Canine Fecal Analysis: What Can Your Dog’s Poop Reveal About Their Health?

Believe it or not, any wastes that come out of your dog’s body carry useful information.

Gross is in the eye of the beholder. Our dogs feel about poop quite differently than we do. To a dog, poop can be a source of intel, a snack, as well as sometimes a source of missing nutrients.

Canine Fecal Analysis: What Can Your Dog's Poop Reveal About Their Health?

What can your veterinarian learn from your dog’s poop that you cannot on your own?

First, your veterinarian will take a look at it the same way you do–with their eyes. Consistency, color, and things that don’t belong. There is a lot to be learned from that, but not everything can be seen with a naked eye.

Microscopic examination

Looking at a fecal sample under a microscope can reveal the presence of intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, and even coccidia. With some luck, stool mixed with saline can reveal Giardia swimming around on the slide.

This test can help with a quick diagnosis but only when it’s positive. A negative test doesn’t automatically mean there aren’t any cooties; just that none of them made it on the slide.

Fecal Floatation

Fecal floatation is a bit more sophisticated, and it involves stool being mixed with a special fluid that causes parasite eggs to float to the surface. It may be centrifuged first.

The eggs are then collected from the surface and examined under a microscope. This technique is more reliable.

Baerman technique

Fecal floatation won’t detect parasites that pass larvae rather than eggs. That’s where this technique comes in. It is pretty much the opposite of floatation–the goal is to get the larvae to make their way to the bottom of a special funnel used for this test.

Baerman technique is most commonly done to detect lungworm.

Why would you examine poop for a worm that lives in the lungs? As this infection causes a cough,  eggs get coughed up and swallowed, making their way to the intestine.

Fecal Gram Stain

This is a form of fecal cytology, using a stain substance to highlight certain things under the microscope. It can be used to look for abnormal yeasts and bacteria. As much fun as this is, it seems to be a controversial and outdated approach. Its primary use is to identify Clostridia. But there are many species, some of them harmful and some of them not, as well as many other bacteria can look alike. It’s all fine and dandy unless it leads to wrong conclusions.

Fecal culture

If you really want to know what bacteria is present in your dog’s poop, help it grow. Which is what this test is. The bacteria in the small sample is nurtured and nourished, so they multiply making it easier to see what they are. The problem is that there are so much normal bacteria in the digestive tract, that you’ll have all sorts of things growing. It can, however, sometimes be useful when looking for campylobacter, salmonella or clostridia.

ELISA testing

Here is where it gets fancy. ELISA is a form of immunology testing. It is used to diagnose all sorts of infections; when it comes to poop, it can detect things like parvovirus, Giardia or whipworm. It is highly sensitive and will discover things other tests might miss.

SNAP Assay

SNAP assay is ELISA testing packaged for convenience. Instead of having to send a sample to a lab and waiting for the results, your veterinarian can perform this test right on the spot in the clinic.

Fecal panels

If you think that immunology testing is fancy, how about detecting cooties by looking for their DNA? Unlike ELISA testing it doesn’t need antibodies which may not be present yet or, if the immune system doesn’t respond, might never be there. Like with everything it has its downside. If any one test was perfect, there would only be one test.

For example, you might end up with all sorts of results but does that mean there is actually a problem? False positives are common. Unless you’re looking to confirm something in particular, this testing is more likely to be more confusing than useful. On the other hand, when looking for Giardia, this test is actually less sensitive than ELISA.

Future testing?

Work is being done testing whether evaluating gut microflora could be used for the diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). So far, results seem promising. This would be a significant advantage because so far the only way to conclusively diagnose IBD is via biopsy.

Who knows what other useful information we might discover in our dogs’ poop.

Related articles:
What’s in the Poop?

Further reading:
Why Does My Veterinarian Want a Poop Sample?

Categories: DiagnosesDog careDog health advocacyFecal analysis

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Jana Rade edited by Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc

I am a graphic designer, dog health advocate, writer, and author. Jasmine, the Rottweiler of my life, was the largest female from her litter. We thought we were getting a healthy dog. Getting a puppy from a backyard breeder was our first mistake. Countless veterinary visits without a diagnosis or useful treatment later, I realized that I had to take Jasmine's health care in my own hands. I learned the hard way that merely seeing a vet is not always enough. There is more to finding a good vet than finding the closest clinic down the street. And, sadly, there is more to advocating for your dog's health than visiting a veterinarian. It should be enough, but it often is not. With Jasmine, it took five years to get a diagnosis. Unfortunately, other problems had snowballed for that in the meantime. Jasmine's health challenges became a crash course in understanding dog health issues and how to go about getting a proper diagnosis and treatment. I had to learn, and I had to learn fast. Helping others through my challenges and experience has become my mission and Jasmine's legacy. I now try to help people how to recognize and understand signs of illness in their dogs, how to work with their veterinarian, and when to seek a second opinion. My goal is to save others the steep curve of having to learn things the hard way as I did. That is the mission behind my blog and behind my writing. That is why I wrote Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog, which has turned out being an award-winning guide to dog owners. What I'm trying to share encompasses 20 years of experience. Dr. Joanna Paul BSc BVSc is our wonderful sponsor and has been kind to edit and fact-check my important articles.

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