The primary purpose of fecal exams is to evaluate for the presence of intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms and whipworms. Left untreated, these parasites can eventually lead to health problems such as overall poor appearance, weight loss, blood loss, coughing, diarrhea and even death. Pets that look healthy might still have intestinal parasites, so performing fecal exams at regular intervals is very important. Not only are fecal exams important for your pet's health, but they are also important for your own health. Under certain conditions, some intestinal parasites can be transmitted from pets to people. For example, it is estimated that more than 1 million people in the United States become infected with hookworms from their pets each year. So if you think you are safe from this danger, think again.
To make matters worse, we live in an endemic region where parasites are a constant threat year-round. Here in the southeastern United States where weather stays relatively warm and humid for many months, intestinal parasites are able to thrive. Periodic fecal exams are our top line of defense for identifying infections and safely treating pets when necessary.
One common misconception is that fecal exams are not necessary if your pet has been dewormed. There are multiple reasons that this is simply not true. Although there are some circumstances making it appropriate to deworm your pet before any fecal exam, there is still value in performing the fecal exam. First, it is important to make sure that the deworming medication will treat the specific parasite infecting your pet. Different drugs treat different parasites, so it is important to confirm that the treatment will work. Also, there are known levels of drug resistance in some parasites. Even after treatment, it is important to perform a follow-up exam to make sure that the infection was cleared. To further complicate matters, parasites each have a unique life cycle and common drugs may only target certain stages of that life cycle, so multiple treatments may be necessary. Without the valuable information that only a fecal exam can offer, you are simply playing the odds in a guessing game. Fecal exams allow you to avoid spending unnecessary money on inappropriate treatments.
Intestinal parasites are a threat to you, your family and your pets. Once you know the power of poop, you can confidently request a fecal exam at your pet's next visit to the veterinarian. Puppies or kittens should be checked for intestinal parasites each time they are vaccinated and adult pets should be checked during wellness visits. Performing fecal checks at regular intervals will help to ensure the health of your household, and your pet will thank you with a tail wag.
For more information about intestinal parasites in pets, visit http://www.petsandparasites.org/.
Dr. Kellie Littrell is an associate veterinarian at Animal Medical Center, 815 Joe Frank Harris Parkway. She can be reached at 770-386-4444.