Sometimes pet owners ask us why they should have a fecal checked on their pet. Many assume that they would see “worms” in the stool, or their pets would be showing symptoms that would make things obvious. Often however, intestinal parasites are not at all evident. Many, like coccidia, giardia, whipworms and hookworms are either microscopic or almost impossible to see because they are so tiny. Even if a pet has a larger, more visible parasite like roundworms or tapeworms, these may not be shed in the stool until the pet has had them for some time, or they may go unnoticed.
When we submit a fecal sample to the lab, a procedure is performed called zinc sulfate centrifugal flotation. This technique is one of the best at finding worm or parasite eggs or cysts. Keep in mind that parasites do not shed eggs or cysts in every stool, so in some cases more than one fecal should be tested for the best chance at diagnosing parasites. Tapeworms can be particularly difficult to find with any fecal testing method, and sometimes the only clue that tapeworms are present are seeing the rice-like segments in the stool.
Pets can become infected with intestinal parasites in many ways. Eggs or cysts are shed in the stool of infected animals, so other animals that step in the stool and then lick their feet can become infected. Mutual grooming can transfer parasites between animals if eggs or cysts are caught on the hair around the tail or rectum. Giardia cysts can often find their way into streams and puddles. Pets that drink out of these water sources can become infected. Hookworm larvae can penetrate the skin of animals or people after laying in infected grass or sand. Tapeworms can be picked up from the ingestion of fleas or rodents and coccidia is often transmitted to dogs that eat rabbit droppings. Whipworm eggs can infect the environment and are very resistant to heat and drying so can remain viable in the environment for years.
Many of these parasites are zoonotic – meaning they can be transmitted to people. Children are more commonly infected as their personal hygiene habits (putting fingers in their mouth) are often not as good as that of adults. Roundworm eggs can be present in dirt and even in houseplant soil. Roundworms can cause Visceral larval migrans in people which can cause injury to the eyes or even blindness.
Testing your pet’s fecal is easy to do. A fresh (less than 24 hours old) specimen is submitted to our clinic and sent to the lab for testing. Results are usually available within 1-2 days. All puppies and kittens should have at least 2 fecals done early on, whereas adult pets (even indoor cats) should have a fecal checked every 6-12 months. Cat feces can be collected right from the litterbox. Samples should be the size of 2-3 garbanzo beans and should not have been frozen.
There is not a deworming treatment that takes care of every type of parasite. For treatment to be successful it must be tailored to the type of parasite present. Monthly heartworm preventative does contain a monthly dewormer that will treat for some of the more common parasites like roundworms and hookworms, but will not treat Giardia or coccidia. Some parasites like Giardia, require a multimodal approach and can be difficult to eradicate. Timing of the testing can be important if dewormers have been given, as we can get false negatives if the parasites are not in a certain stage of their life cycle.
So, that’s the scoop on our request for the poop!