March 5, 2018

General Wellness & Prevention

The Poop Sample – An Important Part of Your Pet’s Healthcare

by Aili V. Heintz, DVM

We’ve all had to do it.  Some of us put it in a Ziploc bag inside a paper bag inside a plastic bag. Some of us put it in a sealed plastic container. No matter how we choose to transport it, we’ve all had to bring in– the poop sample. Some veterinary offices call the test an intestinal parasite screen, and others call it a fecal flotation. No matter what you call it, testing your pet’s poop yields valuable information.

Becky prepares a stool sample for testing in the centrifuge

While many people may think that collecting a pet’s poop sample is gross, it is actually very important to helping to keep your pet healthy. Have you wondered what we do with the sample that you give us? Have you wondered what we can see in the sample? You might be surprised at what happens after you give the receptionist your “present.”

Step 1: The Gross Examination

The first thing we do is look at the sample with our eyes. Ironically, this is called “grossly checking” the fecal sample. In this case, “gross” means comprehensive or overall. Here is what we examine:

Does the stool look too loose or too firm?

  • Some pet owners might think their pets’ stool is normal, but we may find that it is softer than it should be. Or, if a pet’s stool is too firm, she may be dehydrated. The consistency of the fecal sample can give us clues about your pet’s overall health.

What is the color of the sample?

  • If your pet’s stool is normally brown, but it is now green, that is an indication that something might be wrong.

Is there any blood in the sample?

  • A dark red color may indicate digested blood. Bright red coloring may indicate undigested blood. We can narrow down the source of a problem based on this information.

Is there any evidence of foreign material in the stool?

  • We may find birdseed or other evidence that your pet has eaten something he shouldn’t have.

Step 2: The Centrifuge

To perform a fecal test, we place a small amount of the fecal material into a special liquid solution and place it into a test tube. We then place that tube into a centrifuge. The samples spins in the centrifuge for 10-15 minutes. As the sample spins, the liquid solution sinks to the bottom of the tube. Any eggs or bacteria in the stool then float to the top. We transfer a sample from the top of the test tube onto a slide so we can view it under a microscope.

Step 3: The Microscopic Analysis

Many intestinal parasites are too small to detect with the naked eye. When we look at the stool sample under a microscope, we look for the following:

coccidia under the microscope

coccidia under the microscope

Intestinal parasite (worm) eggs

  • Often times, if your pet has worms, you won’t see anything in her stool.  When we look at the sample under the microscope, we may see the worm eggs that are invisible to the naked eye.

Abnormal bacteria

  • All poop will have bacteria, because it is part of the normal digestive environment.  We look for abnormal bacteria that may appear when your pet eats things like rabbit droppings. Other bacteria may develop if your pet has been on long-term medications.  Some bacteria is caused by parasite organisms like Giardia and coccidia.

Step 4 (if necessary): The Fecal Smear

If your pet is having digestive issues, we may also perform an additional test called a fecal smear.  For this test, we place a small amount of your pet’s poop on a slide and apply a special stain. When we look at the slide under a microscope, this stain allows us to see different bacteria in the poop sample and to look for any other abnormal organisms that may be present.

How often should my pet’s poop be tested ?

We recommend checking a fecal sample every six months to make sure your pet is healthy on the inside. As you can see from the photo above, many parasites are impossible to see without a microscope. In addition, some parasites that your pet may have can be transmitted to humans. Regular parasite screening for your pet can keep your entire family protected.

In addition to the semi-annual test, have your pet’s stool tested if he is having diarrhea or digestive problems. Often times, we can discover the root cause by examining your pet’s poop!

So, the sealed container you give the receptionist really is a “present.” It is a gift of good health that you are giving your pet as well as your human family!

Dr. Heintz is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at Countrycare Animal Complex in Green Bay, WI. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from University of Illinois – Urbana/Champaign. Her passion is helping all animals, whether furry, scaly, or feathered, lead long and healthy lives.