Gastrointestinal parasites are not only primary disease agents in companion animals, some are also transmissible to people.
Of all the diagnostic techniques used to detect gastrointestinal parasites, none is more accurate and reliable than centrifugal
fecal flotation when it is performed properly. I think it is safe to say that if you or the commercial laboratory you submit
samples to is not using centrifugal flotation procedures, you are probably underdiagnosing parasites.
Byron L. Blagburn, MS, PhD
FECAL FLOTATION BASICS
Fecal flotation separates parasites and objects in feces based on their differential densities. Flotation solutions are soluble
preparations of either sugar or salt in water. When sugar or salt is dissolved at increasing concentrations, the density (measured
as specific gravity) increases. When passive or tabletop flotation is used, parasite ova or cysts whose densities are less
than that of the flotation solution will overcome gravity and rise to the surface (buoyant force). Objects that are of greater
density than the solution will sink to the bottom. However, when flotation preparations are spun in a centrifuge, a much greater
force is placed on the heavier objects, allowing for a more rapid and efficient separation of parasites and debris.
WHAT YOU'LL NEED
For effective centrifugal flotation, you need at least 1 g of formed feces, which is a cube that is 1/2 in on each side, or
2 g of soft feces. Use a flotation solution with a density (specific gravity) between 1.18 and 1.27. Veterinary practices
often choose sodium nitrate (specific gravity 1.18 to 1.20) because it is easily obtained commercially. Many parasitology
laboratories prefer to use a sucrose solution prepared at a specific gravity of 1.27. You can obtain sucrose flotation solution
in 500-ml and 1-gal containers from Jorgensen Laboratories (Sheather's sugar flotation solution).
As for the centrifuge, use one with either a swinging bucket or fixed-angle rotor.
To use a swinging bucket centrifuge, mix the feces and flotation solution in centrifuge tubes, and place the tubes in opposing
buckets in the rotor. Carefully add flotation solution to the tubes to create a reverse meniscus. Then gently apply a coverslip
to each tube by first contacting one side of the tube and then slowly lowering the coverslip, reducing the angle over the
meniscus. Next, gradually increase the rotor's speed to a maximum of 800 rpm. To do this, the centrifuge must have a dial,
knob, or digital entry button that allows incremental increases in speed. In my experience, the sucrose solution retains the
coverslip on the tube better than less viscous solutions such as sodium nitrate will. Spin the sample for 10 minutes, and
allow the machine to stop without touching the rotor. Remove the coverslip, place it on a slide, and scan it for parasites.