Poop power: How firm is too firm? How soft is too soft?

Patty Khuly, DVM
Written by:
Published: February 2, 2011
Poop power: How firm is too firm? How soft is too soft?

In case blame needs to be assigned, this topic is brought to you by the fine folks at Waltham research, who (continually) made much ado about poo quality during our visit to their facility last week. Seems it's one crucial area of contention for pet owners who rely on stool quality perfection as a measure of their pets' nutritional well-being.

Apparently it's a really big deal in industrial pet nutrition circles, this poop thing. It has to do with fecal texture, mostly, though color has a way of sneaking into the discussion every once in a while.

Why? Turns out people like you and me can get kind of obsessive about what the stool looks and — if my personal pet situation is any guide — feels like. I mean, when you have to pick up stool multiple times every day (and I do), you have a legitimate right to get kind of weird about feces (and I am).

In case it sounds as if I'm in any way surprised that poop is so important to pet owners, rest assured: I already knew that, OK? As a veterinarian, I get treated to the most descriptive tirades on the subject you could ever imagine. So much so that I could probably write a novel using the adjectives and modifiers applied to pet stool. Not that anyone would buy the book … but I could, you know?

Anyhow, it was not so much that perfectly formed feces are so much in demand that interested me most. Even more interesting was how they were studied and, ultimately, how much they influence industrial pet food production.

I guess I shoulda known, but … I didn't. Who knew that mastery of an elaborate fecal scoring system (adapted from a veterinary system we were taught in vet school) would become a point of pride for Waltham workers? Turns out that earning the right to gauge fecal matter so that it might be included in studies like this one is a big deal in certain circles.

Everyone needs a hobby, I know. But vying for fecal-scoring detail at work?  Really?

Maybe it's just me, but I get so much doo-doo detail at home that I can't imagine volunteering for it at work. Unless, that is, it made me a better human being … which in the context of my own workplace wouldn't. Well, not unless scooping poop became an Olympic sport, or unless I was in the running for some kind of save-the-kennel-help sainthood.

Back to the point at hand: scientific study. It was in the interest of almighty science that a bunch of us spent the slot right before lunch staring at stool in varying states of disrepair, none of which made my pork pie any more appetizing. (It's a good thing the Stilton was world class.)

But the point was well-taken, nonetheless. Poop is important to people for all kinds of reasons. Plus, knowing exactly what it looks like tells you lots about how the digestive/absorptive process is taking place. Hence, measuring it — while necessarily unpleasant — is a highly useful process I'm gratified to hear has its own breed of devotees.

So how about you? What does your doo-doo detail look like? (No photos, please.)

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: My Grant Circle Good Deed of the Day: Picking up a few pounds of dog poop by Wayan Vota

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