Puppy Diarrhea: When Is It Time to Go to the Vet?

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For first-time puppy parents, knowing when your four-legged friend is experiencing a simple stomach virus or something more serious can be daunting. Because there are a variety of different symptoms and correlating canine ailments, it’s essential to know the difference between them, and when a trip to the vet is required.

This article will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatments for diarrhea in your dog, as well as what you can expect when planning a trip to your trusted veterinarian’s office.

Diagnosing Puppy Diarrhea: Symptoms and Causes

There are certain tell-tale signs that will indicate if your dog is experiencing diarrhea. Somewhat similar to human symptoms, diarrhea in dogs is also distinguished by frequent liquid or loose bowel movements. It may be caused by a number of different reasons, ranging in something as simple as a dietary change or indicative of a more serious underlying health condition.

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It can either start and end abruptly, last for weeks to months, or occur on and off. While a single case of puppy diarrhea isn’t usually regarded as cause for concern, symptoms persisting beyond a day can lead to risky side-effects, including dehydration. Since it may represent an underlying health problem, it’s essential to get your pooch to a vet right away and receive a professional diagnosis.   

General Causes of Puppy Diarrhea

  • Dietary changes
  • Accidental ingestion of foreign body (e.g., a plastic toy, sock, coin, rubber band, plastic bag etc.)
  • Allergic reaction to food
  • Antibiotics or other medications
  • Bacterial infections
  • Colitis
  • Food intolerance
  • Heart failure
  • Hemorrhagic gastroenteritis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Poisonous substances or plants
  • Liver or kidney disease
  • Pancreatic disease
  • Cancer or tumors within the digestive tract
  • Parasites, such as Coccidia, Hookworms, Whipworms, Giardia or Roundworm
  • Scavenger behavior (i.e., ingestion of garbage or spoiled food matter)
  • Stress, anxiety or other emotional episodes
  • Viral or bacterial infection (such as Parvovirus, Distemper and Coronavirus)

Symptoms of Diarrhea in Puppies: What To Look For

There are certain symptoms to be on the lookout for if you believe your puppy or adult dog is suffering from diarrhea, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Mucus or blood in stool
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Excessive flatulence or bloating
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loose/liquid frequent stools
  • Marked changes in volume of stool
  • Pale or tacky gums
  • Signs of dehydration
  • Signs of weakness
  • Straining to make a bowel movement
  • Urgency to defecate
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

If you notice your dog’s stool is black, it may indicate internal bleeding of the small intestine or stomach and requires the immediate attention of your vet.

Treating Your Puppy’s Diarrhea: Helpful Tips

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Immediate Care

In certain instances, immediate veterinary care may be required to treat your dog’s diarrhea, particularly if he is very young, very old, or has a preexisting health condition (such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, or cancer), as dogs that fall under these categories can become severely sick even when they’re suffering from a mild case of diarrhea.

In addition, be certain to call your vet if your pooch’s stool is frequent and/or very loose, exemplifies more than just a streak of blood, is dark or tarry in appearance, or is accompanied by vomiting. Other symptoms that require your vet’s attention include indications of depression, lethargy, and pain, as they can be indicative of serious health complications.

Furthermore, if your dog experiences diarrhea that does not stop despite home treatments that have worked in the past, it’s time to make an appointment.

Home Remedies for Puppy Diarrhea

However, if your dog is displaying common signs of diarrhea (characterized by loose, watery and frequent bowel movements and not accompanied by other secondary symptoms), it’s usually safe to provide the following home treatments:

  • Experts recommend giving your dog plenty of access to fresh water – encourage him to drink as much as possible to prevent dehydration.
  • You may also add Pedialyte to his water to ease symptoms of dehydration, and offer diluted chicken or beef broth as nourishment.
  • For meals, offer your dog boiled white-meat chicken (remove bones, skin and fat) and serve with plain white rice. This mild meal can help return your dog’s digestion to normal if he is merely fighting a bout of diarrhea, as the rice acts as a binding agent; this diet can be administered for 24 hours until you notice his stool consistency has returned to normal.

For dogs with diarrhea who have only vomited once or twice within a 24 hour period, you may administer these home remedies:

  • Eliminate all food for 12 hours.
  • To prevent dehydration, offer your dog small amounts of water frequently throughout the day; you may also offer diluted beef or chicken broth. Pedialyte is also recommended to avoid further dehydration.
  • Once the dog has stopped vomiting for at least six consecutive hours, offer your dog a small portion of boiled white-meat chicken (skinned and de-boned) accompanied with white rice.
  • Wait an additional two hours; if the vomiting has ceased, offer the same meal as above.
  • Continue this treatment throughout the course of the day, gradually increasing the size of each meal incrementally and lengthening the time in between meals until your dog’s stool consistency has returned to normal.

 

In the event where your dog’s diarrhea continues for more than a 24-hour period and/or his condition worsens at any time, contact your vet immediately for a professional diagnosis and course of treatment.

When Should I Take My Puppy To The Vet’s Office?

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Whether it’s your puppy or adult dog, chronic diarrhea symptoms must not be ignored. If your pooch is showing signs of diarrhea for more than 24 hours, or he is displaying secondary symptoms (such as vomiting, fever, dark-colored or bloody stools, decreased appetite, sudden weight loss, and/or straining to defecate), contact your veterinary office immediately to rule out any serious underlying health conditions.

In addition, observing your dog’s bowel movements can allow you to check his level of health. While it’s important to consult your vet if your dog shows signs of serious illness, being mindful of the color, consistency, coating and contents of his stool can enable you to keep track of his digestive health and report any drastic changes to your vet. Below, a general guideline to follow:

Color:

  • Brown: A healthy dog’s stool is a consistent shade of brown.
  • Black: A tarry black or maroon stool may be indicative of bleeding in the stomach or small intestines.
  • Green: If you notice your dog’s stool is green, it may be because your dog is ingesting grass due to gastrointestinal issues (dogs eat grass as a natural laxative).
  • White Spots: If you see white spots in your dog’s fecal matter, it may be indicative of worms or other parasites.
  • Red Streaks: Bright red streaks in your dog’s feces may be a sign of bleeding in the lower GI tract.
  • Yellow: Yellow dog feces may be a sign of liver, gallbladder or pancreatic health problems.

Consistency:

Ideally, your dog’s stool should not to be too dry or too loose, as it may indicate varying degrees of illness or other health issues. In the instance where your dog has a loose, formless movement for more than a day, be sure to see your vet right away.

Preparing For The Vet: What To Expect

Once you’re at the veterinarian, you can expect your dog to undergo a full examination to check for underlying illnesses and assess for signs of dehydration. Your vet will most likely take a stool sample to see if he has parasites (such as roundworm) and run bloodwork to determine the cause of diarrhea.

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Additionally, he or she may run diagnostic tests including cultures, an ultrasound, abdominal x-rays, radiographs, an endoscopy, a biopsy or in extreme cases, exploratory surgery. Depending on the results of the diagnostic exams, the duration of your dog’s bout with illness and the severity of his condition, your vet will administer a recommended course of treatment.

Did You Know…

Research has shown there are certain breeds that may have genetic predispositions which can lead to health conditions linked to canine diarrhea. For example, German Shepherds have shown an increased occurrence of exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, which may result in frequent bouts of chronic diarrhea.

In addition, puppies and younger dogs are more prone to parasitic-related and infectious diarrhea than adult dogs, primarily due to their underdeveloped immune systems.

Prevention Checklist: How To Safeguard Your Dog

Although there is no way to completely protect your dog against occasional bouts of diarrhea, there are certain practices you can implement in his daily routine to lessen the likelihood of this unpleasant condition:

  • Keep Him Up-To-Date With Vaccinations: Be sure to keep your furry friend up-to-date with his annual vaccinations and deworming routine. Writing dates down in a journal is a proactive way to maintain his health.
  • Record Abnormalities: In addition, notating and keeping a record of any abnormalities in your dog’s stool (including color and texture) is important information which can help your vet initiate further testing for underlying health issues.
  • Follow Your Vet’s Instructions: In order to keep your pooch free of parasites or other similar infections, follow your vet’s recommendations and prescribed treatments, including dietary changes.
  • Dog-Proof Your Environment: Prevent your dog from easy access to spoiled food, garbage and other toxic substances. For example, keep indoor and outdoor trash receptacles securely fastened, and dog-proof your home to prevent ingestion of organic or chemical substances (e.g., household cleansers, beauty products, soaps or poisonous plants) as well as small objects (e.g., toys, crayons, pens, coins etc.); this especially applies to young puppies and dogs with behavioral issues such as separation anxiety.
  • Monitor Him Carefully On Walks: It’s also important to be mindful of your dog’s activity during his daily walks/exercise, whether it’s in the park, on the sidewalk or in your backyard. Prevent any and all scavenger behavior – do not allow him to eat anything off the street, drink from puddles, or ingest plant material. Carefully monitor your dog when he’s outside so that he does not ingest animal excrement of any kind.
  • Reduce His Stress Levels: Just like their human counterparts, dogs get stressed out, too – minimize stress in your dog’s environment whenever possible. Create a safe space for him in your home (in addition to a doggy bed, some dogs actually like the security of a crate) and be sure to crate him during any car rides, even if it’s a short ride around town.
  • Introduce Dietary Changes Gradually: In the event where you decide to introduce a new dog food (either to offer variety or based on your vet’s recommendation), it’s wise to phase it into his diet gradually, mixing it with his current food to ensure a smoother transition for your pup’s digestive system. Because their digestive systems function differently than a human’s, dogs require gradual dietary changes in order to adjust adequately to any fluctuations in protein levels.
  • Choose Dog Toys Wisely: Although it may be tempting to give your dog a bone from the steak you just finished, don’t – your pup may love it, but bones splinter, which can be dangerous. In fact, bones are not digestible in dogs – the ingested fragments can lead to tiny tears in the GI tract, resulting in diarrhea with or without blood. Rubber chew toys designed especially for your furry pal are a much safer option.
  • Avoid Table Scraps: While many dogs are prone to begging during mealtime, it’s best to avoid feeding your pup table scraps. Keep tasty dog treats on hand instead, as human food can be too rich for dogs and lead to upset stomachs and digestive issues.

As is the case with any illness, it’s always smart to trust your instincts – you know your dog the best, and should follow any subtle signs or indications that lead you to believe something’s wrong with your furry companion. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and call your vet in instances where you need professional advice, or your dog requires immediate medical attention.

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