By Keith Schopp
When it comes to hard-working sporting dogs, happiness is a firm stool.
Admit it. You inspect your dog’s stool when you can to make sure all is well. And if you don’t, you should.
Just ask Dr. Gail Czarnecki-Maulden, a senior research nutritionist for Purina with a PhD in animal nutrition who is known as the “Queen of Poop” thanks to her interest in understanding the relationship between pet health and poop.
“You can tell a lot from the color, shape, consistency, size and content of your sporting dog’s poop,” says Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden, who has been studying the digestive health of pets for more than 30 years. “The gut is the first line of defense against many pathogens and the GI tract is responsible for preventing bad bacteria and toxins from entering the bloodstream. When your dog’s microbiome is off, it often shows up with changes in the stool.”
Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden says she earned her “Queen of Poop” moniker because “any conversation with me usually turns back to poop and I’m constantly referencing the Fecal Score System.”
That’s right -- Purina developed a Fecal Score System to help crack the code of digestive distress. On a scale of 1-7, with 1 being too hard and 7 totally liquid (diarrhea), Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden says ideal feces will fall in the range of 2-3. To check out the Fecal Score System [spoiler alert: not recommended for light breakfast reading …] go to this link.
Four Legs of the Stool
Purina studies pets’ fecal matter in four main ways:
• By measuring hardness and thickness using a probe and a machine called a Texture Analyzer.
• By using state of the art technology to evaluate bacterial DNA of fecal matter. Bacteria that live in the digestive system protect metabolites the feed the intestinal system and help keep the digestive system healthy.
• By collecting everything a dog excretes for five days and analyzing it in relation to the nutrients consumed to determine digestibility and nutrient absorption.
• By using chemical methods to analyze odor and also looking at how the poop is formed. High levels of odor can indicate a less-than-ideal environment in the gut.
If this sounds like much ado about poo, Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden says all the research can lead to groundbreaking discoveries – like the 2006 launch of Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets FortiFlora, a probiotic supplement with guaranteed amounts of active cultures that’s proven to promote intestinal health and balance.
“We have a lot of data and FortiFlora has been shown to promote good fecal quality and can provide relief of occasional loose stools,” she says. “A lot of sporting dog professionals won’t leave home without it!”
According to the queen, consistency is king.
“You want to establish a baseline for your dog and you want consistency when it comes to poop,” Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden says. “Sporting dogs experience stress, like travel, excitement or exercise associated with training, trialing or hunting. With stress, you often see a shift in gut bacteria. Stress can be good. But it’s not unusual to get a spike in inflammatory markers that creates some inconsistency.”
That’s when things can start to get a little loose.
And that’s where FortiFlora can come in handy. In fact, Dr. Czarnecki Maulden recommends supplementing your dog’s diet with FortiFlora a couple days before travel and then throughout sporting events or hunting trips. She adds that other factors, including environmental toxins, pathogens, water sources, and sudden changes in diet can impact stool quality.
“Color of stool is also an indicator,” Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden says. “Black or tarry stool can indicate blood. If you see blood in your dog’s stool, call your veterinarian right away. And I always look at urgency. If your dog is whining to go out or has diarrhea in the kennel, there’s something going on. Urgency, blood, mucus – all signal you’d better get to the vet as soon as possible.”
As sporting dogs age, changes in poop are likely.
“A lot of the beneficial bacteria in the gut will start decreasing as dogs get older, and the bad bacteria increases. Senior dogs also tend to be less resilient during and after stressful events. So senior sporting dogs may tend to get loose quicker. We’re not necessarily talking diarrhea, but maybe shifting on the Fecal Score System from a 3 to a 4.”
The Queen of Poop offers a few poop pointers:
• Elimination frequency varies by dog breed and size. Generally, it takes about 12 hours for food to move through the GI tract. “It’s not a good idea for dogs to exercise on a full stomach,” Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden says. “Purina experts recommend feeding as many hours prior to a bout of exercise as possible to allow the dog to eliminate.”
• If a stool sample is necessary, collect it within 30 minutes of elimination – sooner the better as bacteria will change and die off.
• Feed a high-quality, highly digestible dog food. Sporting dogs need excellent nutrition absorption and will have the natural bacteria in the gut working for them instead of against them when fed a high-quality diet.
In addition to her scientific expertise at Purina, Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden also trains dogs and introduces puppies to the word “poop” as part of her early training regimen.
“It may sound silly, but when I air them or walk them, I tell them what they’re doing. If you name it by saying “go poop” or “go potty” as they’re doing it, they can learn it. You can actually almost que them up to “go poop” and use that from then on.”
For Dr. Czarnecki-Maulden, poop matters because it helps nutritionists see how certain ingredients are processed by pets, and how much of the nutrients in pet food are absorbed in the digestive process. The ultimate goal is launching innovative new foods that make a difference in the lives of pets and their owners.
This story originally appeared in the Summer 2020 issue of Quail Forever Journal. If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, join Pheasants Forever at the link below!