Fecal Testing in Cats & Dogs
Published August 5, 2021
Content Reviewed by an Essentials PetCare Veterinarian
- What: Conducting laboratory testing on a cat or dog’s fecal sample can reveal the presence of common intestinal parasites such as coccidia, giardia, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms.
- Why: An intestinal parasite infestation can become a serious health issue that can cause significant illness and possibly become fatal if it goes untreated. In addition, some parasites, such as hookworms and roundworms, are zoonotic meaning they can be transmitted from pets to humans.
- When: As part of a regular preventive care schedule, fecal exams are at a minimum recommended annually for grown cats and dogs, and more often for puppies and kittens.
- How: A sample of the pet’s feces is analyzed in a laboratory to determine if parasites are present.
- EPC affordable price: Intestinal parasite test: $35 (or just $25 with other services!). Book a visit now.
What Is Pet Fecal Testing?
Your pet’s stool can be an important indicator of their overall health. Because intestinal parasites live in your pet’s gastrointestinal tract, they are hidden. The only way for the doctor to detect their presence is by testing the feces.
Tests to screen cat or dog’s feces can reveal the presence of common intestinal parasites such as coccidia, giardia, hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms. Unfortunately, it is possible for a pet to have multiple parasites at the same time.
Many people mistakenly think that heartworms can be detected through fecal testing, but this type of worm lives in a pet’s heart and pulmonary arteries. A separate blood test is required for the diagnosis of heartworm disease.
Signs of Intestinal Parasites in Dogs and Cats
Pets can become infested with parasites through contaminated water, food, or soil; by grooming themselves as they lick their own skin and fur; from interaction with other pets, including mother to litter. Pets with intestinal parasites commonly have no symptoms and appear healthy, so regular testing as part of your pet’s routine care is crucial. When the infestation escalates, your pet may display one or more of the symptoms below:
- Abdominal pain
- Blood in stool (red or purple color change)
- Diarrhea that lasts more than 48 hours
- Intestinal blockage
- Lethargic or withdrawn behavior
- Persistent dehydration
- Poor coat condition
- Pot-belly appearance
- Sudden weight loss
Why Is Fecal Testing Important for Dogs and Cats?
When a pet presents any of these symptoms due to intestinal parasites, an advanced infestation may already be present. Most pets who test positive for intestinal parasites act healthy and produce normal-looking feces to the naked eye. Prevention and early treatment are key to avoid more serious health complications due to intestinal parasites.
An intestinal parasite infestation is a serious health issue that can cause illness, pain, and potentially be fatal if left untreated. In addition, certain intestinal parasites, such as hookworms and roundworms, can be transmitted from pets to humans, posing a health threat to the entire family. Fecal testing is an important part of a pet’s preventive care and should be performed regularly.
How Often Should My Pet Have a Fecal Exam?
The rule of thumb is that your pet needs a test every time the veterinarian recommends it. Tests are important tools to help the doctor correctly diagnose your pet. On a regular preventive care schedule, fecal exams are at a minimum recommended annually, although this can vary depending on the pet’s lifestyle. A pet that spends a lot of time outdoors or lives in an area particularly prone to a specific parasite may need testing more often.
Young pets need more frequent screening. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) recommends fecal exams two to four times during a puppy or kitten’s first year of life and at least one to two times per year in adults, depending on patient health and lifestyle factors. In addition to regular screenings, preventive medication is necessary to give your pet the best chance to stay worm-free.
How Dogs and Cats’ Fecal Tests Are Performed
There are four ways to conduct an Intestinal Parasite Screen (IPS).
- Basic Fecal Flotation Test – The fecal sample is mixed in a special testing solution. After a specific amount of time, the eggs and protozoan cysts float to the surface and can be observed via microscopic exam. This is a common method of fecal exam in veterinary practices today, and while results can be available the same day, they are less accurate than other methods.
- Direct Fecal Smear – The fecal sample is spread on a glass slide and analyzed on a microscope. Results can be delivered on the same day. Since samples are small there is the possibility of missing a parasite infection. This type of test is limited to testing for a specific parasite and has less utility when testing a pet for general intestinal parasite infestation. Additionally, this test is performed in conjunction with other types of fecal tests listed and should not be relied upon as a sole indicator of possible infestation.
- Fecal Centrifugation/Flotation Test – The fecal sample is immersed in a special testing solution, then it goes through a centrifugation process prior to flotation as described above. This extra step increases the likelihood of recovering parasites in the sample versus the basic flotation alone. A microscopic analysis of the parasites will allow for worm identification based on the size and shape of eggs and larvae. This fecal test method produces more accurate results and is considered the standard for fecal testing in pets.
- Antigen testing – This test requires the fecal sample to be sent to an outside reference laboratory. A special test is performed to detect antigens, or special proteins, in the sample which are produced by the parasites. This allows for detection of the parasites even when they are not actively producing eggs or if eggs are not contained in the sample. As such, this test gives a much more accurate result than flotation results alone and can be used as an accurate test even when a large enough sample for flotation testing is not available. The results are typically reported within 24 to 48 hours. When combined with fecal centrifugation and flotation, the diagnostic capability of the test increases and the chance of missing a parasite infestation becomes very small.
Essential Tip: Essentials PetCare uses a combination of centrifugation/flotation testing along with antigen testing in order to get the most accurate results on fecal tests. As such, our test samples are sent to our outside reference laboratory, and the results are typically available in 24 to 48 hours. Book a fecal test now.
How to Collect a Fecal Sample for the Veterinarian
Collecting your pet’s feces for a test is as simple as getting a sample into a plastic bag or small disposable container, however, there are a few steps you should follow to ensure the most accurate results.
- Use gloves or a plastic bag to collect the sample. Do not touch the feces with bare hands.
- Use a plastic bag or container to store the sample.
- Collect a recent sample from your pet. Bring the sample to your veterinary clinic as soon as you can, preferably the same day. Choose the sample that has the least amount of ground matter attached. Avoid dirt, grass, or any other matter that may be attached to the sample because it can hinder results.
- Label the sample clearly with the date, your name, and your pet’s name.
- Your veterinarian will need a moderately sized sample. At minimum, a gram of feces is usually needed which is approximately 1 cubic centimeter or about the size of a sugar cube.
Typically, test results are obtained as soon as the next day or up to a couple days, depending on the veterinary clinic’s workflow and type of test performed.
Parasite Treatment for Cats and Dogs
Discovering that your pet has parasites can be upsetting. If the infestation is found early, it is treatable with medication in most cases. The veterinarian will prescribe specific medication for the type of worm afflicting your pet. Other pets in the household should also be tested and treated accordingly. The doctor will instruct you about the follow up visits and fecal exams needed to ensure your pets are free of parasites.
How to Prevent Parasite Infections in Dogs and Cats
Your veterinarian will prescribe the preventive medication most appropriate to treat your pet. Because fleas can transmit tapeworms, a common intestinal parasite of dogs and cats, a regular flea prevention program is also essential. Since puppies and kittens can contract worms from their mothers, they demand a more intense worm prevention program than grown pets.
Prevention is always preferable to treatment. It promotes your pet’s long-term health and saves you money. Intestinal parasite prevention is incorporated into most heartworm prevention products. There are also products that will include flea and tick prevention giving your pet comprehensive protection from internal and external parasites with the use of one product only.
In addition to preventive medication and regular testing, a couple of hygiene habits are important to keep the whole family safe from parasites. You should pick up feces in the yard as soon as your pet defecates and clean up litter boxes promptly. If immediately is not possible, schedule it to be done daily. Also, make sure to follow sanitary precautions when disposing of animal waste.
Essential Tip: Essentials PetCare offers affordable lab testing. See our pricing for all services.
Upon requesting the test, clients simply drop off their pets’ fecal samples at Essentials PetCare. The results come back within 24-48 hours. If your pet is new to our clinic or has not been seen by our doctor recently, check with our team to see if they should also visit for a weight check when you bring the sample.