This article is written by MPB Vet Support Line team
Your pets’ faeces can be the first indicator to a myriad of potential problems. Knowing the difference between what is normal and healthy, to what is abnormal, will help you determine when your pet has a problem and can thus seek appropriate advice from a Veterinary Professional.
It is important to be familiar with your own pets’ normal eliminations. This is key to help you notice a potential problem early. Regardless of your pet’s diet, it is important to know what their poop looks and smells like normally so that you will be immediately aware of any changes in frequency, consistency, size, colour, or smell.
Generally, a healthy cat or dog stool is moist but firm, holds its form when picked up, has a mild odour and is chocolate brown in colour.
We can look at faeces in a few different ways.
- Consistency: is it hard and crumbly, formed and cracked or watery and loose.
- Colour: is the faeces brown like chocolate, green, yellow or even black.
- Contents; Is the faeces free of all foreign material.
- Coating: mucous and/or a blood coating can be more indicators of a problem.
- Smell: Normal faeces should have a mild odour.
Do not forget the way your dog or cat passes faeces can be another indicator of a problem. Cats and dogs both adopt a similar defecating position to pass faeces. Making sure your pet can pass faeces when adopting this posture is as important as noting the faeces itself.
If your pet seems to be straining, taking more than usual trips outside or to the litter tray, with or without the production of faeces, this could be an indicator that they are struggling in some way.
Faecal condition scores can provide insight into how a diet is being digested by your pet, along with colour, contents and coating, we can begin to build a picture of what the problem could be.
Score 1 – Very hard and dry, requires much effort to expel from the body. No residue left on the ground when picked up. Often expelled as individual pellets.
Score 2 – Firm but not hard, should be pliable, segmented in appearance, little or no residue left of the ground when picked up.
Score 3 – Log-like, little or no segmentation visible, moist surface, leave residue but holds form when picked up.
Score 4 – Very moist and soggy, distinct log shape visible, leaves residue and loses form when picked up.
Score 5 – Very moist but has distinct shape, present in piles rather than as distinct logs, leaves residue and loses form when picked up.
Score 6 – Has texture, but no defined shape, occurs as piles or spots, leaves residue when picked up.
Score 7 – watery, no texture, flat. Occurs as puddles.
Colour, Contents and Coating:
Any changes to colour, even if the consistency is appearing healthy, would be a matter to consult your Veterinary team about.
Other changes such as a coating of mucous, which can range from clear, green or yellow to pink and bloody, should be considered abnormal.
Fresh blood can be seen as either, red streaks within the faeces or fresh spots passed post defecation, or within a mucous coating. It is important to note that blood can also appear digested as black and tarry stools, indicating a problem higher in the GI tract.
It is important to keep up to date with Veterinary prescribed worming treatments for your pet. Worming treatments should be given to adult cats and dogs every 1 to 3 months, dependent on their behaviour in outdoor activities. Special considerations and treatment protocols for those animals who travel abroad and/or are indoor cats, can be advised by your Vet. Indoor cats still require worming treatment as worms can be transmitted via fleas. Indoor cats can still get fleas through the environment, as they are easily carried in by us on clothing etc.
Grass eating can be a normal behavioural trait in dogs and some cats. If this behaviour starts suddenly or with the onset of other symptoms such as vomiting, or sneezing, further advice is necessary.
Checking your pets’ faeces for foreign material is an important part of monitoring their health. Dogs easily pick up things they should not. It is common for dogs to chew and eat toy stuffing for example, and other inedible objects. Noting if you are missing any household objects, pets’ toys as well as monitoring your dog’s faeces, will give you an early indicator to a potential foreign body or obstruction.
Equally, cats can take a shine to eating inedible objects. Strings, tinsel, and plastic bags are common culprits to be ingested by cats. It is very important to take advice if you notice your cat eating or defecating foreign material.
Why is gut health important for a healthy poop?
There are several things that you can do to take care of your pets’ gut health.
- Keep your pets’ diet consistent – Sudden changes in diet can result in diarrhoea, along with dietary indiscretions – so when your pet eats something they are not meant to, this can include edible and inedible items. Diarrhoea can have different characteristics dependent on its cause. There are many reasons why your pet may develop diarrhoea but keeping their diet consistent and monitoring anything unusual they may eat, will rule out those issues straight away
- Monitor your pets with their toys, that they cannot reach any food or non-food stuffs in the house and, keep a close eye on them whilst out walking. A known scavenger is best kept on a lead whilst walking so anything they try to ingest can be controlled. There is a long list of toxicities for our pets, these may include items they can eat at home or when out and about. Inedible items can cause trauma to the GI tract, obstruction or even death of vital tissues. Prevention is your best form of defence.
- Worm your pet regularly, every 1 to 3 months with the latter being most common – Ensuring your pet does not contract worms or worse, have a heavy burden is vital for gut health. Keeping on top of this at least every 3 months will ensure that this does not happen. It is also important to remember that regular flea treatment is necessary as part of your worm prevention treatment, as swallowing infected fleas can also lead to the infection of tapeworm. Dogs and Cats have a vast network of good and bad bacteria throughout their body, including in the gut, known collectively as the microbiome. This delicate balance of bacteria, fungi and viruses can form a protective barrier offering defence against toxins, allergens and carcinogens.
The friendly bacteria in your dog’s gut microbiome produce proteins called enzymes. These help your dog digest and use his food. If those friendly bacteria are unbalanced with unhealthy bacteria, your dog will not get the nutrition he needs from his food. The Microbiome produces vitamins for your dog, especially Thiamin and the B vitamins. Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin is only made by the bacteria in the digestive tract.
Your pet needs to be fed on a consistent, nutritionally balance diet for their specific needs. Doing your best to protect the digestive tract from foreign bodies causing trauma or obstructions, toxins and worms, will help keep your pets’ digestive tract in good health. Noticing when there is an abnormality in their eliminations, so the consistency, colour, contents of their faeces will help you seek the advice you need at the best time. A healthy gut will produce healthy faeces. Abnormal faeces can be a sign of a list of different problems but also, chronic faecal issues of different natures can lead to secondary issues, such as dehydration.
When to Contact Vet Support line or see a vet?
If you have any questions about your pets’ health and you are a MPB premium member, Vet support line are available to speak to you and advise you, and when it is appropriate to see your vet.
Providing other causes have been ruled out, your Veterinary professional may advise the following for a simple case of mild diarrhoea. But is very important to take their advice first, knowing that this is an appropriate action to take for your pet.
The common first line of treatment for mild diarrhoea is a white meat diet (ensure your pet isn’t allergic). We feed through rather than starve in these circumstances. Stop your pet’s normal food and start feeding either plain boiled chicken breast (no additions like seasoning or oil) or white fish (cod or coley) mixed with plain boiled pumpkin. Some people might also use boiled rice. These meals should be fed little and often (4 to 6 meals daily) to avoid over stressing the digestive tract with large meals and to aid it to recover. This gives the digestive tract chance to rest. Remember to stop all treats and other food stuffs and feed solely on this white meat diet for at lest 2 to 3 days, you should see the diarrhoea improving and resolving in this time. Provided the diarrhoea has stopped and your pet is happy and well, you can start to transition your pet back onto their normal diet slowly over 4 to 5 days. This means continuing to feed the white meat diet whilst introducing their normal food, increasing and decreasing as the days go on. You should not see a recurrence of the diarrhoea in this time. If the diarrhoea does not stop whilst feeding a white meat diet, or recurs on reintroduction of their normal food, it is time to consult your Veterinary Surgeon.
When to call the Vet Line or go to your Vet:
If you notice any abnormalities with your pets faeces, either in consistency, frequency, colour or contents, or the way they pass faeces; so if they start to strain, seem in pain or are repeatedly trying to pass faeces unsuccessfully, you can always call the Vet support line for advice. We can assess the situation from the information you have given us, ask questions and advise you appropriately. That may entail advice to follow at home, or to see your vet.
If you feel the situation is an immediate emergency, so your pet seems unwell in themselves, they have eaten a foreign body or toxin, then it is advisable to contact your vet straight away.
If there is a situation where abnormal faeces are chronic, or is accompanied by other symptoms, seeing your vet would be advisable.
In all instances, if you are unsure what to do, you can always call the Vet support Line where qualified Veterinary Professionals can advise you on the best course of action.