The Scoop on Poop

Ellie here, and… phew-whee, what’s that smell!? Whether you refer to it as dung, doo-doo, turds, or by its scientific name — feces — one thing is certain.

We all poop!

And within any particular — ahem, sample — is a lot of important health information. To safeguard your pet’s health, your veterinarian will typically recommend bringing in a fresh fecal sample (and by “fresh,” we mean less than 24 hours old) at least once a year. We’ll want to check poop samples even more often in puppies and kittens. This is because many young animals can be infected with parasites from their mothers, even if they come from reputable breeders.

Now, you know that your dog or cat (or even your horse or cow!) can get sick from parasites. But did you know that people can as well? Diseases that can pass from animals to people (or from people to animals) are called zoonotic diseases or zoonoses. The vets here at Greece Animal Hospital are concerned about your health as well as your animal’s. That’s why they like to test yearly for disease.

Roundworms are just one type of parasite that can spread from animals to people via contact with poop. Animals can become infected with roundworms from multiple sources. In dogs, an infected mother can pass roundworms to her puppies through the uterus. Pets of any age may eat poop that has roundworm eggs inside it, or they may even eat the larvae  — the immature baby worms — themselves! Yuck!  

Once your pet has been exposed to roundworms, they can travel within a pet’s body (this is called “larval migrans”, because the larvae are migrating).  Roundworms can even travel into the eyes, where they can cause blindness. Gross!  

(As an aside, Greece Animal Hospital is working on a clinical research project to investigate medications to help dogs with roundworms.  Dogs need to weigh at least four pounds and cannot have received any parasite prevention medications in the last 10 days.  Call us to see if your pet may be eligible!)

So, after you hand that little baggie over during your pet’s appointment, what actually happens to the sample? One of the staff members will take the precious “gift” that you’ve brought to the treatment room, where a technician places it in a test tube with some liquid before moving it to a centrifuge.

The centrifuge will whirl the sample around at high speed, helping any parasite eggs float to the top of the tube. The technicians will then place the sample on a slide, and examine it under a microscope.

Hookworms are another pesky parasite that are just as happy to prey on people as they are animals. If a person or pet comes in contact with infected feces (or soil that has been exposed to animal feces and thus hookworm eggs), they can get sick. Once the eggs hatch, larvae are released. Once the larvae grow a bit, they can penetrate through human skin!  One of the most common ways that people get sick from hookworms is by walking over contaminated soil in their bare feet.

Some poor pets can be afflicted with a parasitic double whammy. Fleas are notorious for making their home both on your pets, and in the environment where they live. Cats are awesome at grooming and keeping themselves clean, so you may not see fleas (or flea eggs or flea poop, known as “flea dirt”) on your pristine feline.  But beware! Pets that ingest fleas may also wind up swallowing tapeworms, which can live inside the fleas. If pets have tapeworms, you may see little white bits that look like pieces of rice sticking to your pet’s bottom.  These little bits are broken off pieces of the tapeworm (we call these segments “proglottids”).  If you see them on your pet, call your vet for an appointment and bring in a poop sample!

There are numerous parasites that can be spread through infected feces, including Toxoplasma gondii, whipworms, and many others.  Explore the Center for Disease Control (CDC) or Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) websites, or talk to your veterinarian for more information.

How can you keep your family (both the furry and non-furry members) safe?  It’s very important to wash your hands after handling any pet, prior to eating, after picking up pet waste, and anytime your hands are dirty.  Pets should also be on monthly preventive medications to help decrease the risk of GI parasites (yes — even if we are “indoor only” pets). Some of these medications even come in a yummy flavored chew!  I’m happy to get an extra snack every month, and my pet parents love knowing that they are keeping me safe.

Fleas? Ticks? None of them can get near me!