Fecal testing: A fecal flotation test is set up at Phoenix Central Laboratory in Mukilteo. A flotation technique uses a solution and either passive or active flotation to separate parasite eggs from debris in the sample and allow them to be identified under a microscope by egg size and morphology.

SandyFecal flotation.jpg

Fecal testing: A fecal flotation test is set up at Phoenix Central Laboratory in Mukilteo. A flotation technique uses a solution and either passive or active flotation to separate parasite eggs from debris in the sample and allow them to be identified under a microscope by egg size and morphology.

Sandy at phoenix.jpgDr. Sandy Willis, a small animal internal-medicine consultant at Phoenix Central Laboratory in Mukilteo, answers this week’s questions.

Question: Vets typically want to test a stool sample from our pets during an annual exam. It can be a smelly and messy collection, and many pet owners ignore the request. How valuable a diagnostic tool is poop?

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Answer: The importance of a routine fecal examination and deworming has grown in recent years.

A fecal exam is very helpful in health and disease. It will identify most gastrointestinal parasites in a healthy pet and those that may be causing disease in a sick pet with a variety of signs, including diarrhea, vomiting, poor skin and hair coat, weight loss, etc.

Most pets acquire parasite infections from the environment because parasite eggs often can exist for long periods of time in the soil and grass. Fecal examinations in healthy pets will identify asymptomatic shedders, allowing us to treat them, eliminate shedding,
serving to reduce overall contamination and exposure of other pets to infection.

SandyRoundworms 2.jpgSome parasites, such as toxocariasis (roundworm infections, shown right) and toxoplasmosis are zoonotic, meaning that if eggs are ingested by people, they can develop disease. This occurs rarely, but routine fecal examination and deworming of our pets is important to the health of our families.

Furthermore, restricting access of children to contaminated areas, such as sandboxes, pet-walk areas and other high-traffic areas, is important.

An important zoonotic parasite is the raccoon roundworm Baylisascaris. Raccoons defecate in areas called latrines, and surrounded soil can be contaminated with Baylisascaris eggs.

People should discourage raccoons from their yards but not feeding raccoons or other animals around their homes, carefully removing any raccoon fecal material, and not allowing children to play in areas where raccoons have been.

Question: What can a fecal sample tell you about a dog’s health?

Answer: Fecal examination will identify internal parasites, such as worms, coccidia including giardia, and sometimes larvae such as lung worms.

In puppies, parasite infections often come from the mother, so the health of the puppy and bitch can be assessed by a fecal examination.

But the exams do not identify all infections, and, thus, routine deworming is important even if fecal tests are negative.

This is particularly important in the puppy and in recently infected older dogs. In these dogs, worms are present in the intestines but they are not yet shedding eggs, resulting in a negative fecal examination.

Our common antiparasiticals have become so much more advanced in recent years.

They are safer, easier to administer and kill and prevent more infections. However, the fecal examination remains important to make sure we are treating the dog or cat with the most appropriate antiparasitical.

Clients should seek advice from their veterinarian on which dewormers are best. There are many out there, some less effective than others, and the veterinarian’s advice can save costs by making sure the right one is selected from the beginning. We also have to be careful with cats and make sure they receive dewormers appropriate for the feline.

Question: What can’t a fecal sample tell you?