Veterinarians and pet owners alike spend a considerable amount of time looking at or talking about poop. Why is this the case?
Poop plays a relevant role in assessing a pet’s health. Stool outside the norm can be a cause for alarm especially if it continues for over 24 hours or contains blood. Healthy stool is well formed, neither too soft nor too firm, and can have a variation of brown coloring. A number of reasons exist as to why a pet’s poop receives so much attention, with parasites being top of the list. Four parasites that are well known to inhabit the gastrointestinal tracts of pets are the Roundworm, Hookworm, Whipworm, and Tapeworm.
Roundworms and hookworms commonly infect dogs and cats of all ages throughout the United States and can be transmitted from infected mothers to their young or picked up from a contaminated environment. Roundworms feed on nutrients from the intestinal tract, potentially causing diarrhea and vomiting. Hookworms suck blood by attaching to the intestinal wall and can lead to severe symptoms of blood-tinged stool, anemia (low red blood cell count), and weight loss or stunted growth especially in puppies and kittens. The most destructive hookworm, Ancylostoma spp., prefers warmer climates such as found in the southern states of the US.
Whipworms are found in dogs and rarely in cats. Whipworm infections occur after a pet ingests infective worm eggs from their surroundings. Profuse, explosive diarrhea or persistent soft stool may be signs associated with a whipworm infection. Whipworm infections are the most difficult to detect among the four parasites due to intermittent egg shedding in the dog’s stool and the high density of these worm eggs. A dense egg is harder to detect on a fecal float in your vet’s office.
Tapeworms are parasites obtained from ingestion of an infected flea or another infected animal. Tapeworm infections can be life-threatening if they become numerous and entangled causing an intestinal blockage. The only sign of a tapeworm infection may be the appearance of proglottids (white segments like rice) on or around the fur of the anus or hanging onto the poop. Rarely, tapeworms will cause diarrhea in a pet.
Stool tests are recommended to properly evaluate for these parasites in pets experiencing abnormal stools as well as those who are apparently healthy. Roundworms, hookworms and whipworms are best diagnosed through a microscopic examination of a direct smear and a centrifuged stool sample. Antigen detection tests are also available for those parasites. Tapeworms, however, are most commonly seen at home or inadvertently noticed during a physical examination.
Fortunately, there are products available that may be dosed once monthly or on an as needed basis to eliminate these parasites. It is best to talk with your veterinarian about intestinal parasite control for your pet. Additional details regarding roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and tapeworms can be found also at us.virbac.com and www.petsandparasites.org presented by CAPC (Companion Animal Parasite Council).