Let’s talk about pet poop! Yay!
Although it is super gross and not a fun topic of conversation, knowing details about your pet’s poop and daily defecation habits is really important for monitoring your dog or cat’s internal health. Changes in your pet’s poop can alert you to medical problems and that your furry friend may not be feeling very well. Is Fido having consistent, solid bowel movements daily or has he been straining to defecate with no success? Did Snowball defecate in your bathtub instead of the litter box? Was blood or mucous present in Gracie’s stool this morning? Keeping track of your pets’ bowel movements may seem weird and potentially stomach-turning, but it needs to be part of your pet parent routine to keep them healthy and thriving.
What to look for when examining your pet’s poop? The following categories should be evaluated daily for your pet.
Normal feces should be brown, similarly to milk chocolate (sorry for the analogy!). However, just as there are many colors of the rainbow, poop can have a color spectrum as well. Fun fact: Play-dough or crayon ingestion can turn feces into the colors of the rainbow!
Green poop can occur when too much grass is consumed as well as certain dental treats, food dyes, crayons, and markers.
Black feces—think coffee grounds—can indicate a more serious issue like bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract. The dark color is a result of digested blood.
A yellow or orange stool can form due to liver or gallbladder problems. Heavy consumption of carrots or semi-moist kibble can cause harmless orange-red stool discoloration.
Gray feces can develop with pancreatic issues.
- Red Streaks
Stools with red streaks may occur from rectal trauma or intestinal parasites.
Occasionally, pets can defecate frank blood which is a symptom of severe gastrointestinal inflammation.
The firmness of stool can vary vastly even within the same day.
- Normal Fecal Consistency
Feces should be firm and semi-moist. The stool should be easily picked up with a plastic bag or scooped and can hold its form leaving little to no residue behind.
Feces that is too loose or watery is diarrhea and signifies a gastrointestinal issue. Diarrhea can have many causes ranging from parasites, dietary indiscretion, toxins, infectious disease, internal organ disease or inflammation, and stress.
A stool that is hard, almost rock-like, can be a symptom of constipation or dehydration. This can occur due to lack of exercise or dietary fiber, gastrointestinal foreign body, anal gland problems, megacolon, or serious systemic disease or organ failure.
The amount of feces being produced should be in proportion to the amount of food that they are eating. Also, the more fiber in the diet, the more feces will be produced.
- Too Little
Scant feces production can be indicative of constipation, gastrointestinal obstruction, or undereating.
- Too Much
A large volume of feces indicates that your pet is overeating, has too much dietary fiber, or has diarrhea.
The only thing that should be in feces is poop. Make a special note if there are unusual extras present in your pet’s stool.
Many parasites are not visible to the naked eye, but tapeworm segments are very obvious. They look like white, grains of rice that are usually moving. Roundworms will look like long, thin strands of spaghetti. If you're lucky, your pet may vomit them up as well.
Inflammation in the colon or large bowel can cause mucous to appear in your pet’s stool.
Blood in the stool can be a sign of GI inflammation, anal gland problems, or trauma.
- Foreign Objects or Debris
Pets are great at eating things they are not supposed to. Rocks, string, children’s toys, fabric, packing tape, wood, you name it and there is a pet out there that has eaten it. Foreign objects in feces can indicate that there is more still in the GI tract that can potentially cause harm or intestinal obstruction.
Fur in feces either means that your pet ingested a furred animal or that your pet is overgrooming. Excessive grooming can occur if your pet is excessively itchy due to fleas, food, or environmental allergy.
How frequently your pet defecates is just as important as the appearance of the stool. Normally a dog should defecate 1-2 times daily.
- Increased Frequency
Defecating too much can be symptomatic of gastrointestinal inflammation, too much fiber, or over-eating.
- Decreased Frequency
Too little defection can indicate obstruction, constipation, or that your pet is simply eating less because they don’t feel well.
Although it seems weird, where your pet defecates is important to note. If your dog is house trained and normally does his business outside, but defecates right by the door, this can indicate he really needed to go and couldn’t hold it. This increased sense of urgency can occur with diarrhea or general GI upset. However, if your older dog has started defecating in the house and the feces is of normal consistency and color, this may be symptomatic of cognitive dysfunction. Cats may inappropriately eliminate outside of their litter box for many reasons. Defecating next to the litter box, in the tub, on the floor, or even on a bed may be a sign of a behavioral problem, poor litter box hygiene, and cleanliness, or an underlying medical issue.
Ease of Defecation
A dog or cat should not have to strain to defecate. It should be a fairly quick act that does not cause your pet discomfort. Constant straining with little or no fecal production can indicate diarrhea, obstruction, impaction, constipation, anal gland problems, or even urinary issues. Since the posture associated with defecation is similar to urination, it can be tricky to identify if defecation or urination is the problem if straining occurs.
Tracking these parameters not only helps you monitor your pet’s health but provides value for your trusted veterinary professional to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of your pet’s problem. Your vet will perform a thorough exam to assess your dog or cat, but detailed history of daily defecation habits will highlight change and guide diagnostics leading to a faster resolution and better care of your furry friend. And no worries... veterinary professionals deal with poop and discuss all things poop many, many times every day. No need to be embarrassed or to hold back info regarding your pet’s stools and BM’s. Also, always bring a fecal sample with you to your vet appointment if possible. Your vet and your pet will thank you.
Making note of your pet’s daily habits will create trends and easily show you when a problem arises. This routine will prevent many medical surprises.
Signalment: 70lb, 2yo, MN Goldendoodle
Medical History: No previous medical problems.
Lenny is a sweet boy with no past medical issues. He is up to date on vaccinations and parasite prevention. His owners recently brought a new baby into the home.
Lenny seemed to be his normal self during the first few weeks of being a big brother. No problems were noted by the new parents. Lenny seemed to eat, maybe a little less than normal, and go about his business as usual. His parents attributed his appetite change to the stress of the new baby.
Lenny had a big, fenced-in yard to play in. He was usually let out un-supervised a few times a day.
One morning, Lenny’s owner awoke to him lethargic and unable to ambulate. His gums were white and he was very weak.
Lenny was rushed to the ER where he died shortly after his arrival. Upon necropsy, they found a plastic baby bottle nipple lodged in his small intestines. The damaged intestines where the GI obstruction was located perforated causing sepsis and Lenny’s subsequent passing.
Scenario B: Anipanion Tracking
Lenny’s parents started using a fecal tracking component on Anipanion's app after a recent well check. His owners wanted to get him taken care of before the baby’s arrival.
Lenny’s dad made sure to go out with him or watch Lenny from the window, in the morning and at night for a few minutes to make sure he was urinating and defecating normally. This info was recorded in the Anipanion app. Lenny was very regular, defecating twice daily with normal consistency.
The baby arrived and Lenny seemed to be his normal self during the first week of being a big brother. Lenny seemed to eat, maybe a little less than normal, and go about his business as usual. His parents attributed his appetite change to the stress of the new baby.
However, Lenny’s owner noted that he was defecating only once daily instead of his normal twice-a-day routine. Then 2 days passed when he did not defecate at all.
This change in Lenny’s daily defecation habits alarmed his owners. Lenny was promptly brought in for evaluation at his vet and was diagnosed with an intestinal obstruction. He was brought to surgery where a plastic baby bottle nipple was removed from his jejunum.
Fortunately, his intestinal issue was caught in time, his intestines were healthy, and he recovered from his surgery well.