Assessing your pet's poop
Every pet poops, often more than once a day. Picking up feces and watching animals poop is something many pet owners do often, as we should! It is very important to monitor your pet’s bowel movements and habits when they go to the bathroom, both for those who go outside and those who go in the litter box.
The most important thing to know is what’s normal for your particular pet. All pets are different, even within the same species, breed, and household. You should know the normal color, smell, texture, consistency, and size of your pet’s poop, as well as how often he or she goes.
Many factors can influence the way a pet’s poop looks and smells. Sometimes, changes in a pet’s stool can indicate disease, illness, or stress. Other times, differences can be due to a change in diet or routine. Check your pet’s feces regularly (multiple times per week), and be sure to note when your pet passes unusual stool. If your pet’s feces is abnormal for longer than 24 hours, call their usual veterinarian.
Here are some characteristics you should look for when evaluating your pet’s poop.
Poop should be a shade of brown. Depending on the pet and the diet he or she is eating, it could be anywhere from light to dark brown.
Red – Bright red stool, or streaks of red in the stool, can indicate bleeding in the lower digestive tract, like the large intestine or the rectum. Pets with red feces should be taken to the veterinarian right away.
Black – Black feces can indicate bleeding in the upper digestive tract, such as the stomach or small intestine. Black stool can also be caused by some medications. Pets with black feces should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Tan – Tan or sandy-colored feces do not fall under “shades of brown” normal. Tan feces can indicate problems with the pancreas, liver, or gallbladder. Pets with sand-colored stool should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
Grey – Grey or whitish-colored stool can also indicate problems with the pancreas, liver, or gallbladder. It can also be a sign of infection or disease. Pets who have grey feces should see a veterinarian right away.
Other colors – Feces any color other than brown can indicate problems in your pet’s digestive system. Call your pet’s usual veterinarian or an emergency animal hospital if you notice a change in the color of your pet’s poop.
This table is the most widely used and useful way to assess the texture and consistency of your pet’s poop. It is also a handy tool when describing your pet’s stool to their veterinarian; simply give a fecal score (a value 1 through 7). Scores 1-3 are typically normal for cats, while scores 3-5 are usually normal for dogs. Know what’s normal for your pet, and note any variation, even if it might not be abnormal for other pets in the same species. For example, if your dog’s fecal score is always a 3, but his most recent was a score of 5, this could be unusual. Let your pet’s regular veterinarian know if their fecal score is abnormal for longer than a day or two.
Too hard (score of 1-2 for dogs) – Feces that are hard, dry, and difficult to pass can indicate dehydration or constipation in the dog. Be sure to always have fresh, clean water out to prevent dehydration, which can be one of many causes of constipation. Call your dog’s regular veterinarian if you suspect constipation.
Too soft (score of 6-7 for dogs, 4-7 for cats) – Feces that are soft, wet, and shapeless can indicate illness or diarrhea. Diarrhea, especially if it goes on for a prolonged time, can cause dehydration. Call your pet’s veterinarian if you notice signs of diarrhea or soft stool lasting longer than 24 hours.
Mucus – Seeing a slimy, mucus-covered stool can indicate illness or infection. Call your pet’s usual veterinarian if you notice mucus in their feces.
“Rice grains” – If you see small, white pieces that look like grains of rice in your pet’s feces, this may indicate that he or she has a parasitic infection. Take your pet to the veterinarian right away if you notice “rice grains” in their stool.
Poop smells bad; it’s poop! The particular smell of your pet’s feces depends on many factors, especially their diet and any treats they are eating. Try to get used to the way your pet’s stool usually smells so that you can take note of changes.
Smellier than normal – If a pet’s poop is going to smell different, it will usually smell worse than usual. This can indicate changes in the pet’s diet, especially if the pet has had a lot of treats lately, or perhaps got into the garbage. If super-smelly poop is accompanied by other changes, such as different color or texture, you should call your pet’s veterinarian so they can help figure out what the problem is.
All pets’ poops are different sizes; think about the difference between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane! Get familiar with how large or small your pet’s feces normally are, and note any changes.
Too big – If you notice your pet is passing larger amounts of stool than usual, this could be due to a variety of factors. Let your pet’s usual veterinarian know if larger stools are also accompanied by changes in color, texture, or frequency.
Too small – There can also be multiple factors at play if your pet begins passing smaller-than-normal stool. Again, if this is accompanied by other changes, let your pet’s usual veterinarian know.
Most pets do their business at least once per day. For some pets, three times a day is perfectly normal. Keep in mind how many times your pet defecates each day, and make a note of any changes.
Too often – If you notice your pet pooping more often than usual, such as four or more times per day, schedule an appointment with their regular veterinarian. This might indicate problems with their digestive system, such as a motility disorder. If too-frequent defecation is paired with unusually soft stool, this could be an indication of infection or disease.
Not often enough – If your pet hasn’t pooped in over 24 hours, call his or her usual veterinarian, because this can be a sign of constipation. Note if your pet is straining to defecate or if they have had behavioral changes (for example, more tired than usual), and let the veterinarian know.
Accidents – If a pet who is normally house-trained or litter box–trained begins having accidents, this may indicate stress, illness, or incontinence. Contact their usual veterinarian if accidents happen more than once, or if they are accompanied by soft stool or other abnormal changes.
Purina Pro Plan: “Fecal Scoring Chart”
Merck Veterinary Manual: “Colitis in small animals”
Merck Veterinary Manual: “Constipation and obstipation in small animals”
VCA: “Colitis in dogs”
VCA: “Constipation in cats”
VCA: “Constipation in dogs”
VCA: “Diarrhea in cats”
VCA: “Diarrhea in dogs”