Dog waste can

If you’re like most pet owners, you’ll probably confess to having occasionally expressed interest in the quality of your critter’s poop.

In fact, market research conducted by pet food companies has determined that an overwhelming majority of animal caretakers are just like you: They’re stool-watchers.  

Apparently, the pervasive perception among pet owners holds that stool size, color and consistency are critical measures of an animal’s fundamental well-being.

As a veterinarian, I get treated to the most descriptive explanations, alarmed observations and dramatic tirades on the subject that you could ever imagine. This might seem somewhat uncomfortable, yet I can absolutely get behind any behavior or sentiment — gross as it may be — that furthers animal health.

Sure, it’s somewhat odd and disgusting that my clients care so much about their pets’ excrement, but how can I complain? After all, this privileged information will undeniably prove useful should I need to know how my patient’s bowels are doing. And I usually do.

But an owner’s description can only get me so far. That’s why we strongly recommend you either bring in a sample or allow us to scoop our own poop in the exam room.

Either way, the point is the same: Evaluating feces for color, texture, microscopic contents and even smell can help us identify digestive issues, as well as all kinds of potentially problematic disorders.

Here's a brief rundown of the positive power of poop:

Poop Can Tell Us About . . . Digestion

Knowing exactly what a pet's stool looks like can help to clue us in about the digestive and absorptive processes that are taking place. The importance of the liver in digestion and absorption, for example, means that the organ can be assessed — at least in part — by evaluating a pet's poo.

Poop Can Tell Us About . . . Bacteria

There's so much that we don’t know about the teeming bacterial colonies living inside our pets’ intestines. Nonetheless, evaluating the stool for the presence of very specific bacteria — like salmonella — is doable. So, too, is the more direct observation of bacteria under a microscope.

Poop Can Tell Us About . . . Gastrointestinal Parasites

Roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, Giardia and coccidia are the most common gastrointestinal parasites identified during a microscopic fecal examination. Small, ricelike tapeworm segments, however, are more likely to be identified upon observation of the feces with the naked eye. Yes, yuck!

Poop Can Tell Us About . . . Viral Diseases

Some viruses are detectable by directly testing the feces. Parvovirus infection, for example, can be diagnosed by testing a dog’s stool via an in-hospital kit.

Poop Can Tell Us About . . . Other Medical Conditions

Blood in the stool can mean everything from a simple irritation to a life-threatening stomach ulcer or a clotting problem. And it’s not just the bright red stuff that matters — testing the stool for the presence of digested blood is just as important.

The abnormal consistency, volume, texture, color and pattern of a bowel movement can also often tell us which part of the gastrointestinal tract occasioned the abnormality. Large volumes of watery stool tend to be related to problems within the small intestine, while small, strained volumes emitted frequently point to the colon as the likeliest offender.

So if you are feeling shy about telling your vet about your pet's poop, don't. It gives them helpful information.

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