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Intestinal Parasites

Does your veterinarian ask you to bring in a stool sample at your pet’s check-up? Do you know why? If not, this article is for you.

A fecal examination is important, especially for pets that do not receive monthly heartworm medication or de-worming. Part of the sample that you bring in is placed in a container and covered with a flotation solution. The flotation solution allows any parasite eggs to float to the top and stick to the cover slip that is placed on top of the container. The cover slip is then removed and placed on a microscope slide and examined under the microscope. The most common things that are found in fecal exams are parasite eggs. There are several common types of parasites detected with this simple test.
Roundworms are most common in puppies and kittens. The eggs are seen under the microscope and are round, dark brown with a tan circle around the outside.

Hookworms are also common in puppies and can cause significant illness. The hookworm egg is oval, clear, and has small circles inside the oval. Hookworms have sharp teeth that tear into the lining of the intestine. They actually feed on the blood and can cause anemia.

Whipworms are harder to diagnose because the eggs do not come out in the stools all the time, but intermittently. The eggs are football shaped, with caps on either end. Whipworms usually cause bloody diarrhea and dogs can be very sick when infected with whipworms.

Tapeworm eggs are not seen very often on a fecal flotation, but the segments (which are actually egg packets) can be seen on the outside of the stool sample itself. Your veterinary professional will look for these prior to setting the sample up for flotation.

Two other parasites are sometimes found on a fecal examination. These are protozoan parasites. Coccidia are extremely small, but can be seen with careful examination of the flotation slide. Coccidia are not usually a problem, except for young puppies and kittens. In young animals, severe diarrhea, often bloody is the symptom of a coccidian infection. Giardia is another protozoan. A Giardia infection is difficult to diagnose and a special type of flotation must be performed to find these organisms.

Often, the results of this common test will be given as “negative”. A more appropriate answer would be “No ova seen”. As in the case of whipworms or Giardia, one fecal examination may not be enough to truly get a negative diagnosis. If a pet is sick with either of these parasites, they are often present in high enough numbers to be seen on one sample, but not necessarily. A repeat exam may be required.

Parasites can cause problems not only for your pet, but also for your family. Zoonotic diseases are diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans. Parasites such as roundworms and hookworms can cause illness in people, especially young children that might be exposed to feces in the dirt outdoors. The manifestations of an infection with roundworms or hookworms are called visceral larval migrans, ocular larval migrans, or cutaneous larval migrans. What these terms mean are migration of the larval form of the parasite through the internal organs, into the eye, or under the skin. Hookworms cause cutaneous larval migrans and this is also known as plumber’s itch. This refers to an itchy, red rash on the arms of plumbers that had to crawl under the house to work on the pipes. Puppies often stayed under houses and went to the bathroom under the house as well. Keeping your pet free from intestinal parasites will prevent you from needing to worry about susceptible family members.

All in all, valuable information can be learned from a fecal examination. Next time your pet has an annual check-up, or has a gastrointestinal illness, remember to take a stool sample with you. It’s much easier for you to bring one from home than for your veterinarian to get one from your pet in the office.

Please note that this information does not replace professional veterinary care. It is solely for educational purposes. Your pet's medical condition should be evaluated by a veterinarian before any medical decisions are implemented. If there is a potentially life-threatening emergency involving your pet, take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary facility immediately.

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