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Fecal Matters

by Katie McKay | Mar 23, 2014

I used to love to watch Jeff Corwin.  Granted he was no crocodile hunter, but I had to hand it to him, the man had a thing for poop that fascinated me.  He called it “scat” of course, but he would step on it, smell it, sometimes even taste it.  What’s the deal Jeff?  Why so interested in poop?  It’s chock full of germs and disease, a huge hassle on the sole of my shoe and not a desirable feature of any yard, neighborhood, dog park or swimming hole.  Dog poop especially has become a real public health issue (remember healthy pets, healthy people)?  Water pollution, especially in cities, has been linked to point sources like dog poop and the bacteria and parasites present can make their way in to the streams, lakes and the water table.  In some cases bacteria can aerosolize and be inhaled.  Ever go swimming, water skiing or fishing?  Ingesting contaminated water will make you sick like you never want to be again.  As if that’s not bad enough, about 650 people a year are hospitalized with injuries from slipping on poop.  True story and seriously, who wants to be that guy?

Handling dog poop is not really on anyone’s list of pleasantries, but it’s just what we do.  Cleaning up poo not only keeps our kids and dogs from coming in to contact with it over and over, as a responsible pet owner it also encourages businesses to allow pets in more places.  But most importantly, it tells you a whole lot about your pet’s health.  So let’s dive in to that subject and learn about s**#! 

Walking your dog regularly gives you the best chance to get up close and personal with the smelly stuff.  When your dog is feeling good and healthy, take a good look at it and make a mental note.  By establishing what’s “normal” for your dog, you’ll have a baseline to make decisions about what’s not. 

Smell:  Start with smell cause that’s the easy part, I’m actually making a face right now as I type this….yeah I know it smells, but an overpowering smell can be a sign of a problem.

Color:  Most normal dookie is medium to dark brown.  Other colors can tell you about possible gastrointestinal issues or even problems with their organs.

  • Green:  Did your dog eat a bunch of grass?  Some dogs eat grass if they have an upset tummy.  If they got in to something, food dyes can also make feces appear green.
  • Yellow:  This can mean there is an infection, intestinal irritation or even a blockage
  • White:  High levels of calcium or liver problems can cause stool to look white or have white specs in it.
  • Red:  Bright red color can mean a cut or a lower intestinal irritation or bleed.  Dark red or tar-like stool can mean there is bleeding, but that it’s higher up in the intestinal tract.

Shape:  Yep it should look like a log.  If it’s balled up or pelleted, that can be a sign of dehydration and your dog might not be getting enough water.  Also, in older dogs who can’t maintain pooping position due to arthritis or pain, they may drop these little nuggets instead.  What is clear is that if there is no shape or it looks something like a cowpie, beware your living room rug because this is diarrhea.

Consistency:  like dough.  It should be easy to pick up.  If its like pudding, that could be a number of things like diet, bacteria, viruses, parasites or even a food intolerance.  In addition, poop that is too soft keeps your dog from being able to express his anal glands (oh believe me, we will talk about that another day!)  If the stool is too firm, that can cause constipation which can be painful.  Excess hair in their stool also causes this problem, so if you see that, you definitely need to keep your eyes peeled for excessive grooming and help them out by brushing more regularly.

Size/Volume:  If you’re Yorkie is pooping out turds the size of a Great Dane, you probably need to look in to that.  Higher volume of stool (and going frequently during the day) is usually a diet issue.  Have you changed food lately?  Perhaps your new food contains a high amount of plant fiber or non-digestables?  Low volume of stool can mean that your pup is eating less.  Is she losing weight?  That can be an indication of bigger medical concerns.

Content:  Poop should look like poop, it shouldn’t be filled with things that are not food, like hair bows, underware, legos, or fuzzy stuffed toy parts.  Undigested food or hair or grass can be a sign of stress, GI issues, allergies or even compulsive behavior.  Mucus can be present with many conditions and is usually a sign of inflammation.   

For adult dogs, once a year is a good time to check up on your dog’s poo on a more up close and personal level, like with a microscope.  The vet will likely ask for a fresh sample (no more than an hour old) at your annual appointment. It’s best to just grab a small amount and use something leak proof, like an old prescription bottle.  There’s no need to bring the whole pile and its really not necessary to individually wrap, seal and wrap again like its toxic waste.  The appointment will go quicker if the poop isn’t packaged like a set of nesting dolls.  If you don’t bring along a sample, you’ll unfortunately have to subject your dog to the plastic rod….where a sample is manually extracted.  You’re dog wont’ likely forgive you for this too quickly.  At the vet’s office, we celebrate Fido’s feces with a conglomeration of testing.  First is the good old smear test where it’s examined under the microscope for what we call “swimmers”.  Next a portion of it is mixed with a solution allowing parasite eggs to float to the top where they stick to a glass slide and are examined under a microscope.  We rely on keen vet tech eyes to pick up the eggs of various types of worms.  Some eggs can’t float and they aren’t always present when a dog goes to the bathroom because the eggs can be “shed” intermittently.  This is why it’s important to keep your pup on a monthly heartworm preventative, which also protects against some intestinal parasites, and also to keep an eye on their bathroom habits.  Not every case of diarrhea is cause to run to the vet, but it is always better to err on the side of caution with diseases that can affect the whole family.

Apparently I jinxed myself when I started to write this blog.  I came home from work on Friday night to a pile of explosive poo in the laundry room.  After I discovered the culprit (a poo laden behind), I kept a close eye out for the next 24 hours.  Sure enough another round of cowpie came from little Gracie Lou.  It was bespeckled with blood and mucus and pudding.  Since she had just been to the vet for a full checkup I figured it was likely she had been in to some exciting new “treats” in the backyard.  Hungry and otherwise acting completely normal, I switched her to an easy to digest meal for a couple of days…of chicken and rice.  I also added some probiotics (yogurt or Fortiflora) and she’s healing nicely.  Given Gracie’s history of stress related issues like this in the past, her recent checkup, no increase in frequency or urgency having to go and improvement in just a couple of days, I am able to clear it up on my own.  If things get worse, your dog doesn’t improve within a day or two, you should visit your vet.  Dogs can get dehydrated quickly so watch closely to make sure they are drinking or you’ll need to get to your vet as soon as possible.

Tune in next time when we talk about Corprophagy (poop eating).  Sometimes our dogs make bad choices…..

Cheers!

Katie

Neuse River Golden Retiever Rescue
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