In order to ensure the health of patients, a fecal examination for
intestinal parasites is an important part of a regular checkup.
Regardless of the fecal procedure used, there can be some
limitations on accurately identifying infections with some parasites.
Detection of hookworm, roundworm and whipworm can be difficult
with the current diagnostics. Now IDEXX Reference Laboratories
has added fecal antigen testing as an additional tool for detecting
these common parasites.
In small-animal practice, hookworms, roundworms and whipworms
are commonly encountered intestinal parasites in canine and feline
patients. They each have a unique life cycle, and their prepatent
period, the time in which they infect a host before laying eggs, may
range from 14–21 days in hookworms, 14–30 days in roundworms,
to as long as 74–90 days in whipworms. This prepatent period may
allow infections to go undetected on fecal flotation, increasing the
chance for the appearance of clinical signs prior to evidence of
eggs in the stool.
In dogs and cats, the prevalence of infection with each intestinal
parasite varies from region to region and tends to occur more
frequently in shelter animals than in well-cared-for dogs and cats
that visit the veterinarian on a regular basis. Outdoor pets and
those that consume prey with possible infective larvae in their
tissues are also more likely to be infected.
Studies have shown that hookworm and roundworm prevalence in
pet dogs was 2.5% and 2.2% respectively
and 20.2% and 15.2%
One study of approximately 1,500 feline fecal
with Toxocara cati.
The whipworm prevalence in dogs in the U.S., based on detection
to 14.3% in shelter
In North America, whipworm infections in cats are rare.
Some dogs and cats infected with these common intestinal
parasites may be asymptomatic, but others may develop a variety
of gastrointestinal signs that depend on the parasite and age of the
patient. Symptoms may range from mild diarrhea, vomiting and ill
thrift to severe bloody diarrhea, anemia and occasionally death.
Currently, the most common method for diagnosing intestinal
parasite infections is fecal flotation, either passive or by
centrifugation. There are many issues that may complicate the
diagnosis of infections with this method. One possible complication
is misidentification. Pollen and other debris may be misidentified
as eggs. In addition, the inappropriate identification of eggs from
other species as a result of coprophagy may also occur. One study
researching this occurrence found that 31.5% Toxocara-positive
canine fecal specimens were in fact T. cati eggs.
different eggs, which makes it difficult for a clinician to select the
ideal fecal flotation solution to ensure adequate recovery of eggs
from all potential parasites.
Yet another challenge with fecal flotation is that this method of
egg identification lacks the ability to detect infections during the
prepatent period or with single-sex infections, when eggs are
simply not present in the infected animal.
Finally, fecal flotation may not always be reliable as a single test.
Because many parasites shed eggs intermittently, a specimen from
an infected animal may still generate a false-negative diagnosis if
only a single fecal flotation is examined. For all these reasons, there
is a need to find a better tool for the diagnosis of the most common
intestinal parasites found in dogs and cats.
New testing options from
IDEXX Reference Laboratories
Antigen detection is commonly used today to diagnose heartworm
and Giardia infections, and now it is available for these additional
parasites. IDEXX Reference Laboratories has developed enzyme-
linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs) for the detection of
hookworm, roundworm and whipworm antigens in feces. These
antigens are secreted from the adult worm and are not present in
their eggs, which allows for detection of prepatent stages as well
as the ability to overcome the challenges of intermittent egg laying.
This early detection during the prepatent period will also reduce
the frequency of environmental contamination with potentially
Detect more infections
Over 225,000 IDEXX Reference Labs fecal results, consisting of
both canine and feline specimens, were analyzed for positive
nematode results. These samples were submitted for testing for
both fecal flotation by centrifugation (fecal O&P) and fecal antigen
ELISA methods for hookworm, roundworm and whipworm.
Hookworm eggs were detected in 1.7% of the specimens.
The hookworm-specific antigen ELISA was positive in an additional
2.0% of specimens that were negative for hookworm eggs, thus
bringing the total hookworm detection with the combined O&P and
ELISA testing to 3.7%.
Roundworm (ascarid) eggs were detected in 2.2% of the
an additional 1.3% of specimens that were negative for roundworm
Intestinal parasite antigen testing—
the next generation of fecal testing
Diagnostic update • January 2016
Because of the lack of egg detection with fecal O&P testing
during the prepatent period and single-sex infections, many
parasite infections may go undetected for a period of time and,
therefore, create a difficulty in correlating clinical signs to fecal test
results. In an experimental infection study conducted at IDEXX,
the fecal antigen ELISAs were able to detect infection during this
The graph below illustrates the identification of a whipworm
infection approximately 30 days before fecal O&P testing when
using the whipworm-specific antigen ELISA.
There are a variety of anthelmintic products available for both
treatment and control of hookworm, roundworm and whipworm
infections. Please see the current Companion Animal Parasite
Council (CAPC) for recommendations for guidance.
Public health considerations and
Because of the zoonotic potential of these parasites, most
commonly hookworm and roundworm, immediate disposal
of feces is important. This will also reduce the likelihood of
reinfections and prevent the long-term contamination of the
environment. Monthly anthelmintic medications can be helpful in
preventing the continuation of the cycle.
Test name and contents
Fecal ova and parasites, Giardia antigen by ELISA, reflex
hookworm, roundworm and whipworm antigens by ELISA
if indicated. If the fecal ova and parasites are negative for
hookworms, roundworms or whipworms, the fecal antigen by
ELISA for the respective parasite will be automatically performed
at no additional charge.
3–5 g fresh feces in a clean plastic container
Fecal ova and parasites, reflex hookworm, roundworm and
whipworm antigens by ELISA if indicated. If the fecal ova and
parasites is negative for hookworms, roundworms or whipworms,
the fecal antigen by ELISA for the respective parasite will be
automatically performed at no additional charge.
3–5 g fresh feces in a clean plastic container
Fecal Antigen Panel
Hookworm, roundworm and whipworm antigens
3–5 g (0.2 g minimum) fresh feces in a clean plastic container
by day 31
by day 69
eggs, thus bringing the total roundworm detection with the
Whipworm eggs were detected in 0.7% of the canine specimens.
1.0% of specimens that were negative for whipworm eggs by fecal
O&P testing, thus bringing the total whipworm
detection with the combined O&P and ELISA testing to 1.7%.
Combined fecal O&P and antigen ELISA testing
marks are owned by IDEXX Laboratories, Inc. or its affiliates in the United States and/or other countries.
Laboratory Customer Support
If you have any questions regarding test codes, turnaround time or
pricing, please contact our Laboratory Customer Support Team at
Expert feedback when you need it
Our team of internal medicine specialists is always available for
complimentary consultation. Please call 1-888-433-9987 if you
Elsemore DA, Geng J, Flynn L, Cruthers L, Lucio-Forster A, Bowman
DD. Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for coproantigen detection of
Trichuris vulpis in dogs. J Vet Diagn Invest. 2014;26(3):404–411.
1. Little SE, Johnson EM, Lewis D, et al. Prevalence of intestinal parasites
in pet dogs in the United States. Vet Parasitol. 2009;166(1–2):144–152.
2. Blagburn BL, Lindsay DS, Vaughan JL, et al. Prevalence of canine
parasites based on fecal flotation. Compend Contin Educ Pract Vet.
3. Gates MC, Nolan TJ. Endoparasite prevalence and recurrence across
different age groups of dogs and cats. Vet Parasitol. 2009;166(1–2):
4. Bowman DD. Georgis’ Parasitology for Veterinarians. 9th ed. St Louis,
MO: Saunders; 2009:224.
5. Fahrion AS, Schnyder M, Wichert B, Deplazes P. Toxocara eggs shed
by dogs and cats and their molecular and morphometric species-
specific identification: is the finding of T. cati eggs shed by dogs of
epidemiological relevance? Vet Parasitol. 2011;177(1–2):186–189.
6. Companion Animal Parasite Council. Current advice on parasite
control: intestinal parasites. www.capcvet.org/capc-recommendations.
Accessed March 24, 2015.
The information contained herein is intended to provide general guidance
only. As with any diagnosis or treatment, you should use clinical discretion
with each patient based on a complete evaluation of the patient, including
history, physical presentation and complete laboratory data. With respect to
any drug therapy or monitoring program, you should refer to product inserts
for a complete description of dosages, indications, interactions and cautions.