A fecal test for dogs (stool sample) is a standard way of testing the feces content in veterinary clinics which can tell you a lot about a dog's health condition. The vets recommend testing canines at least once a year, mostly to check them for the presence of intestinal parasites.
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In the U.S., 14% of Americans are exposed to Toxocara (infection transmitted from dogs to people) every year, which causes blindness. Kids are the primary sufferers. Thus, a fecal test is necessary to protect both pets and people around them. Hookworms, roundworms, and giardia are also zoonotic diseases that can be transmitted from dogs to humans and can be detected with fecal testing.
Fecal Testing in Dogs
A fecal test (ova and parasite exam) is the microscopic examination of the dog's feces. There are no contraindications for this type of testing in dogs. Annual tests are often vet recommended for puppies, while adult dogs should be tested at least twice a year.
The routine microscopic dog fecal test can confirm the presence of intestinal parasites and worms in dogs, such as:
It is necessary to test animals with recognizable clinical signs of parasitic infestation, such as lack of appetite, diarrhea, and vomiting. The lack of symptoms by itself does not mean that the dog is free of parasites. Also, negative test results do not confirm their absence in the dog's body. It only proves that there are no eggs and cysts in the feces.
In general, an average canine fecal examination in a veterinarian's office takes anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes. The results of the tests performed in the reference lab will be available in approximately 1 to 2 days.
How Canine Fecal Tests are Performed
Only a few types of intestinal parasites are visible without a microscope. In most cases, the microscopic fecal test is the only way to spot and identify most adult parasites and their eggs in the canine's gastrointestinal tract.
A fecal examination in dogs is an entirely routine lab test. There are four types tests for this: smear, flotation, centrifugation and antigen testing. The vet needs to sample the feces correctly to check for a specific type of parasites. After taking a small piece of your dog's poop, the veterinarian will perform one of the below tests.
Smear – The Simple Test
This is a simple way to detect presence of parasites in a dog's stool. After smearing the tiny sample on the microscope slide, the vet will look for parasite eggs under the microscope. This test gives results quickly, which can be crucial when the dog is at risk for life because of acute diarrhea.
Flotation (Float) – The Most Common Test
In most veterinary hospitals, it is the most routine method of fecal testing. The test involves the sample of stool free of grass and dirt and no more than 24 hours old. The vet will mix it with a substrate, and look for protozoan cysts and parasite eggs floating to the liquid surface.
The best flotation solutions for this test are sodium nitrate, magnesium sulfate, zinc sulfate, and sugar. The identification of both eggs and spores is then done only under the microscope. While float fecal test is very common, it's still a basic screening test with a significant failure rate when compared to centrifugation.
Centrifugation – The Most Accurate Test
Centrifugation is the most accurate method for to determining not only the presence of parasitic eggs but also their type. The vet will be able to see 3 to 5 times as many eggs by centrifugation than with any other method.
This method represents spinning the sample of the dog's feces dissolved in a solution of sugar or zinc sulfate. The vet examines the precipitate under the microscope and identifies parasites based on the shape, size, and characteristics of the cysts, eggs, and larvae found.
Antigen Testing – The Best for Worms
It's possible to detect the presence of hookworm, whipworm, and roundworm in the dog's body even though eggs are not found in the stool. Commercial antigen fecal testing ELISA (developed by IDEXX) is the most accurate test for detecting specifically worms in dogs.
Each type of intestinal parasites has a unique life-cycle, and the point of the antigen test is to determine their presents during the prepatent period. This is the time when parasites can infect the next host before laying eggs. For hookworms, that period lasts approximately two to three weeks, but it's longer for roundworms (from 14 to 30 days) and whipworms (from 74 to 90 days).
The type of fecal test your dog needs will be determine by a veterinarian upon a quick checkup and based on symptoms, if any. These tests are also just the first step in a potentially longer testing process. If the veterinarian gets negative results, or if infection is suspected, you may be advised to get a fecal wet mount through stool preservatives, concentration methods or through fecal Baermann.
Ways of Taking a Dog's Stool Sample for the Test
The method used for collecting a dog's stool sample for the test is extremely important. The stool's freshness is key: with some tests, scanning feces even 10 minutes after collection may be already too late to get accurate results.
You can collect your pet's stool by hand, or using a fecal container like Juvale or other brand that are made specifically for these types of canine tests.
Always collect feces sample of the dog as soon as possible since the fresh one will give a better result. If doing it yourself, place 0.05 to 0.10 lbs (3 – 5 g) of stool in a plastic bag, and take it to the vet the same day. Alternatively, store the sample in a refrigerator in a clean, dry and airtight container for up to 24 hours.
In some cases, the dog can have an issue with pooping and you won't be able to collect the same. In this instance, the vet needs to obtain a fecal sample by placing a finger in the dog's rectum.
In a case when the dog feces are extremely solid, the vet will use a particular fecal loop (long narrow stick with a loop in its end) to take the sample. After inserting that wand into the dog's rectum, the loop will catch a piece of the poop for the test.
Cost of Canine Fecal Testing
The typical costs for dog fecal tests range from $25 to $45. Unfortunately, the best option is the centrifugal fecal test, which is also the most costly and time-consuming but will provide your vet with a reliable result. On top of the centrifugation test, the vet may also recommend to do antigen testing for an even more accurate result ($80).
However, most veterinary practices avoid including this testing method for regular check-ups due to costs, even though technically its increased sensitivity and accuracy can offset the costs long-term.
Home Fecal Test for Dogs
You have an option to perform a stool test at home for slightly cheaper. However, these tests will not be as accurate as those done at veterinarian's office, and they are more likely to give false negatives. If you prefer to go this route, some of the best home fecal tests for dogs currently available over the counter are:
How home dog stool tests work:
If using over the counter fecal test, you will need to collect 1 teaspoon of your dog's fresh poop, place it in a provided mailer container and send it via USPS to the company. Their veterinarian will test the fecal sample in a laboratory and contact you within 24 hours with results via phone, and follow up with an email with written results.
Fecal testing for dogs is one of the essential screening tests the vet can use to determine the presence of parasitic eggs in your pet's feces. These tests should be performed as a routine – once a year for puppies and twice a year for adult dogs. They will also be performed on a per-need basis if you suspect your dog to have intestinal parasites.