Pet Owners Guide to Diarrhea in Dogs
Not all cases of diarrhea require a trip to the veterinary clinic. However, some diarrhea episodes are warning signs of serious illness. Learn more about diarrhea in dogs from our guide which begins below including how to prevent, identify, and treat your dog’s diarrhea and discomfort.
Probably the most common complaint received by veterinarians is that of diarrhea. It’s such an easy condition to identify: The smell is unmistakable, as is its chocolate-pudding appearance. Most of the time, diarrhea is caused by a dietary indiscretion or stressful circumstances, and is self-limiting. Diarrhea is not a disease; rather, it is a symptom of a dysfunction of the gastrointestinal tract (GIT). When associated with bad food or food-borne pathogens, diarrhea serves to rapidly remove pathogens from the GIT before they have a chance to be absorbed and cause more damage.
Dog Diarrhea Prevention
Here are several ways to reduce the occurrence of diarrhea in dogs:
- Do not suddenly change your dog’s diet.
- Do not give your dog bones as toys (firm, rubber chew toys are a better choice).
- Do not let your dog play with small objects that could be swallowed.
- Do not feed your dog table scraps.
- Do not allow your dog to scavenge.
- Always keep your dog up-to-date with de-worming and vaccinations.
When Should I be Concerned about My Dog’s Diarrhea and See a Veterinarian?
How serious is diarrhea in dogs?
The seriousness of diarrhea depends on how long the diarrhea has persisted and how many other signs accompanies the diarrhea. If your dog has severe bloody diarrhea, or is showing more generalized signs of illness such as weakness, fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, or loss of appetite, or if dehydration accompanies the diarrhea, the cause may be more serious. For example, diarrhea is one of the first signs seen in parvovirus, a viral infection that can cause life-threatening illness in susceptible dogs.
Canine Digestive System
The digestive system includes all of the organs that are involved in taking in and processing food. It begins with the mouth and includes the esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, intestines, rectum, and anus.
The process of digestion begins when your pet picks up food with its mouth and starts chewing. Enzymes found in saliva begin breaking down the food chemically. The process continues with swallowing, additional breakdown of food in the stomach, absorption of nutrients in the intestines, and elimination of waste. Digestion is critical not only for providing nutrients but also for maintaining the proper balance of fluid and electrolytes (salts) in the body.
The functions of the digestive system can be divided into 4 main categories: digestion, absorption of nutrients, motility (movement through the digestive tract), and elimination of feces.
When to Call the Vet: The Warning Signs a Dog Needs Medical Attention
If your dog’s diarrhea is black and tarry, that’s an indication of internal bleeding, and your dog needs prompt veterinary treatment. If his poop is gray, green or orange—and he didn’t get into a box of crayons—the coloration points to issues with his liver or pancreas, and veterinary attention is needed. A dog who isn’t current on his preventive de-wormer may have parasites, and the vet will run fecal tests to determine if they are the culprit behind the loose or unformed stools.
If his bowel problems aren’t affecting his behavior, he probably doesn’t need to see the vet right away unless the diarrhea doesn’t improve within a few days. But if he’s lethargic, vomiting or has a fever, a trip to the emergency vet is in order. Remember to bring a fecal sample with you.
Watch for these signs and take your dog to the vet immediately:
- Black, tarry stool, or stool with copious amounts of fresh blood (bright red)
- Loss of appetite
- Marked lethargy
- Frequent vomiting
- Signs of abdominal pain (bloating, groaning, panting rapidly or avoidance response when belly is touched)
- Lasts longer than 48 hours (Since it can rapidly weaken puppies and geriatrics, or dogs with chronic diseases, they may need veterinary attention sooner.)
You should call your veterinarian for advice on how to handle the diarrhea if your dog:
- Is very young or very old
- Has a preexisting health condition
These pets can become severely debilitated, even when suffering from relatively mild diarrhea.
The Many Varieties of Dog Diarrhea
What is diarrhea? Diarrhea, also spelled diarrhoea, is the condition of having at least three loose or liquid bowel movements each day. It often lasts for a few days and can result in dehydration due to fluid loss. Signs of dehydration often begin with the loss of the normal stretchiness of the skin and changes in personality. This can progress to decreased urination, loss of skin color, a fast heart rate, and a decrease in responsiveness as it becomes more severe.
Doggy diarrhea is a sign of a health problem; it isn’t a disease itself. The most common mechanism by which canine diarrhea occurs is when unabsorbed nutrients either retain water or draw water into the intestines. In these cases, the volume of fluid overwhelms the ability of the intestinal lining to absorb water and nutrients. Dogs with this type of diarrhea will pass large amounts of fluid or soft stools.
Another common mechanism of diarrhea in dogs results from increased permeability of the intestinal lining. Inflammation associated with disease or irritating substances can cause increased movement of fluid and electrolytes into the intestines and impaired absorption.
Diarrhea can occur suddenly (acute), last for weeks to months (chronic) or occur off and on (intermittent). It depends on the underlying cause.
How is the cause of diarrhea in dogs determined? Why does my dog have diarrhea?
Veterinary workup for diarrhea usually consists of a physical and fecal exam. Snap tests for many common infectious agents that cause diarrhea are widely available and can provide rapid diagnosis. Bloodwork and radiography may be indicated in situations where the diarrhea is severe and other symptoms are present. Depending on the degree of illness your veterinarian will treat with subcutaneous fluids and take home-medications or hospitalization with intravenous fluids and medications as needed.
The Straight Poop: Color, Consistency and Frequency
The nature of the diarrhea, such as its color, consistency, smell and frequency, are important in helping determine the cause. Your veterinarian will usually ask you to bring a representative sample of fresh fecal material with you to your appointment. You may also be asked to provide answers to a series of questions.
Normal Stool Textures
A normal stool consistency is formed but malleable… think PlayDoh.
Crumbly or chalky poop is normal for dogs on a raw diet with plenty of bone. Don’t confuse it with constipation.
Normal Frequency: Most dogs have 1 to 2 bowel movements a day. … usually around the same time of day.
Soft stool – like soft-serve ice cream
Loose stool – watery or thin stools.
Any of the above with blood or mucus
Abnormal Frequency: Abnormal stools can cause several poops a day .
Small vs. Large Intestine Diarrhea
Large Intestine Diarrhea
If the cause of your dog’s diarrhea is in his large intestine, his bowel movements will be more frequent. He’ll need to poop with extreme urgency. So he’s likely to have accidents in your house.
These stools are often semi-formed with some mucus. You might see fresh blood specks on the surface of the poop.
Small Intestine Diarrhea
If your dog’s diarrhea is from his small intestine, his bowel movements will be less frequent. He’ll be able to control them better … without the urgency.
But the hallmark of small intestine diarrhea is that there’s no obvious blood. That’s because the blood is digested in the small intestine.
You might think small intestine diarrhea is less severe … but it’s actually more serious.
Your dog digests most nutrients in his small intestine. When it’s inflamed, he can’t absorb nutrients. The food passes through to the large intestine too fast.
Acute vs. Chronic Doggie Diarrhea
Most cases of acute diarrhea can be managed at home but it is important to monitor your dog’s health very carefully until the diarrhea resolves. The main concern with diarrhea is the amount of fluids being lost in the feces which makes dehydration something to watch out for. Make sure your dog always has plenty of fresh water available and is drinking.
Common causes of diarrhea include dietary indiscretion such as getting into the garbage pail or eating people food that the dog is not accustomed to, abrupt dietary changes, medications especially antibiotics which tend to disrupt the gastric flora and infectious agents such as parvovirus, coronavirus, Salmonella, E.coli and Giardia to name a few. Chronic diarrhea is diarrhea that persists more than 2 weeks or diarrhea that tends to recur over and over.
Causes of Dog Diarrhea
Diarrhea is the result of faster movement of fecal material through the intestine, combined with decreased absorption of water, nutrients, and electrolytes. If the main sign of illness in your dog is diarrhea, a relatively simple problem such as an intestinal infection from bacteria, viruses, coccidia, or intestinal worms may be the cause. In dogs, dietary indiscretion (eating garbage or other offensive or irritating materials), or a change in diet is a common cause of acute (sudden) diarrhea. Stress, especially following travel, boarding, or other changes in environment, can also cause acute diarrhea.
However, diarrhea can also be a sign of a more serious underlying disorder such as allergies, bacterial or viral infections, inflammatory intestinal disease, organ dysfunction, or other systemic illness.
Eleven Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs
- Dietary indiscretion
- Change in diet
- Food intolerance
- Poisonous substances or plants
- Swallowing an indigestible foreign body
- Infections from viruses or bacteria
- Antibiotics and other medications
- Stress or emotional upset
Symptoms of Diarrhea in Dogs – What to Watch for
Diarrhea aside, your dog should be otherwise acting like her normal self; if she has additional symptoms such as lethargy, weakness, abdominal pain, blood in the diarrhea, vomiting and fever (rectal temperature greater than 103.5 F) then you need to see your veterinarian as soon as possible. Additionally, if the diarrhea persists more than a week then a check-up is recommended. You can monitor your dog’s hydration status by feeling the gums, they should be moist and your finger should be able to slide along the gums easily. If the gums are dry and tacky then your dog is dehydrated and needs veterinary attention. Worsening dehydration can result in electrolyte imbalances and disrupt the acid-base balance as well, which make your dog very ill so don’t wait.
Dog and Puppy Diarrhea Treatment
What is the treatment for diarrhea in dogs?
Many dogs will fast themselves when they have a tummy problem. If your dog does this, don’t try to get him to eat.
If your dog doesn’t fast himself, it’s a good idea to stop feeding him for 12 to 24 hours. It’ll let his gut rest and heal. If that seems like too long, you can safely start with 6 to 12 hours of no food or water with most dogs.
Think about the last time you had stomach flu or food poisoning. What did you want to eat? Bland food and chicken soup, most likely.
And the same goes for your dog. Once he starts eating again, bland is best to help prevent further tummy upset. And soup is a great way to start…
Your conventional vet may recommend feeding white rice and boiled chicken or ground beef. But starting with soup is a gentler way to smooth your dog’s transition back to his regular diet … without the added starch.
Slippery elm is a gentle herb that soothes the mucous membranes. Slippery elm is safe and effective … and gentle on your dog’s sore digestive system.
L-Glutamine is an amino acid that heals intestinal cells. You can give it alone or with other supplements. You can buy it at most health stores.
Marshmallow Root is another useful herb for soothing the gastrointestinal tract after diarrhea.
Over the Counter Medications
Over-the-counter, human, anti-diarrheal medications containing bismuth subsalicylate (such as Pepto-Bismol) can help dogs with diarrhea, but don’t give your pet any medication without checking with your veterinarian. Bismuth is counter-indicated for some dogs due to other health reasons.
Probiotics are living bacterial cultures intended to assist the body’s naturally occurring gut flora in reestablishing themselves and may also help speed recovery. These live microorganisms are found in yogurt, for example, and are also available from your health food store or your veterinarian as high-potency powdered acidophilus cultures, which are more effective than yogurt for diarrhea.
Always use prebiotics and probiotics together. Prebiotics feed the probiotics and make them more effective.
If you feed prebiotics alone, they can feed harmful intestinal bacteria. The kind that may cause diarrhea. So again … make sure you feed probiotics too.
Probiotics with prebiotics are the best option for your dog. Prebiotics give the probiotic flora the nourishment it needs to multiply and counteract the bad intestinal flora that has taken over the gut. The difference between a dog probiotic with and without prebiotics can be days or weeks of discomfort. You want the one with the prebiotic to cure diarrhea faster.
Dog Diarrhea Treatments – Prescriptions
If your dog has diarrhea, don’t panic! I’m going to share some natural remedies to help him recover quickly. First, let’s talk about why you might not want to go to the vet right away.
If you take your dog to a conventional vet for diarrhea, they’ll usually give you antibiotics … like Metronidazole (Flagyl). It will stop your dog’s symptoms in a few doses.
The trouble is … that’s all it does. It stops symptoms without fixing the underlying issue. So the diarrhea comes back. Antibiotics are not the best solution. In fact they can do more harm to your dog’s gut. And that harm can be permanent … so your dog’s gut never recovers.
Diarrhea means “flow-through” … from the Greek dia meaning through, and rhein meaning to flow . It’s the body’s way of getting rid of toxins. Using drugs to suppress this natural flow-through won’t cure your dog of his diarrhea in the long term.
FAQs About Diarrhea in Dogs
Should you starve a dog with diarrhea?
If there is no further diarrhoea, feed small amounts every two hours and then gradually mix in their usual food over 24 hours before giving them a normal meal. Continue to monitor their poop. Encourage your dog to drink, diluting some stock in water to encourage this if needed.
Does banana and scrambled egg stop diarrhea in dogs?
Some people think bananas will improve symptoms of digestive upset like diarrhea. “Bananas aren’t a cure-all for dogs with diarrhea or constipation.” Instead of feeding your dog more bananas, watch his food intake and reduce the amount to see what he tolerates. Opt for bland, easily digestible foods such as white rice, cottage cheese, yogurt, cooked macaroni or oatmeal, or high protein foods such as eggs or chicken without the skin. Stick to this diet until your dog’s symptoms improve and his routine returns to normal.
What stops diarrhea fast?
A diet known as BRAT may also quickly relieve diarrhea. BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. This diet is effective due to the bland nature of these foods, and the fact that they’re starchy, low-fiber foods. These foods have a binding effect in the digestive tract to make stools bulkier.
Is Coke good for diarrhea?
But when it comes to stomach distress, many people view a cup of flat soda as just what the doctor ordered. The quick and popular remedy — usually in the form of cola, ginger ale or clear sodas — is said to help settle the stomach with its slight fizz and replenish fluids and glucose lost by vomiting and diarrhea. But not for dogs!
Is it better to let diarrhea run its course?
It’s your immune system that fights infection, so there’s no need to leave diarrhea to run its course. In fact, when left to run its course, diarrhea can cause you to lose essential fluids and salts, leaving you feeling weak and depleted.
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