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.

The truth about intestinal worms

Many people have the misconception that if they don’t see worms in their dog or cat’s stool that they don’t need to be dewormed states Dr. Rebecca Marr, DVM, at Owl Creek Veterinary Hospital in Virginia Beach, VA. This is a complete misunderstanding of the threat that intestinal parasites pose to your animal and to your family. Many intestinal worms can cause serious illness for the animal, but also can be transmitted and harmful to people as well. As veterinarians, we have taken an oath to protect public health and it is our job to inform and keep you safe from health risks that your companion animal may pose to you.

There are four main types of intestinal worms that affect dogs and cats: roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and tapeworms. All of these worms take vital nutrients and protein away from your pet and may cause vomiting and/or diarrhea. Tapeworms are the worm’s owners typically seen around the rectum and are typically caused by ingestion of fleas or from hunting small rodents. Most of these can be prevented by regular use of flea prevention. Roundworms, Hookworms, and Whipworms are common in puppies and kittens, but also can infect adult dogs and cats. These worms live in your pet’s intestines and shed eggs in the feces, thus contaminating the soil, yard, litter box, etc. When your pet licks the dirt, eats grass, or cleans their feet they can accidentally eat these eggs and become infected. The adult form of the worm stays in the intestine and is usually not seen, while eggs are only visible with a microscope.

Roundworms and Hookworms have been known to cause disease in people; children and elderly are at an increased risk. It is therefore very important for the health of your pet and family to keep your pet as worm free as possible. The Companion Animal Parasite Council guidelines ( recommend deworming puppies and kittens repeatedly, routine fecal examinations, year round heartworm preventatives, and cleaning up dog poop from the yard daily.

Submitted by:
Rebecca Marr, DVM
Owl Creek Veterinary Hospital
587 S Birdneck Road
Virginia Beach, VA 23451
(757) 428-4344

Parasite Control

Intestinal parasites such as hookworms and roundworms can be a troublesome concern, especially for very young animals. Most puppies/kittens are born with worms and dogs/cats remain susceptible to the harmful parasites throughout their lives. Worms live inside your pet, making the symptoms difficult to pinpoint, and are therefore detected through a fecal analysis. Internal parasites can not only harm your pet, but many can also be transferred to children and adults, making them sick as well.

Your hospital performs a fecal analysis on all new puppies and kittens. If your pet does have a parasite problem, your veterinarian can provide you with different medications and treatments to remedy the problem and steer your pet back to good health. Preventive care and prescription heartworm medication are key, because of the damages presented by intestinal parasites to both pets and people.

As a pet parent, you should ensure your pet is receiving the safest and most effective ongoing preventive care.