The Scoop on Poop

Why must inspiration always strike in the wee hours of the morning? Perhaps it is because we have had a dearth of calls regarding unusually colored stool and, let’s just say it, diarrhea.  Perhaps it is because I am dreading the dog waste to be revealed after the great snow melt this weekend. Or maybe I’m awake because of residual nausea after sifting through a retriever’s poop one of Barbie’s appendages …

barbie

Regardless, let’s get to the heart, or colon, of this article.  Poop.  What does the poop of a healthy dog look like? How do you know if your pet is in distress and needs medical attention? What are some common causes of loose or hard stools and what can you do to help? Is color of a dog’s poop related to their overall well-being?

 

Fecal consistency is primarily a function of the amount of moisture in the stool and can be used to identify changes in colonic health as well as other medical problems. Ideally, in a healthy animal, stools should be firm but not hard, pliable, segmented, and easy to pick up. One to two bowel movements daily are ideal. As a veterinarian, I identify poop based on a scoring system.  A healthy dog should have a Score of 2 on the poop scale.

dog scooping

 

Score 1

  • Stool very hard and dry
  • Much effort required to expel feces from body
  • No residue left on the ground when feces picked up
  • Often expelled as individual pellets

Score 2

  • Stool firm but not hard
  • Pliable and segmented in appearance
  • Little or no residue left on ground when picked up

Score 3

  • Stool log-like
  • No segmentation visible
  • Moist, shiny surface
  • Leaves residue but remains firm when picked up

Score 4

  • Feces very moist (soggy)
  • Distinct log shape
  • Leave residue and loses form when picked up

Score 5

  • Feces very moist
  • Loses shape (piles rather than log shape)
  • Leaves residue and loses form when picked up

Score 6

  • Feces has texture but no defined shape
  • Occurs in piles or looks like spots
  • Leaves residue when picked up

Score 7

  • Feces watery, flat, with no texture
  • Occurs as a puddle
  • Leaves residue when picked up

If you google “purina fecal scoring chart”, you will find some visual images of the poops mentioned above.  GOOD MORNING!

 

In general, a pet that has acute, chronic, or even intermittent diarrhea should be examined and some basic labwork run.  Especially concerning is the pet with diarrhea, weight loss, and/or lethargy; concurrent vomiting also necessitates a call in to your pet’s doctor.  Your vet (me) will want a detailed history of your pet’s activities, diet, stresses, frequency and consistency of stool, difficulty in passing stool, blood or mucous in the stool, and any other predisposing factors such as exposure to parasites or eating from the garbage can (you know who you are).  I like to talk about your pet’s bowel movements as much as you do, so share!  And speaking of sharing, when I ask for a fresh fecal sample, just a marble-sized amount will do.

The causes of diarrhea are many and in deducing the reason for distress I am reminded of a wonderful saying I learned in veterinary school: GOOD MEDICINE IS NOT FAST MEDICINE.  This can be difficult to remember if your pet doesn’t feel well and you have just replaced your carpeting.  Or are hosting a baby shower.  Or forgot to put on slippers while on the hunt for your morning coffee.

 

There are two general categories of diarrhea: Acute (sudden onset) and Chronic (long term).

 

ACUTE (sudden onset) DIARRHEA: diet change (including eating poopsicles or part of a rope toy), drug or toxin induced diarrhea (Halloween chocolates look better going in than out), parasites, viral or bacterial infection.  Occasionally an extra-intestinal problem such as pancreatitis, bloat, or liver disease will lead to acute diarrhea.

 

CHRONIC (long lasting) DIARRHEA: the causes may include some of those mentioned above as well as a host of other diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, fungal disease, pancreatic disease, food allergy, protozoal diseases (toxoplasmosis), bacterial overgrowth, cancer, liver and kidney disease, irritable bowel syndrome, many more.

These cases can be very challenging to diagnose and even more difficult to treat.  Chronic diarrhea is often managed, not cured, and relapses during times of physical or emotional stress, dietary indiscretion, or just ‘cause are common.

 

A color change in your dog’s poop can be indicative of a problem, even if the consistency is normal.  Light brown to dark brown is normal based on your dog’s diet.  Black and tarry poop may indicate the presence of digested blood in the stool, fresh blood with mucous is common with large bowel disease, and white stool can occur if there is a problem with bile excretion or liver disease.  Yellow or orange poop can also be present with liver disease or if the stool is moving too quickly through the GI tract. Certain antacids or medications can affect the color of the poop. Dogs that like to eat grass or have ingested certain toxic mouse baits can have green-blue colored stool.

 

What can you do if you suspect a poop problem?

Keep an accurate history of your dog’s habits including appetite, frequency and effort of bowel movements, and environmental changes such as boarding.  You should have a Pet Butler technician (or your teenager) frequently scoop poop to minimize spread of disease and yard contamination as well as to monitor your pet’s poop for spaghetti or rice grain type parasites, color, or consistency change. For acute causes of diarrhea (i.e. Grandma gave the dog some Thanksgiving leftovers), we often recommend fasting for 24 hours with access to water only if your pet is not lethargic or vomiting.  Then, we gradually resume feeding limited amounts of a bland diet which can include boiled chicken or ground turkey, scrambled eggs or cottage cheese and a bland carbohydrate source like rice or pasta in a 1:4 ratio.  To get the gut back on track, small frequent meals are best with a gradual return to the pet’s normal diet.

 

Fiber is fabulous!  It is the great poop regulator and is as close as the plain canned pumpkin at Trader Joe’s. Because it contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, it can bind some of the excess water in the intestinal tract, bulking up the stool and slowing digestion. The insoluble fiber in pumpkin can benefit those suffering from constipation, but it is best to avoid feeding too much insoluble fiber since it can act as a natural laxative.  Helpful if you are constipated, not if the stools are already loose!

 

I hope this helps clear up some of the deeper, darker mysteries of your pet’s gastrointestinal system. Keep that yard clean!

 

Dr. Lisa McIntyre

The Welcome Waggin’

 

Vaccinations: The Science Behind the Shots

Few issues in veterinary medicine are as controversial as the debate about administration of vaccines to our dogs and cats.  Long considered part of the annual visit, responsible health care, and credited with conquering some of the fiercest infectious diseases, vaccines are also suspected of creating vulnerability to certain illnesses and chronic conditions such as anemia, arthritis, allergies, gastrointestinal and thyroid disorders and cancer.  While there are few people who will advocate from refraining from the use of vaccinations altogether, what vaccine protocols will protect our companions without putting them at unnecessary risk? It is a difficult question, with no one-size-fits-all answer.

To determine which vaccines are necessary for your pet, you and your veterinarian must start with an individualized risk-benefit assessment. Questions you may ask yourself include: Does my pet come into contact with other animal companions? Do we have wildlife in our area or on our property? How much time does my pet spend outdoors? Does my pet board, get groomed, go to dog parks or dog shows? Do I have other pets and do all animals receive a heartworm and flea/tick preventative? Do I travel with my pet or volunteer at a shelter?  Does my pet have any chronic conditions?

Vaccines are traditionally divided into core, or essential, groups, and non-core vaccines.  These determinations are based on the likelihood of exposure to the infectious agent, the severity of the disease contracted by infected animals, and zoonotic potential (a disease such as rabies that can infect humans as well as animals).  It is recommended that animals receive core vaccines, with the need for non-core vaccines being determined on an individual basis. Core vaccines, based on the American Animal Hospital Association’s and American Association for Feline Practitioner’s recommendations are as follows:  Distemper, Adenovirus/Hepatitis, canine Parvovirus, Rabies, feline Parvovirus/Panleukopenia, Herpesvirus, and Calicivirus. Non-core vaccines include: Bordetella, Parainflueza, Coronavirus, Lyme, Leptospirosis, Chlamydia, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, Feline Leukemia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, and Canine Influenza.

Frequency with which to vaccinate is perhaps the most confounding decision we must make as part of the veterinarian-owner pet care team.  This is where a basic understanding of the immune system and how it operates becomes critical.  When exposed to natural disease or a vaccine, memory cells (cell-mediated line of the immune system) become primed to recognize the infectious agent should the animal become re-exposed and antibodies can be produced (humoral line of the immune system).  If maternal antibodies are still present, the animal is ill/stressed, doesn’t respond to the vaccine due to immaturity, or there is a problem with the vaccine itself, it is possible to have an animal that was vaccinated but not adequately protected.  Additionally, an animal that becomes ill, stressed, or immunosuppressed later in life, or is exposed to an overwhelming challenge of the organism may become sick despite adequate vaccination.  Thus the true immune status of an animal is determined by many factors including antibody levels, activity of memory cells, health of the animal, and type of disease challenge. In many cases, health professionals encourage vaccination with the thought that the majority of individuals will be protected (herd health), and the disease causing organism will not have the opportunity to infect a community causing an outbreak.

There has been much discussion on the value of checking antibody titers to certain viral diseases such as canine Parvovirus, Distemper, and feline Panleukopenia, Herpesvirus, and Calicivirus.  A titer is a measurement of how much antibody to a particular agent is circulating in the blood at that time.  Titers are expressed as a ratio and indicate how dilute the blood was made before detectable levels of antibody disappeared.  A titer test does not measure immunity, because as we know, immune status of an animal is dependent on multiple variables.  A high titer is strongly correlated with recent infection or good immunity, but a low titer does not necessarily mean the body won’t produce an effective immune response if challenged.

What to do? Our practice has determined that in light of all of the information presented by the AAHA and AAFP and after evaluating duration of immunity studies conducted by the vaccine manufacturers, we will take a cautiously progressive approach to vaccination.  Puppies and kittens will receive regular boosters of core and select non-core vaccines every 3-4 weeks until 16-18 weeks.  After one year of age, dogs will receive a booster of DAP and cats a FVRCP as well as a three year Rabies vaccine; other non-core vaccines will be based on risk assessment.  At two years of age, most dogs will continue to receive non-core vaccines and a three year DAP vaccine.  In future years, they will receive non-core vaccines annually and DAP and Rabies as they come due on a rotating three year basis. Cats will similarly be vaccinated for FVRCP every three years in place of DAP. For our feline patients, we have selected non-adjuvanted vaccines shown to be associated with fewer adverse events including some cancers. The vaccination schedules of senior pets or those with medical conditions will continue to be assessed on an individual basis, as we do with all of our patients. We will also work with owners who chose to perform viral vaccine titers in lieu of core vaccine requirements excluding Rabies.