Pet Stool Samples and Why We Love Them

Puppy Vet visitIt isn’t typically a topic of conversation in polite company, but Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services loves talking poop. While it may seem like an odd request for us to ask you about your pet’s bowel movements or request a specimen, it is often an important part of routine wellness screening and diagnostic testing in sick pets.

Find out why we are so focused on your pet’s waste and what we learn from pet stool samples.

Poop as an Indicator of Health

Fecal matter is a byproduct of normal metabolic and digestive functions. When things aren’t functioning correctly, this often manifests as changes in your pet’s poop. Conditions affecting the liver, gallbladder, stomach, small intestine, or large intestine can all alter your pet’s waste.

When we are evaluating your pet’s bowel movements, we may look at or ask about:

  • Frequency of bowel movements
  • Consistency
  • Volume of waste
  • Color
  • Presence of blood or mucous
  • Straining
  • Urgency

This information can hold valuable clues that can help us focus our diagnostic efforts, should your pet need an internal medicine workup.  Pale stools may be indicative of a liver problem, while frequent, urgent, and smelly stools are usually a sign of a problem in the small intestine. Straining to defecate might guide us to look more closely at the colon.

Screening Pet Stool Samples

When we look at pet stool samples, we have some specific things that we are assessing. The best stool specimens are fresh (those that have been frozen or are dried out are not acceptable). In general, a gram of feces (about the size of a dice) is plenty. If bringing a sample from the litter box, keep in mind that in clumping litter urine and feces can look similar.

We assess each sample visually, noting color, consistency, and the presence of any visible parasites, foreign material, blood, or mucous. The sample is then processed to be examined for microscopic parasites and parasite eggs. Commonly identified parasites found when screening pet stool samples include:

  • Coccidia
  • Giardia
  • Hookworms
  • Roundworms
  • Tapeworms
  • Whipworms

Routine screening for parasites is vital for keeping pets healthy, as many of these do not cause serious side effects until there is an enormous parasite load. Testing at least annually is recommended by the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC). Screening for parasites in pets that are having systemic problems can also help to rule out these freeloading organisms as part of the diagnosis.

Specialized testing is also performed when indicated on fecal specimens for the presence of microscopic blood, viral infections like canine parvovirus, and DNA evidence of systemic parasites.

It may seem a little odd for us to be so interested in your pet’s poop, but pet stool samples hold a wealth of information that can help us to keep pets healthy and provide the correct diagnosis and treatment for pets who are ill. Who knew such an unpleasant thing could be so helpful!

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