Why does my veterinarian ask me to bring a stool (fecal sample) to my pet’s wellness exam each year?
Veterinarians typically request that pet’s owners bring a fresh stool (fecal) sample to their pet’s wellness exam every year. The stool samples are examined at a microscopic level to look for intestinal parasites (many parasites are very tiny and impossible to detect with the human eye) in a pet’s feces. Ensuring your pet has a negative fecal examination at least once a year is a vital component in making sure your pet is happy and healthy. Many pets may be positive for a parasite and not always exhibit any outward symptoms (such as gastrointestinal upset, diarrhea, distend abdomen, unexplained weight loss, or vomiting). These pets can unknowingly spread parasites to other pets and even humans (these parasites are known as zoonotic parasites).
How can you reduce your pet’s risk of contracting parasites?
The best way to help ensure that your pet has a reduced chance of contracting an intestinal parasite is to have their stool checked annually. It is also important to make sure you are cleaning up after your pet and practicing good hygiene. Picking up your pet’s feces on a walk, or in the backyard, is very important to minimize exposure if your pet may have contracted a parasite. Monitoring what your pet is eating is important; don’t let them eat other animal’s feces or other critters (rodents and other wild animals can be hosts for parasites). Giving your pet a broad-spectrum parasite preventative year-round is also recommend to help treat any unknown exposures that might occur. Speak with your veterinarian about broad spectrum parasite preventatives at their next appointment.
What are some of the common parasites my pet might come into contact with in our area?
Common parasites reported in the state of Oregon include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, coccidia, and giardia. If you are traveling out of the area, be sure to speak with your veterinarian so they can be sure your pet is protected while you are traveling.
In the state of Oregon, 1 in 50 dogs and 1 in 20 cats tested positive for roundworms in 2020. Deschutes county had 272 reported positive cases in dogs and four reported cases in cats. Roundworms are a parasite particularly common in puppies and kittens; they can be passed from the mother in her milk while nursing her young. If a roundworm infection is left untreated, these parasites can grow large and be visible in a patient’s feces or vomit. This parasite looks like a spaghetti noodle. Roundworms are a zoonotic parasite. Practicing good hygiene is imperative.
In 2020, one in 500 dogs tested positive for hookworms in the state of Oregon. Deschutes county had 150 reported cases of this parasite. 1 in 750 cats tested positive last year in the state; 39 confirmed cases were in Deschutes county. Hookworms are a zoonotic parasite that can be spread easily to humans especially through contaminated soil. Hookworms are very small and hard to detect with the human eye. Microscopic evaluation is usually needed to confirm if a pet has contracted this parasite.
Whipworms are another parasite that we do occasionally see in our area. In Oregon, 1 in 500 dogs tested positive for whipworms in 2020; 293 dogs were reported positive in Deschutes county. Positive cases in cats are typically more of an incidental finding so there is very limited recorded data for positive cases in the state.
One in 10 dogs and 1 in 20 cats tested positive for giardia in Oregon last year. Deschutes county reported 1,629 cases in dogs and 77 cats. Giardia is a zoonotic parasite that is undetectable to the human eye. Pets can contract this parasite through the environment (drinking infected water, ingesting the feces of a giardia positive animal, or consuming a contaminated surface).
Another parasite pets can contract in our state is Coccidia. Positive cases are not tracked like other parasites so there is no reported data for positive cases in the state or our county. Coccidia is a microscopic parasite that can infect dogs, cats, and even reptiles (though each species has its own strain of parasite so it is not possible for dogs to infect cats and vice versa). It is not a zoonotic parasite so it cannot be transmitted to humans.
Tapeworms are a very common parasite in our state (especially on the west side of the Cascades where temperature don’t fall below freezing for long). Tapeworms are spread when a pet ingests a flea. Tapeworms are a parasite that can often be detected by the naked eye. They are most commonly described as rice-like in appearance.
How should you collect a fecal sample to bring to your veterinarian?
Veterinarians want the freshest stool sample possible. If you are not able to bring the sample in right away, be sure to keep in the fridge until your pet’s appointment time. You can obtain a collection kit from your veterinary office or bring your pet’s sample in a sealed container from home or even a securely tied poop bag.
Parasites are common nuisances in dogs and cats. They are easily transmitted and can negatively impact a pet’s overall health. Maintaining a yearly parasite preventative regiment and staying on top of annual fecal checks is a great way to help ensure your pet is happy and healthy.