One of the less glamorous parts of our job is setting up and reading a stool sample.  We realize that pet owners are never thrilled about collecting a sample.  Let us assure you that veterinary personnel are not big fans of handling these samples either!  So why do it?  Is it really that important?  The answer to those questions would be a resounding, “YES”.  

What parasites are we looking for?

The most common parasites we see in practice are roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, coccidia, and Giardia.  

Roundworms are the most common type found in young puppies.  This parasite infects the small intestine.  Infected animals usually have a pot- bellied appearance and often have poor growth rates.  Roundworms are transferred to the young through the uterus and can also via the mother’s milk.

Hookworms attach themselves to the small intestine and suck blood.  Severe infections can be fatal.  Hookworms are the most pathogenic.  This parasite can be contracted through the mother’s milk, transferred through the uterus, and by having skin contact with contaminated soil (You or your kids can contract hookworms by walking around barefoot outside if your soil is contaminated!).

Whipworms are more common in dogs than cats.  Pets rarely show signs of infection until it becomes severe.  Whipworms live in the first section of the large intestine known as the cecum.  Because they shed few eggs, it may take examining several stool samples before a diagnosis is made.  

Tapeworms are contracted by ingesting a flea that has ingested a tapeworm egg or segment, or by eating rodents and other wildlife that are infested with tapeworms and fleas.  Tapeworms are segmented, and reside in the small intestines.  The segments are what hold the eggs.  These segments, which look like grains of rice, are what the owner usually sees attached to their pet or bedding. Tapeworms are also difficult to detect on a normal stool sample analysis.

Coccidia and Giardia are different than the above mentioned parasites.  These parasites are not worms, but are protozoa.  Coccidia generally doesn’t cause symptoms, can be found incidentally on an analysis, and generally isn’t treated unless found in large numbers or symptoms are reported.  Giardia is less commonly seen, but symptoms (diarrhea and weight loss) are more severe.  Unlike the aforementioned parasites, these two cannot be prevented with some of the monthly heartworm preventatives.  

Why is it important to examine my pet’s stool sample?

All parasites have the ability to cause significant health problems in your pets.  Vomiting and diarrhea, poor growth, weight loss, and even death can occur with severe infections.  Different parasites require a different medication to treat, making it extremely important to know what parasite has infected your pet.  Otherwise, the treatment may not work.  To make matters worse, most of these parasites can cause significant health problems in people!  Roundworms, whipworms, hookworms, and Giardia are zoonotic (can spread from animals to people).

My pet had a positive stool sample.  Now what do I do?

Pets that have a positive reading on a stool sample will require added precautions to prevent reinfection and to protect the owner and family.  Always practice good hygiene when handling feces.  Wear gloves if possible, and practice good hand washing techniques.  Clean up feces immediately.  Limit access of children to pets until the stool yields a negative result.  Wiping the pads of your pets’ feet and anus before they come inside will also help stop re-infestation.  

Different parasites require different courses of treatment.  Your veterinarian will discuss the best treatment options with you.  Follow the medication instructions carefully.  Your veterinarian will want to examine another stool sample at a later designated date to ensure the treatment was successful.  Initial treatments are usually sufficient, but additional treatments are sometimes necessary.  We highly recommend a solid monthly preventative routine.  Most monthly heartworm preventions are effective for eliminating most intestinal parasites.  Flea prevention will reduce the chances of your pet becoming infected with tapeworms.  

Has it been more than 6 months since we’ve tested your pet for intestinal parasites? Call us to check, or bring us a sample!

Your pet’s health will always be our main priority.  Please feel free to contact us with your questions or concerns.    

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