If you are a dedicated dog parent then you know how messy things can get when you are cleaning up the mess when your pup has loose stool or diarrhea.
The truth is, that diarrhea is pretty common in canines and can be due to a number of reasons. It varies in duration, type, frequency, and intensity.
Dog diarrhea is not an illness, but rather a symptom of an underlying problem. Thankfully, in most cases, it is associated with not so serious causes and can be resolved easily.
On the other hand, dog diarrhea may be a symptom of a more serious health problem which can even be life-threatening if timely treatment is not undertaken. It can be a sign that your pup has eaten something bad or poisonous, to that, it has an infection or parasites or another more serious health problem.
This condition can cause fatal dehydration or an electrolyte imbalance if it is not handled properly.
There are ways to prevent diarrhea in dogs by limiting the treats and scraps you feed your pup from the table, and by stopping it from scavenging everything it finds outsides.
Of course, keeping your dog healthy and getting it vaccinated and checked up by a veterinarian can also help prevent the serious consequences of severe diarrhea.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about dog diarrhea, how to prevent it, what can cause it, worrying signs to look for and how it is treated.
What you need to know about the digestive system of dogs
First of all, it is important to understand that there is a big difference between how we digest foods and how our dogs do.
When we eat, the breaking down of the food starts in the mouth. The human saliva and the shape of our jaws allow us to start digesting the food we eat right from the start.
Dogs, on the other hand, have jaws which are made for chewing, crushing and tearing down the food so that it can be swallowed.
The enzymes in dog saliva are capable of killing bacteria, which means that dogs can eat things which will normally send people to the emergency room.
But after they swallow the food, it quickly enters the esophagus and then the stomach where the digestion begins. The acids in the stomach of a dog are much stronger than those in the human stomach and can help digest food in chunks and larger pieces.
With healthy dogs, the transition of the food from the mouth through the intestines takes less than 10 hours. The end result should be a well-formed stool shaped like a log, and brown in color.
Since every dog is different, you need to understand the specifics of your dog’s digestive system and its poop. It is advisable to keep an eye on the poop’s color and consistency, and if you note drastic changes to speak to your vet for advice.
How to “read” the pup’s poop
Normally, the color of your dog’s stool should be brown and shaped like a log. In case the stool is round, your dog may be dehydrated.
The size of the poop depends on the fiber intake of your dog. When the fiber in the diet is more, then the size of the stool increases as well. In general, the size of your pup’s poop should be about the same size as its daily food intake.
It may sound gross, but you should pay attention to the pup’s stool when you pick it up. Look for mucus in it, which could be an indication that the dog has an inflamed colon.
If you see grass or green color in the stool, then your doggie must have been munching on too much grass, or it can mean it has a problem with the gallbladder.
Yellowish or orange colored poop could be a sign that the dog has a liver or biliary problem, which you should definitely ask your vet about.
If you notice any red streaks in the stool, you should inspect the anus of your dog for any cuts or injuries.
Black colored poop could mean that your dog is suffering from internal bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, so you should speak to your vet for further advice and a medical examination.
Greasy or grey dog stool could indicate that it has a pancreatic or biliary issue.
Any white spots in the poop could be parasite eggs or signs that your pup is infected with worms.
Once you have picked up the mess, you can feel its consistency through the plastic bag. When everything is normal, it should be easy to pick up and feel moist.
Watery feces and diarrhea could indicate that the dog has some sort of a stomach problem. If the stool is too dry, your pup may be constipated.
What to watch for when your dog has diarrhea
Loose and watery stools are symptoms of diarrhea. This condition can also be accompanied by a loss of appetite, vomiting, pain in the tummy, weight loss, lethargy and other symptoms of an underlying health problem.
If your dog is squirting small amounts of watery stool several times an hour, this could be a sign that it has a large bowel inflammation.
If the diarrhea is in large volumes and it occurs three or four times during the walk, this could indicate a problem with the small bowel.
What are the most common causes of dog diarrhea
Sudden bouts of diarrhea in a dog which is otherwise healthy can be caused by eating something bad or indigestible, eating too much grass, a change in the diet, stress, a virus, or parasitic or bacterial infection.
Chronic diarrhea is often caused by dog food allergies or sensitivities, as well as by certain parasites, pancreatic disease, bacterial infections, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and even some types of cancer. In some cases, chronic diarrhea in dogs can be caused by heart disease or liver problems.
As a dog parent, you should make sure that you investigate the underlying causes of diarrhea and to contact your vet for advice if you notice other symptoms, or if the diarrhea is not stopping in a few days.
Here are the most common causes of dog diarrhea:
A recent change in the diet
This is one of the most common causes of digestive upsets and loose stool. You need to realize that a sudden switch to a completely new food may cause your pup’s digestive system to have problems.
This is why it is always advisable to slow transition from one food to another by mixing it up and adding more quantities of the new foods to the old one until the pup’s digestive tract gets used to the new diet. This is especially important if you are switching to raw food or an all-natural diet from kibble or wet dog food.
Unhealthy eating habits
Most dogs like eating just about anything they find, including indigestible things like rocks for example. It is only natural that your pup will have an upset stomach if it scavenges on spoiled food, feces or garbage. There is actually a veterinary name for this type of unhealthy eating – garbage gut or garbage toxicosis.
Also, if your dog is eating too much food, this can cause diarrhea and digestive problems too.
Dogs that eat foods which have processed chemicals, too much salt, sugar or fat, are likely to experience problems with the GI system and have diarrhea, gas or stomach ache.
This is why you should carefully measure your dog’s food portions in accordance with the dog’s activity level, size, weight, age, and overall health.
You should also abstain from giving your pup too many treats or table scraps. In fact, if you want your dog to be healthy, you should not feed it with any of your human food at all.
Stick to healthy dog treats if you want to spoil or reward your four-legged buddy instead.
Also, keep Fido away from garbage and other messy stuff it shouldn’t be eating.
Food sensitivity or intolerance
Many pups suffer from food intolerance which can cause stomach upsets, gas, and diarrhea.
While all dog breeds are prone to sensitivities to gluten, dairy or fat, there are certain breeds which are more susceptible to certain food intolerances than others.
Irish Setters and Wheaton Terriers often have an intolerance to gluten, while Schnauzers commonly have a sensitivity to high-fat foods.
Unfortunately, finding exactly which food products your dog has an intolerance to may not be so easy. This is why you may want to start your dog on an elimination diet and feed it with food with limited ingredients so that you can watch how its digestive system reacts to the different ingredients.
Once you determine which foods your dog has a sensitivity too – you should eliminate them from its diet altogether in order to avoid negative reactions such as diarrhea, gas, vomiting and other digestive problems.
You can also add special foods and supplements with added fiber, prebiotics or probiotics to the dog’s diet which will help the digestive system.
Dog food allergies
Food allergies are pretty common in dogs. They can cause diarrhea, vomiting, skin irritation and itching and in rare cases severe allergic reactions.
Determining the actual allergen is not so easy though. This is when you should start your dog on an elimination diet which starts with a very restricted diet after which different ingredients are slowly re-introduced to the menu.
The idea is to find which exact ingredient is triggering the dog’s immune system so that you can eliminate it from your pup’s diet altogether.
Some common allergens include pork, dairy, rabbit, wheat, beef, chicken, egg, soy, lamb and fish.
Thankfully, there is a huge variety of premium quality dog foods which are made with limited ingredients, and which do not contain certain common allergens.
Infestations of parasites in the intestines can cause diarrhea and other serious symptoms. Commonly, dogs get in contacts with parasites and parasite eggs like hookworms, giardia, roundworms or coccidian by drinking contaminated water.
Young puppies, as well as older dogs with weak immune systems, are more prone to parasitic infestations.
You should speak to your vet if you have suspicions that your dog has parasites. An easy fecal exam will determine whether your dog has parasites. If this is the case, your vet will recommend the best treatment to resolve the issue.
Swallowing indigestible objects
This is pretty common, especially among dogs who love chewing and eating everything they set their eyes on. Dogs can swallow things like toys, socks, rocks and other objects which can cause loose stool or constipation.
In less serious cases, the only thing you will need to do is to wait for the object to pass out by itself. But in more serious cases, your dog may need surgery to remove the foreign object obstructing the intestines.
If you haven’t changed your healthy dog’s diet, and it suddenly gets diarrhea and stomach pains this could be a sign that your dog has eaten something toxic. This can be a poisonous plant, detergent or other chemical substance, human medication, charcoal, mushrooms, chocolate or a lead-based product.
This can be incredibly dangerous if left untreated. You need to take your dog to the vet immediately if you are worried about it eating a poisonous or other toxic substance.
Here are some of the most common foods and substances which can be toxic or otherwise dangerous for canines:
- Xylitol (in chewing gum, baked goods, and toothpaste)
- Avocado plant – the leaves and bark as well as too much of the fruit can be toxic for dogs
- Alcohol – alcohol can cause diarrhea, vomiting and even cause death in smaller pups
- Garlic and onions – these can cause anemia and poisoning in dogs
- Coffee, caffeine, and tea
- Raisins and grapes – even small amounts can make your dog very sick
- Milk and dairy – can trigger food allergies, diarrhea and skin irritations in dogs with sensitivities
- Macadamia nuts – even a few of these nuts can lead to severe poisoning and even to death in dogs
- Chocolate – especially dark and unsweetened baking chocolate can cause serious problems and even lead to death
- Bones and fat trimmings – these can cause pancreatitis as well as chocking, blockage or damage to the digestive system
- Peaches, plums and persimmons – like the avocado, they have seeds which can block the small intestine, plus peach seeds contain cyanide
- Raw eggs – there is a risk of salmonella or E.coli infection
- Raw meat and fish – these could have harmful bacteria or parasites
- Salt – too much salt can be dangerous for dogs
- Sweet foods and drinks – sugar causes weight gain and tooth problems
- Yeast dough – it can swell up in the abdomen and also ferment into poisonous alcohol
- Your medications – keep all of your drugs away from your dog to avoid poisoning
- Baking soda and baking powder
Viral or bacterial infections
These too can be the underlying cause for dog diarrhea. Dangerous viruses like distemper, parvovirus, coronavirus, and certain bacterial infections like salmonella are often accompanied by very severe diarrhea.
The other signs that your dog may have a bacterial or viral infection include high fever, vomiting, lethargy, and muscle weakness.
Keep in mind that most infections are very contagious, so if you have other pets at home, keep them away from the infected dog, and disinfect the floor after the dog has pooped.
Contact your vet immediately if you notice signs of bacterial or viral infections in your dog.
An underlying illness
Certain diseases could cause diarrhea too. Here are some of the most common underlying illnesses which manifest themselves with diarrhea:
- A tumor in the intestines
- Cancer of the kidneys or liver
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome
- Metabolic diseases such as liver, thyroid or pancreas disorders
Bloody diarrhea could be a symptom of a problem in the digestive tract and the surrounding organs.
Medications and antibiotics
While antibiotics are irreplaceable when it comes to curing various infections, they can often cause gastrointestinal issues in dogs including diarrhea.
While antibiotics kill off the bad bacteria in the body, they can cause a disbalance in the gut flora and kill off some of the good bacteria as well.
This can cause stomach pain and diarrhea, which is why your vet will most probably prescribe certain probiotics to give to your dog during or after the treatment with antibiotics.
Some premium quality dog foods have included prebiotics and probiotics included in their recipes too.
Yes, dogs can get stressed out too. In fact, as a dog parent you probably already know just how sensitive your fur baby can be.
Anxiety and stress can cause loose stools or constipation.
Your dog can get stressed or anxious due to a large number of reasons, including your own anxiety or stress.
In order to resolve the problem with diarrhea due to stress, you should remove the stressor, and you can give your dog certain natural stress or anxiety remedies as well to promote relaxation.
Immediate treatment for dog diarrhea
In case your dog is very young, or very old or if it has another health problem, you should contact your vet for advice on dealing with diarrhea. Even relatively mild diarrhea can cause dehydration and imbalance of the electrolytes in dogs with weaker immune systems.
Discuss the type of diarrhea as well as any other symptoms your dog is having with your trusted vet.
In case your dog is healthy and develops diarrhea without any other worrying symptoms you can skip the visit to the vet and deal with the problem yourself.
Make sure that the pup has access to a lot of clean and fresh water so that it stays properly hydrated. You can even encourage the dog to drink more water or liquids by giving it diluted beef or chicken broth or add an electrolyte drink to the water.
Another home remedy for diarrhea is feeding the dog with boiled white rice and a small piece of boiled white boneless chicken meat. If everything is ok, continue feeding the dog with these foods, and start increasing the amounts gradually.
You can leave the dog without food for 12 to 24 hours too. Fasting isn’t dangerous for a healthy dog and should eliminate diarrhea completely. You shouldn’t attempt fasting if your dog is too young, too old, too small or has an underlying health condition which requires that it gets nutrient regularly.
On the other hand, some vets disagree with the idea of fasting and recommend that you continue feeding the dog so it gets the nutrients necessary for healing the intestines.
Some other foods which are recommended for dogs with diarrhea include plain canned pumpkin, unflavored yogurt, pasta, peeled boiled potatoes, chicken bone broth, low-fat cottage cheese, boiled eggs, ginger, fennel or other gut soothing herbs, or probiotics and prebiotics.
There are also certain prescription and non-prescription diet dog foods specifically formulated for digestive problems.
Give the dog only these foods, until the diarrhea stops. Plus, remember to feed it smaller portions but more often than usual. 4 small meals of the appropriate food should resolve the digestive problems.
Watch the stool of your dog while it is on the diet, and gradually start reintroducing small amounts of the pup’s regular food until it is completely well again.
Some medications can be effective for curing diarrhea, but make sure you discuss giving your pup meds with your vet beforehand. There are antidiarrheal meds, probiotics or dewormers which can help stop dog diarrhea.
While some of these remedies will work with some dogs, they may not be effective with others. Once you find the remedy which helps your pup, make sure you write it down, so you have it handy next time your dog starts to experience digestive upsets and has loose stool.
In case the condition gets worse, and the diarrhea hasn’t stopped after 24 hours, you should call your vet.
Severe diarrhea which continues longer than 24 hours can lead to metabolic disturbances and to serious dehydration in dogs. This may require that your pet is hospitalized and given intravenous fluids.
When is time to go to the vet?
While most cases of sudden diarrhea in otherwise healthy dogs will normally resolve themselves with simple care, there are other cases, when a trip to the vet is necessary.
Here are some of the signs that your pet needs to get veterinary care if it has diarrhea:
- Additional symptoms such as repeated vomiting, lethargy, weakness, fever, pale or tacky gums
- Duration longer than 24-48 hours
- When the stool is black and sticky or has blood in it
- If the diarrhea is very frequent and severe
- If the dog has lost its appetite
- Increased thirst and urination
- Other preexisting conditions such as old age, a weakened immune system, diabetes, Cushing’s or other health issues
- When your dog is on medication
- If the dog is experiencing abdominal pain or discomfort, and is bloated and panting excessively
- If you are concerned about the dog becoming dehydrated
- If the pup has a seizure
Diagnosing the reasons for dog diarrhea
Once you get to the vet, a series of tests and examinations can be performed in order to determine the underlying cause for the diarrhea. Make sure that you discuss all details about the type of diarrhea, the stool color and consistency, smell and other symptoms you have noticed with your vet.
You should also bring a sample of the fecal matter with you when you go to the vet.
Your vet will weigh the dog to note if there is any weight loss. Also, a physical exam will be done including an inspection of the rectal area, the eyes, ears, mouth, the lymph nodes, the abdomen and listening to the heart and lungs.
The easiest test for diagnosing the cause of diarrhea is a fecal exam. But in other cases, more serious lab work, blood tests, x-rays of the abdomen, an ultrasound examination, or even endoscopy, biopsy or exploratory surgery may be necessary.
The fecal exam will rule out the possibility of parasitic infestation.
A blood test including a blood count and chemical analysis will allow the vet to determine the overall health condition of the dog.
Medical treatment such as Metronidazole or Tylosin may be prescribed as well as a single novel protein diet until the diarrhea stops.
During the treatment, you may need to revisit your vet for a follow-up. If the situation hasn’t changed further tests as the abovementioned ones may be done.
A gastrointestinal panel test may be performed to evaluate the levels of vitamins in the dog’s body and determine whether the pup doesn’t have a pancreatic problem.
Exocrine Pancreatic insufficiency is common among German Shepherd Dogs and is a condition in which the pancreas doesn’t produce the enzymes needed for proper digestion. The treatment for this condition is adding the missing enzymes to the diet to help assist the proper digestion and absorption of the food.
Your vet may also perform a resting cortisol test. It can determine whether the dog has Addison’s disease. This condition causes the body to produce insufficient water-regulating hormones or cortisol. The treatment for Addison’s disease includes supplementing the cortisol and the mineralocorticoids which are not being produced naturally by the adrenal glands.
Boxers are especially susceptible to a condition called histiocytic ulcerative colitis (progressive disease of the colon). This condition causes bloody, mucous large bowel diarrhea and weight loss. It can be managed with an antibiotic (Baytril) which will kill the harmful bacteria.
In case none of these tests show the reason for ongoing diarrhea, the vet may recommend an x-ray, ultrasound, biopsy or exploratory surgery to determine whether the dog has a fungal infection, inflammatory bowel disease or cancer.
Your vet may also prescribe a hypoallergenic diet to feed your dog if there are suspicions that it has a food sensitivity or allergy.
How to prevent dog diarrhea
There are ways to minimize the risk of your dog getting diarrhea. Here are some of the ways to prevent these incidents:
- Don’t change your dog’s diet drastically without a transition
- Measure your dog’s food and feed it in accordance with the recommendations for its age, breed, activity level and health
- Never give your dog bones, choose rubber dog chew toys instead
- Don’t allow your dog to play with small toys, balls or other objects which can easily be swallowed
- Discourage your dog from scavenging
- Don’t feed your dog with table scraps
- Refrain from overfeeding your pup with too many treats
- Keep up to date with the dog’s vaccines and deworming
- Never feed your dog with unprocessed food which can contain harmful bacteria
- Keep away any toxins from the dog including chocolate, xylitol, medicaments, detergents, and poisonous plants
- Do not feed your pup with foods it is allergic or sensitive to
Dog diarrhea is not something to be overlooked
As you can see, in many cases with a few simple tweaks to the diet of your dog, the diarrhea will resolve itself in a matter of a few days.
But in other cases, the diarrhea could be a symptom of a more serious health condition which requires a visit to the vet.
Keep not of the stool of your dog, and if you notice anything worrisome, call your trusted vet.
Also, if your dog has chronic diarrhea, or suddenly gets it and shows signs of poisoning, you should take it to the vet as soon as possible.
Overall, if your pup is healthy, and you take all preventive precautions to keep its digestive system working well, you shouldn’t need to worry about dealing with diarrhea too often.