scoop on Poop

A fecal examination is the microscopic evaluation of the feces that is used to identify the presence of intestinal parasites. Some of the parasites are worm-like, while others are simple single-celled organisms called protozoa. Fecal examinations are recommended on all animals as part of a yearly health exam. Fecal examinations are also recommended on all puppies and kittens. However, if a pet develops diarrhea of unknown cause, exhibits unexplained weight loss, or has a history of prior parasitic infections, additional fecal testing will often be recommended.

Why is this important and why should you care?

Most of these parasites are not visibly shed in the stool, though microscopic eggs can be found in otherwise normal looking feces. Some of these parasites are zoonotic, meaning they can be transferred from your pet to you or your family. Children are the most susceptible to zoonotic parasites since they tend to put things in their mouth and play in the dirt, where these parasites are found. These worms can cause abdominal pain, skin irritation, neurological problems and vision loss. Studies have shown that approximately 20% of children contract roundworms every year from their pets in the United States.

Coccidiosis is an intestinal tract infection caused by one-celled organisms (protozoa) called coccidia.

Roundworms can be transmitted from pet to pet via infective eggs shed in the stool. Worms can sometimes be vomited up or seen in the feces and look like spaghetti. If a growing pet is infected with a large number of roundworms, they can stunt growth, cause serious digestive upsets and result in excessive gas formation. These pets have a characteristic ‘pot bellied’ appearance.

Tapeworms in pets cause few problems in adults, but can result in digestive upset and stunting of growth in puppies or kittens. Some tapeworms are zoonotic, meaning humans can be infected by the pet. Depending on the type of worm involved, a large number of worms can cause intestinal blockage.

Hookworms are one of the most pathogenic parasites of the dog. The hookworm is approximately 1/2 to 1” (1-2 cm) long and look like strings of spaghetti and attaches to the lining of the intestine. As a result of blood sucking, hookworms can cause severe and sometimes fatal anemia. In addition, the infective larvae can enter the host either by mouth or through the skin, particularly the feet. Eczema and secondary bacterial infection can result due to irritation as they burrow through the skin.

Giardia is a one-celled parasitic species classified as protozoa. Clinical signs can be continuous, or persistent with diarrhea and weight loss, while some animals show no signs. When the eggs (cysts) are found in the stool of a pet without diarrhea, they are generally considered a transient, insignificant finding. However, in young animals and debilitated adult pets, they may cause severe, watery diarrhea that may be fatal.

Whipworms are intestinal parasites which are about 1/4 inch (6 mm) long and are usually not seen in the stool. They live in the cecum and colon of dogs where they cause severe irritation to the lining of those organs. This results in watery, bloody diarrhea, weight loss, and general debilitation. They are one of the most pathogenic worms found in dogs.

What should you do about it?

The doctors of Countryside Animal Hospital in Tempe, AZ recommend an annual fecal exam and a monthly parasite prevention (Heartgard Plus) to protect your pets and family from contracting any zoonotic parasites. Remove feces from your lawn, street or kennel daily. Exercise your pets in grassy areas not frequented by other animals. Prevent your pet from eating rodents such as mice, rats and rabbits. Control fleas.