I t’s that time of year when Fluffy and Fido are due for their annual examinations, and while on the phone booking their next appointment the receptionist asks, “When you come for your next visit please bring along a fresh fecal sample?” You reluctantly agree, hang up the phone and wonder what they possibly could want with your pet’s poop. Turns out, your pet’s feces can provide some valuable insight into your pet’s health.
WHAT TESTS MAY BE DONE ON MY PET’S FECAL SAMPLE?
Once a stool sample has been brought into your veterinary clinic, the first part of any fecal analysis will be observing the stool for regularity. Feces should appear well formed, in a cylindrical shape that holds its shape and appears moist but not hard. Normal feces will have a chocolate brown appearance. Abnormal looking feces can indicate a digestive system concern such as:
- Black, tarry stool — May indicate bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract
- Red stool — May indicate bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract
- Light-coloured yellowish-orange stools — May indicate liver or gallbladder issues
- Grey or greasy stool — May indicate a pancreas issue
- White speckled stool — May indicate parasites
- Loose and/or mucus-lined stool — May indicate stress or intestinal inflammation
A fecal floatation is a test often performed at your veterinary hospital. It is used to detect parasitic eggs from worms like roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, lungworms and tapeworms. They are also used to look for intestinal parasites known as protozoa, which are single-celled organisms, such as coccidia, giardia, toxoplasma and cryptosporidium.
A fecal flotation utilizes a small amount of feces mixed with a floatation solution in a small vessel that allows the parasite eggs/protozoa to float to the top of the vessel after a specified amount of time. The fluid at the top of this vessel is transferred to a glass coverslip and viewed on a slide under a microscope to determine if any parasites are present and to identify them.
This test is performed most often with general wellness visits or when your pet is encountering a digestive issue.
Centrifugation Fecal Floatation
The Centrifugation Fecal Floatation test may be performed in house or by an external laboratory. This test is also used to detect parasite eggs from worms like roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, lungworms and tapeworms. They are also used to look for intestinal parasites.
A small amount of feces, along with a floatation solution, is placed into a tube and is centrifuged (spun) at high speeds in the hopes of pushing any parasite eggs or cysts to the top of the tube. Once the tube has spun, a glass coverslip is placed on top to catch the parasite eggs and cysts that have been forced to the top, which is then placed on a microscope slide and viewed. This method of testing often yields more reliable results than both the fecal floatation and fecal smear tests as the centrifugation process forces any parasite eggs and protozoa to the top, versus having them passively float to the top like in the standard floatation test method.
This test may be used in place of the standard fecal floatation test or when a standard fecal floatation test returns negative results but signs of parasitic disease are present.
If your pet’s stool is loose and watery and there is not enough stool to perform a fecal floatation or centrifugation fecal floatation test, a fecal smear may be used. In most cases it is performed to look for protozoa that may have not been detected in a regular fecal floatation. This test is performed by placing a small amount of the feces onto a glass slide and examining it under a microscope.
HOW BIG OF A SAMPLE IS NEEDED?
Not much at all. Your veterinary healthcare team will be more than happy for you to only bring along a large marble-sized piece of poop. If there is a portion of poop that looks abnormal, be sure to include this too.
HOW FRESH OF A SAMPLE IS NEEDED?
The fresher the better! Fecal samples should be tested within 24 hours. Worried that your sample won’t be fresh enough before you arrive for your pet’s appointment? No worries, just drop it off at the veterinary hospital after you have collected it ahead of your appointment.
HOW SHOULD I STORE THE SAMPLE BEFORE I ARRIVE FOR MY APPOINTMENT?
Once you collect a fecal sample from your pet make sure that it is kept cool in the fridge. Samples are best stored in a small disposable leak-proof container. A cleaned and rinsed margarine or sour cream container works great.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO KNOW IF YOUR PET HAS PARASITES?
Parasites can be harmful to your pet’s health and detecting them through fecal testing allows you veterinarian to treat your pet with the proper medication to rid them of these parasites. Some parasites your pet may carry can also be passed along to your human family members. Detecting parasites early in your pet and treating them helps to lessen your chance of getting them too.
Kristina Cooper is a Registered Veterinary Technician (RVT) and proud member of the Ontario Association of Veterinary Technicians (OAVT). She has previously worked in both small animal practice and a municipal animal shelter. With a special interest in the relationship between animal and human health she is currently the Provincial Manager of the OAVT Public Health Rabies Response Program and an active One Health Initiative advocate. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org