Poop. Hippos navigate by it. Sloths keep in touch through it. Dung beetles eat it. Fish do it. Toads do it. Snakes, birds, turtles and elephants do it. When wombats do it, it comes out shaped like a cube. Whether you call it scat, droppings, feces, dung, stool, number two, pellets, caca, manure, frass, doo-doo, or another one of the many euphemisms available, it all refers to the same thing that every animal does. We eat. We digest. We poop.
Everyone poops. Yet poop is one of those subjects that many find difficult to talk about with a straight face. Most adults would rather not discuss it at all, but it seems like kids are absolutely fascinated with it. I’ll let you in on a secret: kids are on to something, because we can learn a ton about an animal by examining what it leaves behind.
When animals encounter scat, they receive a fast rundown of valuable information: the species, sex, age, health, and sexual maturity of its source. Knowing this information in the wild can prevent violent run-ins between competing animals and also alert members of the same species that there are others in the area ready to mate. In predator-prey situations, the prey may leave multiple droppings in an area to throw the predator off its trail.
I’m a big fan of animal poop. It has many stories to tell and isn’t very good at keeping secrets. For over 20 years, I’ve been keeping track of poop from countless animals in the zoo, nature centers, veterinary hospitals, and from my own animals at home. Give me a glove, and if need be, I will dig through just about anything to discover the story inside. Keeping a close eye on poop has not only helped me determine the health of countless animals, but this habit has also been an animal life saver many times during my years of working with them.
My fecal sleuthing came in handy recently. We went on a trip out of town with our canine companion. Three days into the trip, we became concerned because she had not produced a stool since we left home. She wasn’t even trying to go! Three days might not seem like a long time, but for a dog that poops once a day, this was quite abnormal. Since it was over the Christmas holiday weekend, we did not have access to a vet. So we did our research and tried every suggestion that we could find (vigorous exercise, more fiber, more water, and even belly massage), but none were helping. We located a recommended vet and once they were open, we had her examined. X-rays showed that she had a large amount of impacted feces.
Luckily the stress of being at a strange and unfamiliar vet eventually caused our canine companion produce a rather enormous stool on her own. But even after finally dropping a load that a baby hippo would be proud of, she still wasn’t out of the woods just yet. The vet made some recommendations and we continued to monitor her until we felt that she was back on “schedule”.
So why am I discussing our dog’s bowel movements? Well, because it’s a necessary part of living with – and responsibly caring for – our animal companions. Whether you share your home with a rabbit, cat, ferret, dog, goat, snake, rat, pig, bird, tortoise, toad, or fish, you need to be aware of what’s coming out the back end. Ask yourself if you know how often your animal companion urinates and defecates. What does it look like? What’s the consistency? What’s the color? If you don’t know the answer to those questions, I strongly recommend that you find out the answers.
If I was not aware of how often she eliminates, and hadn’t been paying close attention to our canine companion’s poop schedule, I would have never recognized that she was way off schedule, and her constipation issue could have quickly become a very dangerous situation.
You can learn a world of information from a pile of excrement. Just like a check-up list at the doctor’s office, a thorough examination of an animal’s waste can educate you about its health.
“A dog’s bowel and urinary habits are outward signs of her health status. It is important to monitor the amount, frequency, color and consistency of dog feces and urine, giving particular attention to changes in normal pattern.” ~ Bess Pierce, DVM, associate professor of community practice at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg, Virginia
Pay attention to what you scoop. Daily “Poop Patrol” is one of the easiest and quickest ways to discover any health issues, and also to know if all is well with their digestion and health. Even if you have multiple species in your home that are all sharing a litter box, you should still be able to clearly identity each animal’s fecal matter and even their urine. You should be in the yard, looking for what your dog left behind.
The Cat Doctor has an easy list to help you identify your feline companion’s poop. You can even discover the scoop on parrot poop and learn Bird Poop 101! For the horse lovers, there is Horse Manure Mania , Small Mammal poop resources , as well as reptile and amphibian help too!
Monitoring your animal companion’s waste is crucial. As unappealing as it may seem to become a poop investigator, it’s part of what you signed up for when you invited them into your home. Take the time to investigate who’s poo is who’s. Learn what’s normal for each of your animal companions. Once you know what’s normal, it’ll be much easier to recognize when something is wrong, or if they need medical attention.
P.S. Remember to take each of your animal’s vet records with you on any trips out of town. You never know when you’re going to need them and your vet may not be open when you do.
I would like to give thanks to Dr. Dana Still at the Veterinary Medical Center in Johnson City, Tennessee for seeing us on such short notice. Their professionalism and care was greatly appreciated.