Some people may look at this title and think…YUCK!! In all actuality, poop can tell us so many different things about the health of an animal. Here are some things that the veterinary and keeper staff consider when looking at a fecal sample.
- Consistency: Is the sample loose or soft? Is it diarrhea or is it firmer than usual?
- Appearance: Is there any visible blood or mucous in the sample?
- Color: Is the fecal sample a normal color for the animal?
- Smell: I know, I know, this sounds disgusting, but a sudden change in the smell can be important information for the vet staff to know.
So as you can see there are many things to consider even when just looking at a fecal sample. Here at the John Ball Zoo, myself and Dr. Colburn are responsible for analyzing many fecal samples. In any given year we may evaluate anywhere from 400-800 fecal samples. A keeper may collect a sample if they feel that something is out of the ordinary for a particular animal. We also routinely analyze fecal samples for every single animal in the zoo on a scheduled basis. Why would we do this if the animal appears to be healthy? We do this because even though an animal appears healthy on the outside, they can have intestinal parasites that are only able to be detected with the use of a microscope or special stains. If an animal is found to have intestinal parasites, the keepers will weigh the animal so we are able to determine the correct dosage for the animals size. Then Dr. Colburn will prescribe either an injectable or oral medication that will eliminate the parasite. We will then run a “recheck” fecal sample after the animal has finished the prescribed medication to make sure that the infection has been cleared.
So even though many people think that poop is gross, it often can provide one of the first signs that your animal may be ill. So pay close attention to the fecals from your animals at home so that we can keep all of our animals happy and healthy!