Intestinal Parasites and Fecal Tests
I think most people who have owned a pet, weather it was a dog or a cat or a reptile or a bunny, have been told to bring their veterinarians a sample of their pet’s poop to test them for parasites. What people often are NOT told are the specifics of why we do the testing, how we do the testing, and what it is exactly we are looking for!
In this blog post I will attempt to shed some light on the whole “poop patrol” dilemma and answer some of the questions that I often hear in my appointments with clients.
First off, why are we testing our pets for intestinal parasites?
This question comes up commonly during appointments, especially when the pet I am examining is one that is a strictly indoor pet. The answer is simple…parasites are EVERYWHERE, and chances are your pet DOES go outside at some points during the day, even if it’s just for a bathroom break. Even if your pet truly does not go outside…ever…YOU do go outside and you have the potential to bring some parasites into the house which can then infect you and your pets! Speaking of infections with parasites, it is important to remember that humans are often at risk for contracting many of the parasites that our pets can carry, especially young children, the elderly, or anyone who is immune compromised, so keeping up with testing and prevention is VERY important for your pets as well as your human family members. In addition, many of these parasites that we are trying to prevent can carry along with them other diseases (bacteria/other parasites) that we need to consider as well.
Intestinal parasites can often go unnoticed by pet owners because they do not always cause clinical signs that we would typically associate with an intestinal issue (diarrhea, vomiting, soft stool, inappetance, etc). In most cases pets are acting completely normally with normal bowel movements and normal appetites when we diagnose them with intestinal parasites. Only if the infection becomes advanced do we tend to see more severe clinical signs associated with parasite infections. And remember, just because they aren’t acting sick doesn’t mean that the parasites aren’t there, so if they are carrying intestinal parasites, you can bet that those parasites are shedding eggs into your pet’s poop so that they can infect another animal. The eggs are microscopic and can not be seen unless a fecal floatation and examination with a microscope is performed…which brings me to the next question…
How do we do fecal parasite testing?
Often times when you bring in a fecal sample from your pet it gets whisked off to “the back” in short order and a couple of days later you get a phone call with the results, but what happens to the poop after it’s gone out of your sight remains a mystery!
Once we receive the sample we carefully select the most diagnostic parts of the sample and place them into a special container with fixative liquid to preserve any parasite eggs for examination. The sample is then transferred to a laboratory to be examined. The fixative liquid also causes the eggs to float to the top of the sample so that the eggs can be picked up on a microscope slide. The samples are examined by pathologists and the results of the types of eggs found are sent back to our clinic for us to report to you!
Each parasite type usually requires a different deworming amount and schedule. Some dewormers are liquids and others are tablets that we will ask you to give your pet on a certain schedule to clear the infection.
What are we looking for?
Typically we are looking for the eggs that are shed by the adult parasites living in your pet’s intestine. In some instances we will see the adult forms of the parasites depending on the severity of the infection and the type of parasite. With the worms (roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and tapeworm) we tend to see only the eggs on the examination, however, for other smaller parasites such as Coccidia or Giardia we will often see the microscopic adult forms of the parasites as well.
After you have completed treatment for your pet to clear any parasites we may have found, we should always do a follow up poop test to make sure that the infection is gone. Also there are many instances where once we have cleared one type of parasite another parasite becomes more active and will show up in the stool when it wasn’t there before, so it’s important to check for this so we can treat any other infections that might pop up!
We will also often ask you to bring in multiple stool samples over a period of time, and this is because many parasites will shed their eggs intermittently. This means that just because a stool sample comes back negative it doesn’t mean that they are truly parasite free. We may have just tested the stool during a time when the parasites are not shedding eggs, so when we ask you to bring another sample in 3 or 4 weeks later, this is why!
So, my closing thoughts on intestinal parasites can be summed up as follows:
- Prevention is always better than treatment, so bring us a poop sample to test in the spring and the fall, EVEN if your pet “never goes outside”.
- Always follow treatment protocols that we give you to treat parasites and please make sure to bring us a fresh stool sample AFTER the treatment is finished so we can make sure all of the parasites are gone.
- Remember that testing the stool of your pet not allows us to treat them for parasites that they may have, it will also protect YOU and YOUR FAMILY from contracting parasites from your pets. Testing along with a regular deworming program will help to keep you and your pet(s) intestinal parasite free!
Dr. Christine Nawas, BSc, DVM
(c) Erin Mills Pet Hospital