Fecal Testing for Dogs and Cats
Why Fecal Testing is Necessary
Most people understand why a fecal test is important if their pet is vomiting or having diarrhea, but many pet owners ask us if annual fecal testing is necessary for their pet if they aren’t seeing any signs of intestinal parasites. Our answer is always yes, for a few simple reasons:
- Many intestinal parasite infections do not produce symptoms until they are quite advanced. Even if your pet is acting normal and not having symptoms, they can be infected with parasites that are doing damage to your pet's gastrointestinal tract.
- Several common intestinal parasites can be passed to humans. Children and immune-compromised individuals are most vulnerable. The easiest way to protect people is to ensure that your pet is parasite-free.
- Fecal testing is non-invasive and painless. Okay, we know that no one is excited about collecting a poop sample, but as gross as it can be, it’s far grosser to think of a whole colony of worms making a home in your pet’s small intestine. All the test requires is collecting a fresh stool sample (put it in a baggie, plastic container, or we can provide you with a cup) and dropping it off at the hospital within 24 hours of collection. We’ll do the rest!
“But my pet lives exclusively indoors… are they really at risk of contracting parasites?”
It’s true that indoor pets have a much lower risk of encountering and becoming infected with intestinal parasites. Low risk is not zero risk though. One common parasite we see in both cats and dogs is tapeworms. The Dipylidium species of tapeworm infects animals via ingestion of infected fleas. Much as we wish otherwise, fleas can definitely get indoors to find and infect indoor pets. If the indoor pet lives with a pet that also goes outdoors, they can be exposed to parasites by sharing food, water, and living spaces with the pet that goes outdoors.
Again, because fecal testing is entirely non-invasive and pain-free, we recommend checking indoor pets annually, just like pets that go outdoors. An unexpected positive test result gives you the chance to treat your pet and eradicate the parasites before they can cause a problem.
How is a fecal test performed?
- Collect a fresh stool sample (for cats, its fine if the sample is litter-covered). The sample should be at least as big as two jellybeans. The sample can be stored in a baggie, plastic container, or a cup we’ve provided for you.
- Drop the sample off at the hospital within 24 hours of collection. Please let us know if you’ve seen anything abnormal (like blood, mucous, or evidence of parasites like rice grains or spaghetti-like worms) in your pet’s stool over last week.
- We’ll send the sample off to an outside laboratory for analysis. They will soak the sample in a special solution designed to allow any parasite eggs or cysts to float to the top of the container and adhere to a microscope coverslip. A laboratory technician then looks at the coverslip under the microscope and identifies any parasite eggs or cysts seen.
- The lab will send us your pet’s fecal results, usually within 24-48 hours of submitting the sample. We will contact you as soon as we have the results. If your pet was positive, a doctor or technician will let you know the details of the infection and the treatment plan.
“I’m seeing parasites in my pet’s stool, but the fecal test came back negative. What gives?”
Unfortunately, false negatives can happen with fecal testing. There are a couple reasons this can happen:
- Parasite life cycles vary. Since fecal testing is usually looking for eggs or cysts, not adult parasites, it is possible for a parasite to be present but not shedding eggs at the time the sample was collected.
- Some parasites are very hard to detect on fecal testing. Tapeworm eggs, in particular, are quite heavy and do not always float in the special solution. Giardia cysts can also be very small and difficult to identify if there are only a few present in the sample.
This is why it is very important to let us know if you’ve seen anything abnormal in your pet’s stool when you are dropping off a sample. Though we would prefer a positive fecal test to confirm which parasite(s) have infected your pet, the veterinarian will take into consideration any symptoms or parasites you have seen when deciding if your pet should be dewormed. Please call us at 269-381-1570 with any concerns about your pet's stool or gastroinstinal health.
Annual fecal testing is important!
If your pet has an upcoming wellness examination at Kalamazoo Animal Hospital, remember to bring a stool sample so your pet's annual fecal test can be completed! The best time to diagnose parasites is before they're causing any symptoms or problems, and even a perfectly healthy pet can be harboring parasites.
Check out the links below for more information about some of the most common parasites we diagnose in our patients: