Just as in humans, diarrhea in dogs is not normal and can be a symptom of a much more serious problem. If you notice your dog’s stool has suddenly become loose or discolored, seek out veterinary attention in order to quickly diagnose the root cause. It may simply be a reaction to something your dog ate, but it could indicate a dangerous gastrointestinal disease or infection.
Signs & Symptoms of Diarrhea in Dogs
Diarrhea in dogs is typically easy to notice, but there are some signs to watch for. Loose stools are the primary indicator of diarrhea. However, it may also be accompanied by vomiting, loss of appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, lethargy (i.e. sluggishness, drowsiness or dullness), and other symptoms of more complex diseases.
As unpleasant as it sounds, examining your dog’s stool can provide a wealth of information about his health. When it comes to feces, it is important to look for changes in four categories: color, consistency, coating, and contents. Color, in particular, can be the most alarming and informative. Healthy dogs produce chocolate brown stools that are soft, but solid in consistency. Unhealthy dogs can produce any of the following:
- Red Streaks or Bloody:Blood in dog’s poop may indicate bleeding low in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract.
- Green: This could mean your dog is eating a lot of grass to help aid digestion in response to a gastrointestinal upset. It may also indicate a parasite, ingestion of rat bait or other issues.
- Yellow: Yellow stools typically indicate problems with your dog’s liver, gallbladder, or pancreas.
- Black: Tar-colored or maroon stools can be caused by bleeding in your dog’s stomach or small intestine.
- White Spots: White poop may mean your pet has worms.
Causes of Dog Diarrhea
The sudden, or acute, development of diarrhea in an otherwise healthy dog is typically the result of scavenging behavior (stealing and eating anything but his food), stress, changes in diet, or an infection either viral, bacterial or parasitic in nature. In this case, diarrhea is likely less severe and could possibly be treated at home.
Chronic diarrhea, on the other hand, can be caused by a number of factors. Some causes may be environmental such as dietary allergies, or stress. However, it may also be caused by more serious conditions such as the following:
Dietary Sensitivities may lead to diarrhea production as a symptom of the body being unable to digest specific foods. In dogs, it is most common to see dairy or gluten sensitivities. If you believe this may be the case for your dog, try conducting a food trial and remove the suspected ingredient from your dog’s diet. If his condition improves, you’ve likely found the reason for your dog’s discomfort.
Parasites which can cause diarrhea include Giardia, hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms. Giardia can be contracted by your dog from ingesting water or other substances that have been soiled with feces. It is a parasite that will live in your dog’s intestine causing diarrhea. While it most commonly is seen in puppies, dogs of all ages can be infected and the parasite can pass to humans. If left untreated, Giardia can be fatal. Hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms are all similar parasites that, once again, are obtained through ingestion. Worms in dogs can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms in addition to vomiting, weight loss, and poor appetite. The good news is, you can protect your dog against worms by administering medication and your vet can recommend a trusted brand.
Bacterial infections that may have diarrhea as a symptom include Salmonella, E. Coli, Clostridia, and Campylobacter. As with parasites, your dog is most likely to contract these infections by ingesting something that is carrying the disease. However, young kenneled dogs or those who are immunosuppressed are particularly susceptible to any exposure.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) occurs when a dog’s stomach or intestine has an unusually high number of inflammatory cells which cause changes in the lining of the digestive tract. These changes can inhibit the normal passage and absorption of food. Unfortunately, veterinary medicine is not certain as to the cause of IBD, but contributing factors include genetics, food allergies, parasites, bacteria, or an abnormal immune system. Due to the inflammation of the colon, IBD results in diarrhea containing blood or mucus. It is also important to distinguish IBD from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) which is caused by psychological stress as opposed to a physiological abnormality.
Pancreatitis is when your dog’s pancreas becomes inflamed. The pancreas has many functions, one of which is to produce digestive enzymes. When the pancreas becomes inflamed, the digestive enzymes that are normally inactive until they reach the small intestine become active in the pancreas instead. This results in pain and swelling as the pancreas actually begins to digest itself which cause various symptoms including diarrhea.
Digestive Tract Epithelial Tumors
Digestive Tract Epithelial Tumors can also cause diarrhea as a symptom of their presence within the epithelial lining of the intestines. These tumors can include non-cancerous polyps, benign adenomas and malignant epithelial tumors (adenocarcinomas). Unfortunately, the cause of these tumors is not always apparent and can vary widely from case to case.
In any situation where your dog has persistent or regular diarrhea, you will need to contact your veterinarian for further assistance. Your vet will be able to diagnose the cause of your pet’s chronic diarrhea and determine the best course of treatment.
Caring for Dog Diarrhea
It is always in your dog’s best interest to call your veterinarian for advice on how to handle the presence of diarrhea, whether acute or chronic, especially if your dog is very young, very old, or has a preexisting health condition. These dogs can become severely debilitated and suffer greater risks from even relatively mild diarrhea. Also, call your veterinarian if your dog’s diarrhea is very watery, contains blood, is dark and tarry, if your dog is vomiting profusely, lethargic, depressed, or is in pain. All of these symptoms combined with the presence of diarrhea can be signs of potentially serious health conditions.
However, if your dog is an otherwise healthy adult it is reasonable to try some home treatment.
For dogs who just have diarrhea:
- Give your dog access to plenty of clean water in order to avoid dehydration. Try to encourage him to drink and, if needed, offer diluted chicken broth, beef broth or Pedialyte in addition to water.
- Instead of his regular food, give your dog small meals consisting of unseasoned boiled white meat chicken, removing all bones and skin, and white rice. You can provide this diet to your dog until his stool consistency returns to normal.
- If your dog’s diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours or your dog’s condition worsens at any time, call your vet immediately.
For dogs with diarrhea who have vomited only once or twice:
- Take away all food and treats for 12 hours
- Offer your dog small amounts of water frequently throughout the day to avoid dehydration. In addition to water, offer diluted chicken broth, beef broth, or Pedialyte if necessary.
- Once your dog has not vomited for at least six hours, offer a small meal consisting of boiled white meat chicken, removing all bones and skin, and white rice.
- After the meal, wait two hours. If your dog has refrained from vomiting, offer another small meal of boiled chicken and rice.
- Continue this pattern while gradually increasing the amount of food offered at each meal. Slowly lengthen the time between meals until your dog’s stool consistency returns to normal.
- If diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours or your dog’s condition worsens at any time, call your vet immediately.
When to See Your Vet
If at home treatment does not work, or if your dog has persistent diarrhea, it’s time to see a professional. Be sure to provide a detailed account of your dog’s symptoms, health history, and any at-home treatments you tried. This will help your veterinarian determine what may be causing your dog’s diarrhea and avoid repetitive treatment efforts. Your veterinarian’s first efforts may include fluid therapy for your dog to help prevent dehydration.
The next steps will greatly depend on the specific cause of your dog’s diarrhea. In the case of parasites or bacterial infections, your vet will prescribe medications such as Metronidazole, an antibiotic, or Fenbendazole to help eradicate any infections. However, when it comes to Pancreatitis and IBD, the course of treatment may focus more on keeping your dog comfortable and managing flare-ups. This is due to the fact that the direct cause of these inflammations is not usually known, thus it is difficult to treat. Your veterinarian will work with you to determine what is best for your pet.
Preventing Diarrhea in Dogs
Based on the most common causes of diarrhea, there are several ways to help prevent your dog from developing the condition. Do not change your dog’s diet suddenly and avoid giving him table scraps or rawhide bones, firm rubber chew toys are a better choice. Try not to let your dog scavenge outside or play with small objects that might be swallowed. And, finally, always keep your dog up to date with vaccinations and deworming to help prevent avoidable infections.
When it comes to diarrhea, it is clearly a varied condition. With all the different causes and associated diseases, it can be extremely difficult to pinpoint the specific reason your dog is experiencing such discomfort. The best way to help your pet is to observe his behavior and report any unusual patterns to your vet. The occasional upset stomach or diarrhea is normal, but persistent or frequent loose stools is cause for concern. When you notice these symptoms, it is best to immediately begin at-home treatment until you can contact or visit your veterinarian for further advice.