Have you ever wondered why we always recommend that you bring in a fecal sample? Believe, me we don't enjoy it anymore than you do. This smelly little sample tells us quite a bit, it is important to check to make sure that there are no gastrointestinal parasites. There are 6 common worms that we see often that have the potential to cause harm if they remain undetected for too long. Some of these worms are also classified as "zoonotic" meaning that they are actually transmissible to humans. This is especially important if you have any small children in the house. These worms are all contracted differently, you should check your pets fecal at least 2 times a year especially if your animal hunts, goes to doggy day care, boarding facility, dog park, if they are outdoor kitties, or if they have the nasty habit know as coprophagia (eating feces).
Checking the fecal is very important because most of the parasites that can be found in the GI system will not be seen upon gross examination of the fecal material. A specific microscopic test needs to be preformed called a fecal flotation. With this the fecal material is ground up with a buoyant mixture called fecasol. This causes the eggs of these parasites to float to the surface and adhere to the microscope slide. After that process is complete it is then carefully examined for specifically shaped eggs that would indicate that this specific parasite is dwelling in your animals GI system. There can unfortunately be multiple different parasites in the GI tract at the same time. When a parasite is found a de-wormer is then prescribed. Each parasite has a different de-wormer. Parasites can become resistant to de-wormers if you are not using the appropriate one for that specific worm. There are six main types of worms that we see on a daily basis; roundworms, tapeworms, hookworms, whipworms, coccidia and giardia. The only worms that are seen upon gross visual examination, are roundworms and tapeworms.
Roundworms (Toxocara canis) are the long "spaghetti" like worms that are seen in the feces and sometimes vomitus. Typically roundworms are most commonly seen in puppies, kittens, cats that are avid hunters, and dogs who like to indulge in a "tasty" fecal treat! Symptoms would be diarrhea, a dull coat, a pot belly and vomiting. On rare occasions these worms can be zoonotic. Care must be taken to wash your hands after coming into contact with these eggs, this is especially important if you have children who play outside in things like sand boxes. Always make sure your sandboxes have lids so the neighborhood kitties don't have the opportunity to use it as a giant litter box.
Tapeworms (Diplydium canis or Taenia pisiformis) are also seen upon gross examination. They are a segmented parasite so if you ever see any "rice" like worms in your animals feces, or around their rectum tapeworm would be the culprit. If you are really lucky you might even see them crawling out of the rectum! Tapes are contracted in two different ways they are either from eating a flea (Diplydium canis) or from hunting and animal they caught (Tania pisiformis). A very specific and rare tapeworm can be considered zoonotic (Echinococcus) but fortunately this is exceptionally rare in the US.
Hookworms (Ancylostoma canium- k-9 or Ancylostoma tubaefrome- feline) are one of the more severe intestinal parasites. They need to be treated in a timely fashion or they can wreck havoc. Hookworms latch on to the intestinal wall and feed off of your animals blood. In order to diagnose hookworms a microscopic examination will need to be performed, these nasty little bugs are not visible to the naked eye. Side effects are diarrhea and weight loss, in severe cases you can see things such as anemia and potentially death. Hookworm eggs contaminate the soil and hatch larvae. These larvae can infect your animal if they eat something with soil on it or by licking their paws after walking through contaminated soil. They live in the GI system and get expelled with the feces. Humans can also contract them by walking barefoot through contaminated soil or sand.
Whipworm (Trichuris vulpis- K-9, Trichuris trichiura -K-9 & feline) can be contracted through sand, soil, water, and flesh. Whipworm eggs can actually live in the environment anywhere for a few months to years! Whipworm infection can present in an asymptomatic way meaning that there are no symptoms to speak of (another reason why it's important to check regularly) or as inflammation of the large bowel and present with bloody diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss, and anemia. They reside in the cecum mainly and feed off of tissue and blood. Whipworms also have the potential to be zoonotic.
Coccidia is a coccidian parasite that are extremely common and rarely cause symptoms. However symptoms would be diarrhea, dehydration, and serious illness. When contracted this can be transmitted from one animal to another, mainly affecting puppies and kittens as opposed to adult animals.
Giardia is a protozoan parasite that causes severe mucusy diarrhea that can have an acute, intermittent, or chronic onset. This is contracted by ingesting infected cysts (offspring) these cysts can be spread through feces, or through drinking out of stagnant puddles. This parasite is sometimes a tough one to diagnose as it only sheds intermittently, sometimes it can give us a false negative if the parasite didn't shed any cysts in that sample. Giardia is a classified as a zoonotic parasite.
Checking the fecal sample is always a good idea. As you've just learned your animal can pick up some worms just by walking across someones lawn where the soil is contaminated, or drinking out of a puddle. When an animal is infected with a parasite we prescribe specific medication that eradicate the parasite and protect your animal from further harm. After initial treatment we always recommend a follow up fecal sample. If the parasite is still present we will de-worm again until the sample is negative. We hope you found this blog to be helpful!