When you bring your canine companion to the veterinarian for his annual checkup, you are instructed to bring along the gift of a fresh stool sample from your dog. Once you gladly relinquish the stinky sample, it is run through a laboratory testing procedure known as the fecal flotation. This test is looking for something that is very common, but easy enough to treat before the culprit causes serious tummy troubles for your furry friend.
Let’s See What Floats
There are several different intestinal parasites in our environment that your dog can easily pick up and carry. Some of these parasites include roundworms, hookworms, whipworms and coccidia. Tapeworms develop when your pet ingests a flea. Giardia is a protozoan parasite that is contracted through drinking contaminated water, such as from a stagnant puddle. While segments of adult tapeworms may be observed in your dog’s stool, the presence of most intestinal parasites cannot be viewed with the naked eye. When a fecal flotation test is run, the technician is looking through a microscope for the eggs of many of these parasites, which, if present, have been floated into view.
Flotation Device for Intestinal Parasites
A fecal flotation test kit includes a cylindrical structure, a flotation medium, a microscope slide and its cover. A small amount of fresh stool is placed into the cylinder and covered with the flotation medium, usually a solution of sugar and sodium nitrate. The mixture is agitated, topped off with additional solution, and the slide cover is placed on top of the cylinder. The solution causes the eggs to float to the top of the cylinder and make contact with the slide cover. After 10 minutes, the cover is transferred to the slide and placed under a microscope for viewing. Clinics that opt to employ the same method for detecting the presence of giardia use a zinc sulfate solution instead, which is a better medium for floating giardia cysts, along with an iodine stain on the slide.
Why Is This Test Important?
One of the reasons that your veterinarian recommends regular fecal flotation testing is because intestinal parasites can make your dog sick and miserable once the parasite load is high. Until your dog is symptomatic, you will not know if he is infected. The fecal flotation serves as an early detection tool so that if any eggs are present, a simple deworming treatment can be administered to kill the parasites. If your dog remains untreated, the multiplying parasite population can wreck havoc on his gastrointestinal tract, resulting in diarrhea, vomiting and nutrient deficiency due to diminished absorption. These effects are more detrimental in puppies. Another important reason for testing and treating your family friend for intestinal parasites is that some of them are transmissible to humans, especially to young children.
When Are Fecal Flotation Tests Done?
Your veterinarian will recommend a schedule for your dog’s fecal flotation tests. Since intestinal parasites are so prevalent, he will likely request a stool sample right away from your newly acquired puppy or dog, even if the breeder, shelter or rescue has already addressed the issue. Most veterinarians incorporate the fecal flotation test into their adult dog patients’ annual examination visits. Even if your dog takes a heartworm preventative that also protects against some intestinal parasites, the preventative does not cover all of them. Every dog should be screened regularly for parasites as recommended by a veterinarian. If your dog exhibits any signs of gastrointestinal upset, schedule an appointment with his veterinarian, and snatch a fresh stool sample to tote along for good measure.