Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

The Scoop on Poop

When dogs eat poop, they can get more than just stinky breath. Parasites can come along for the ride

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

My 9-year-old dog, Harper, recently underwent a battery of blood tests and a fecal exam for an upcoming surgery. Her results were normal for the most part, but the fecal exam turned up an unexpected parasite: Eimeria spp. Dogs and cats are not normally hosts of this genus of coccidian parasites. It’s more commonly found in the intestinal tracts of birds such as geese and ducks, who may suffer diarrhea and even death if infected.

How did Harper end up hosting an avian parasite? Well, we live near a lake, and she is extremely fond of snacking on goose droppings when she can get away with it. Apparently, they are the canine version of pate de foie gras.

Fortunately, this type of Eimeria isn’t infective to dogs or cats. For that reason, it’s known as a pseudoparasite, or false parasite. It passes through the intestines and doesn’t require treatment. Other animals that carry Eimeria that isn’t infective to pets include rabbits and deer.

This doesn’t mean that eating poop is safe for your dog. This habit, known as coprophagy, derives from the Greek words “copros,” meaning feces, and “phagein,” meaning “to eat.”

Dogs like Harper who chow down on goose poop can be at risk for salmonella or Campylobacter bacteria, both of which can cause diarrhea in dogs. Rarely, they may suffer severe diarrhea, but most dogs with healthy immune systems aren’t affected. If you know your dog has a goose-poop habit and he suffers a case of the runs, that may be the cause. Check with your veterinarian if the diarrhea continues for 48 hours or more.

Infected bird droppings are also the source of a fungal infection called histoplasmosis. It’s common in the Midwest, in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys, in the area surrounding the Great Lakes, and in parts of Canada. Young, large-breed dogs seem most likely to develop the disease, especially if they live in those areas and have prolonged exposure to Histoplasma-having organisms. One study found that other dogs at greater risk of histoplasmosis are pointers, Weimaraners and Brittanys. That’s likely because these hunting breeds spend more time outdoors.

Signs of histoplasmosis are vague: mild fever, depression, weight loss and loss of appetite. Some dogs develop labored breathing or a chronic cough. X-rays, urinalysis and blood tests can rule out other problems with the same signs. A definitive diagnosis requires microscopic examination of cells from lymph nodes or tissue samples.

The disease is treated with antifungal agents. Treatment can take up to six months to be successful, and not all dogs survive.

Birds aren’t the only culprits when it comes to spreading disease. Dogs can acquire coccidiosis from eating the waste of infected dogs. Coccidian protozoa infective to dogs are Cystoisospora canis, Cystoisospora ohioensis, Cystoisospora neorivolta and Cystyisospora burrowski. Cats can be infected by Cystoisospora felis and Cystoisospora rivolta.

Pets infected with one of these parasites may not show signs. Adult animals may shed the oocysts in their feces but otherwise be symptom-free. Puppies and kittens are at highest risk, suffering diarrhea, weight loss and dehydration. Stress can make the disease worse. In severe cases, young animals may die.

The good news is that cats and dogs can’t transmit coccidiosis to each other. Even better, they can’t transfer it to humans.

Lastly, many dogs love snacking on cat poop. That can be the source of roundworms, tapeworms, toxoplasmosis and giardia. One way to prevent your dog from taking up this nasty habit is to scoop the litter box once or twice daily to remove temptation. If possible, place it in an area that’s accessible to the cat but not the dog.

Q&A

Heart disease

common in cats

Q: My ragdoll cat has been breathing with his mouth open, and he doesn’t seem to want to play very much. Do you think he’s just getting older -- he’s 9 years old -- or should I take him to see the vet? -- via email

A: If you have an emergency veterinary clinic in your town, you should get your cat in right away. Don’t delay! His signs could indicate congestive heart failure from a disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Besides lethargy, decreased activity and open-mouthed breathing (usually after excitement or exercise), other signs include rapid or labored breathing or weakness or paralysis in the hind legs. A heart murmur is another indicator. Sometimes cats don’t show any signs -- that is, not until they collapse or even die suddenly.

Called HCM for short, this is the most common type of heart disease we see in cats. It causes the heart muscle to thicken, known as cardiac hypertrophy. The result is that it’s it more difficult for blood to enter the heart’s chamber and be pumped back out to the body.

We don’t know what causes HCM, but certain breeds such as Maine coons and ragdolls have a genetic mutation for the disease. Other breeds that are predisposed to HCM include Norwegian forest cats, Persians, Devon and Cornish rexes, and sphynxes, but it affects random-bred cats, too.

Cats of any age or gender can be diagnosed with HCM, but middle-aged males seem to be more commonly affected.

Medications are available that can slow the heart rate, help relax the pumping chambers and prevent fluid from building up in the lungs. Follow-up exams are important for cats on medication so the dosage can be adjusted as needed. With care, it’s not unusual for cats to live for months or even years after diagnosis. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Service dogs to help

veterans with PTSD

-- American Humane is looking for a few good dogs to join a new service dog program for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The training program calls for calm dogs who are 10 to 18 months old. They should be motivated by treats or toys and in good health, able to pass a physical exam evaluating hips, elbows, vision, hearing and other health issues. Ideal canine candidates are interested in people, get along with other dogs, are willing to be touched all over, learn easily and rapidly, recover quickly after hearing an unexpected noise and are comfortable around many types of people.

-- What’s there to know about pet bowls? Plenty! Here are our top tips about choosing, using and caring for your dog or cat’s dishes. Choose sturdy stainless steel or ceramic bowls. Some pets are allergic to plastic and can develop acne. Nicks or scratches in plastic can also harbor bacteria. Clean and refill water dishes daily to prevent bacteria and scum buildup. Clean pet bowls in hot, soapy water after every meal. If you run them through the dishwasher, use the sanitize setting to kill bacteria. Wash hands with soap and water after handling pet dishes.

-- Events that raise awareness about pet health and welfare take place through the month of April. They include the ASPCA’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, American Red Cross’ Pet First Aid Awareness Month, Prevention of Lyme Disease in Dogs Month and National Heartworm Awareness Month. National Dog Bite Prevention Week takes place April 9-15, and National Pet ID Week is April 16-22. April 11 is National Pet Day. National Kids and Dogs Day and National Guide Dog Day are celebrated on April 26. Don’t forget Hairball Awareness Day on April 28 and National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day on April 30. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.