It always seems to be the closing statement when we talk to you about your annual exam appointment. “Please bring a fresh stool sample,” we say. No, we don’t do this just to give you a hard time. If we could do the test we need to perform a different way we would be the first to celebrate not needing that fecal sample.
So what the heck are we doing with your beloved pet’s poop anyway? Well, we are checking under the microscope for worm eggs, or as we call them intestinal parasite ova. There are a variety of parasites that infect our pets. Among them are roundworms (genus Toxocara), hookworms (genus Ancylostoma) and whipworms (genus Trichus) to name the most common. We are also checking for other little critters that shouldn’t be there, such as Coccidia or Giardia.
So, besides the gross-out factor, what’s the big deal you might ask? These parasites can cause diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, and in some instances malnourishment and even death. “But our dogs and cats don’t live on a farm,” you might think as you’re collecting the sample at 7am in the morning while your neighbors are enjoying their coffee and paper. These organisms have been around for a VERY long time and have evolved extremely effective strategies to survive even in an urban environment. Eggs and larvae are microscopic and live in the environment for months after the feces has been picked up. When an unsuspecting dog or cat sniffs some wet grass they can easily and unknowingly infect themselves.
Here is another health concern to think about. We can get these parasites too. This is known as zoonosis, or getting an infection from another species. And because we’re not the normal host, the larvae of these worms will migrate under our skin or worse, in the case of roundworms, migrate through our liver and other internal organs. This is a serious health problem and not easy to diagnose for our physicians. Unfortunately, the most susceptible are children. They tend to play in the grass more, play with our pets often, and always seem to forget to wash their hands. And in the case of wee ones, they put those contaminated fingers in their mouths all too often. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has more information on roundworm and hookworm zoonosis.
So, while poop smells bad to us too, we want to see it. Bring it in (we even have little collection kits for you at the clinic), and we’ll check to make sure your four legged family member is free of these nasty little critters.