It might be the look on the person’s face or maybe the way they are carrying the bag, but staff at a veterinary office can always tell when their clients arrive with a stool sample for testing. Dozens of specimens arrive each day, some in Ziploc baggies, others triple wrapped in aluminum foil and some are tucked neatly in plastic containers. The clients may not realize it, but that smelly sample brought in for testing may help prevent an illness in their pet…or in them!
Why does your veterinarian have such an interest in your pet’s stool?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) state that 3,000 to 4,000 human serum samples are sent to their labs every year with a presumptive diagnosis of toxocariasis, or, infection with roundworms or hookworms. The illnesses caused by these parasites are not reportable in the United States, so true numbers of human cases are not known. What is known is that 36% of dogs across the country and 52% in the southeastern states carry these zoonotic worms. Many pet owners are unaware that their furry family members are capable of harboring these parasites.
Some clients don’t believe that their pet could have worms. But, pets can come into contact with these parasites in the yard, in potting soil, at the dog park or even on our hands or feet after we come inside from working in the garden or after taking a walk. The larva and eggs of these parasites are simply abundant in many places.
In fact, a single female worm can shed more than 100,000 eggs per day and most puppies and kittens are infected with more than just one worm! That’s millions of eggs spreading through areas where dogs and cats go to defecate. Pets infected with a protozoan parasite, like coccidia or giardia, can shed over a billion cysts each and every day!
So, what does your veterinarian do with the sample you brought Most people understand that veterinarians are checking fecals as a means to find intestinal parasites, more commonly known as “worms”. What is less well known is that the veterinarian is not looking for whole adult parasites. They are looking for microscopic eggs and protozoans that may inhabit your pet.
First, the feces are mixed with a sugar or salt solution, a liquid that is slightly denser than regular tap water. Breaking up the stool allows any infective eggs to enter the solution. Next, the mixture is carefully poured into conical tubes that are placed in a centrifuge. The spinning action helps separate the organic debris of the feces from the parasites and the parasite eggs.
After about 10 minutes, the suspension is then allowed to sit with a microscope coverslip placed on top. The eggs and most parasites will float to the top and adhere to the coverslip. A veterinary technician or assistant can then take this sample and review it under a microscope. Any positive specimens are discussed with the veterinarian and an appropriate deworming medication can be prescribed.
This process may not sound appetizing to most readers, but these tests are an important part of a veterinarian’s dedication to your pets, but also to public health as a whole. The CDC, the Companion Animal Parasite Council and the American Animal Hospital Association all recommend regular fecal testing for all pets. This means you can expect to package up a stool sample once or twice each year per pet. If your pets aren’t on monthly heartworm prevention, your veterinarian may ask for a sample every 1-2 months! More
It’s a common discussion thread on any pet-related website…someone mentions that they have a friend whose aunt lost a pet under anesthetic and all of a sudden, stories of dogs and cats dying under anesthesia are flying back and forth. Some businesses even play upon these fears and misinformation by incorporating scary statistics of anesthesia related deaths into their marketing.
So, what’s the real story? How dangerous is veterinary anesthesia and how does your veterinarian make sure her patients have an uneventful surgery?
First, it’s important to realize that any two pets undergoing the exact same procedure may be at different risk levels for anesthesia. The animal’s age, weight and physical condition, as well as any concurrent disease, will determine anesthetic risk. There is no “one size fits all” type of anesthesia.
Next, consider the source of the information. As an example, companies and information sites that advocate “non-anesthetic” dental cleanings for pets, will often quote a small study showing 1 in every 256 animals had an adverse event under anesthesia. What they fail to tell you is that particular study was done at a veterinary teaching hospital whose caseload included many patients with significant risk factors for anesthesia. More comprehensive research has shown that problems with anesthetics occur in less than 1 in every 10,000 pets.
Starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, veterinarians, working alongside human anesthesiology counterparts, began developing standards and guidelines designed to provide better comfort and analgesia for animals undergoing surgery. This eventually led to the development of the American College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia and approximately 220 board certified veterinary anesthesiologists around the world.
Their work has helped provide veterinarians in general practice better strategies in key areas, such as proper patient monitoring, prevention of drops in body temperature and how to best use the latest anesthetic drugs.
In any anesthetic event, knowing what’s happening on the inside of the patient is crucial. Modern monitoring devices, such as Welch Allyn’s ® Propaq monitor, allow veterinarians and surgical technicians to quickly spot trends in patient vital signs. By closely watching blood pressure, pulse rate, oxygen saturation, body temperature, respirations and carbon dioxide levels, veterinarians can address and even prevent adverse events.
Likewise, safety precautions for the patient are highly important. Circulating warm water blankets or forced air warming blankets (Bair Hugger®) can prevent hypothermia in anesthetized patients while state of the art calibrated fluid pumps can deliver precise levels of medications or vital fluids. Many veterinary hospitals now require patients have an IV catheter for all but the shortest of procedures.
Even anesthetic drugs have improved. Veterinary science now has safe anesthetic gases that quickly leave the pet’s system once the drug is removed from the breathing circuit. Reversible injections, such as Dexdormitor®, provide ways for veterinarians to wake up your pet more smoothly and get him back home to you sooner.
Finally, trained and highly skilled veterinary technicians and assistants are on hand to monitor your four legged friend. Along with the high-tech equipment, these surgical assistants watch all vital signs so that the patient is kept at just the right level of anesthesia…deep even to prevent pain, but not deep enough to depress vital functions. Many of these technicians will also further their own education by specializing in anesthesiology and becoming part of the Academy of Veterinary Technician Anesthetists.
Your veterinarian understands your concerns about anesthesia…it can be very scary. But, before you believe all of the Internet rumors about rampant dangers of pet surgeries or dental cleanings, consider talking with your veterinarian and asking him about the hospital’s surgical and anesthesia protocols. You might be surprised how far advanced animal clinics will go to keep your pet safe and secure during surgery. More