Help! My Dog has Diarrhea
No pet parent wants to see their dog sick, especially with such uncomfortable symptoms. With the stinky messes, constant bathroom trips outside and unavoidable household cleanups–diarrhea in dogs is not a pleasant experience for anyone involved. Unfortunately, due to a dog’s natural tendency to put anything and everything in their mouth, diarrhea is a common part of the pet experience.
Dog diarrhea is caused by a number of factors, ranging from simple digestive issues to serious illnesses. It is common health condition characterized by loose bowel movements and abdominal pains.
While most cases are mild and easily treated at home with natural remedies, others could be a sign of more serious problems. Knowing what to watch for in regards to the triggers and symptoms can help you become a better, more prepared, pet parent when diarrhea does appear.
Common Causes of Dog Diarrhea
Many factors can trigger diarrhea in dogs. Digestive issues such as eating grass, food allergies or sudden diet changes are common causes of diarrhea that are easily resolved and typically last for a short period.
Watery bowel movements that last for more than 48 hours and are accompanied by additional side effects can be a sign of a more serious problem, like a parasitic infestation or life-threatening disease like cancer.
Below we outlined some of the most common reasons your dog may have diarrhea:
Bad Diet Habits
Bad dietary habits are the most common causes of diarrhea. Most dogs –with their hearty appetite– will eat whatever they come across (including garbage and feces). Eating too much food or eating spoiled food can cause upset stomach, gas, and diarrhea. Some veterinarians use the term “garbage gut” to refer to dogs experiencing stomach problems as a result of eating poorly. Diets full of fatty foods, processed chemicals, and high salt and sugar content could disrupt the delicate balance of their digestive system.
Pet parents may also be guilty of contributing to their poor eating habits, by feeding them table scraps, sweets or too many commercial dog treats. The easiest treatment for this trigger would be to withhold food for 12 hours and then switch to a bland diet until their symptoms cease.
Recent Dietary Changes
It may take a few days for a dog’s digestive system to adjust to a new type of food. Take for example, a dog who has eaten dry kibble his whole life who suddenly switches to canned food. Their digestive system will experience a less-than-awesome reaction. Many vets and dog food manufacturers recommend that you gradually introduce new types of food into your dog’s diet. A quick transition could upset their stomach and not give your dog enough time to adjust to the proteins and carbs of the new brand.
Dogs with loose stools are dogs who struggle with food intolerance experience uncomfortable symptoms such as diarrhea or gas on a constant basis. Certain dog breeds have hypersensitivity to foods rich in fat, gluten or dairy compounds.
For example, Irish Setters and Wheaten Terriers are known for their gluten intolerance, while Schnauzers are hypersensitive to high-fat diets. These sensitivities or inability to digest certain foods can cause uncomfortable diarrhea in dogs. If your dog experiences chronic diarrhea from a food intolerance, it may be time change their diet permanently. Once identified, pet owners should avoid giving their pup the particular stressor or start adding foods that help soothe their digestive system (i.e. more fiber, probiotics,et cetera).
You will often see dogs with food allergies exhibit symptoms like itchy skin, vomiting or diarrhea. A dog’s sensitivity to certain foods can disrupt their digestive balance and cause abdominal pain and loose stools.
Minor digestives problems created by allergic reactions can be solved by eliminating the particular food from their diet. If a more severe reaction occurs, you will need to seek immediate medical attention to receive the necessary medicine.
Intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, coccidia, and giardia can cause major stomach issues and are sometimes found in puppies with diarrhea. Parasites are commonly found in puppies and dogs who have contracted them by drinking contaminated water. The organisms, once ingested, make their way to the intestine and result in vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal bloating, and diarrhea. Most parasitic infections are difficult to detect unless they start exhibiting the side effects described above. If you feel that there is a chance that your pup could be infected, you should take him to the vet to do a fecal exam to confirm, especially in youg dogs suffering from puppy diarrhea.
In cases of tapeworm and roundworm, you may be able to see small white, rice-like objects in their stools that indicate a parasitic infestation. Treatments vary for each specific type of parasite, but most call for rest, de-worming medication, and a thorough decontamination of their environment.
Poisonous Substances or Toxic Plants
Sudden diarrhea is one of the first symptoms of dog poisoning. Stomach discomfort is common after your dog has eaten a toxic substance. Lead-based products, poisonous plants, and household products are some of the few things that can result in gastrointestinal problems. These substances are dangerous and can cause a real health scare if left untreated. When your dog ingests these toxins, the body naturally wants to expel the poison, which leads to detoxification processes of vomiting and diarrhea. Always ask your vet in the case of dogs with diarrhea.
You can find toxic products all over your house. Things such as chocolate, human medications, mushrooms, laundry detergents, chalk, charcoal and plants (i.e. daffodils, ivy, bluebells, poinsettias, holly, etc.) can be very harmful to your pet if ingested.
Swallowing Foreign Objects
When left unattended, puppies or even unruly adult dogs, can get into the garbage bin and eat something they aren’t supposed to. Grass, string, small toys, clumps of foreign objects–you name it– can obstruct their bowel movements and result in constipation or dog and puppy diarrhea.
When they swallow an object that they cannot digest properly their digestive system needs to work harder to pass it through. Fortunately, unless it’s a major obstruction that can cause damage to their intestines, the only treatment for this issue is to wait for the object pass through naturally.
Bacterial or Viral Infections
Infections such as the parvovirus, coronavirus, distemper or even a bacterial infection like salmonella can range from mild to life-threatening. These infections are often accompanied by fever, vomiting, loose stools, fatigue and muscle weakness.
It is important to give your pet plenty of fluids and rest and make sure to quarantine him from other dogs in case the infection is contagious. Be careful when handling clean-up of bodily fluids, because if handled inappropriately, humans can catch the infection as well!
Illnesses or Disease
- Cancer of the liver and kidneys
- Tumor in the intestinal tracts
- Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome
Chronic diarrhea, loss of appetite, and vomiting can be signs of more serious issues occurring within your dog’s body. Diseases of the digestive tract or the surrounding organs can cause bloody stools, painful bowel movements and many other debilitating side effects.
Conditions like inflammatory bowel syndrome may result from sensitivity to certain foods or allergies. IBS is the inflammation of a dog’s intestines that can cause chronic diarrhea, vomiting, gas, upset stomach, fatigue and weight loss. IBS can affect dogs of all ages, but it is commonly found in older dogs and certain breeds who are predisposed to digestive issues (i.e. Schnauzers, Lundehunds, French Bulldogs, Irish Setters, Collies, German Shepherd, etc.). Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and other potent medication can also contribute to dogs with loose stools.
Dog diarrhea: Antibiotics or other Medications
Along with helping cure infections, antibiotics are also known to cause the runs. Gastrointestinal problems are common side effects of antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to kill harmful bacteria in our bodies caused by infections. However, antibiotics kill not only the bad bacteria but good bacteria as well. “Good” bacteria is needed to balance the digestive system, without them your dog will experience stomach discomfort and cramps. Antibiotics can disrupt this bacterial balance and result in diarrhea during and after your dog’s antibiotic treatment.
Stress or Emotionally Upset
Have you ever felt so anxious or stressed you felt physically sick to the stomach? If yes,– your dog may experience this as well.
Although not as common as other diarrhea triggers, dogs under extreme amounts of stress can have irregular bowel movements that lead to constipation or loose stools. Overly anxious dogs with diarrhea can have stomach knots which then put a strain on their pooping habits.
What feces can tell you about the health of your dog…
There is no such thing as the “perfect” dog poop, but as dog owners, it’s important to spot the difference between healthy vs. unhealthy stools. The consistency and color of your dog’s poop can tell you a lot of what is going on in their digestive system.
For example, the consistency and texture of the stool can let you know how well their bowel movements are functioning. You do not want to see stools that are small hard pellets, nor do you want your dog producing liquid puddles of feces. A healthy poop is one that holds its form, yet is still malleable when you pick it up.
Color can also help you determine what’s happening with your dog’s intestinal tract. A chocolate brown color is considered the norm. Any other colors other than brown could signify trouble within their digestive system. Colors like orange, green or gray feces may be the result of liver, gallbladder or pancreas complications. While black stools are often side effects of internal bleeding. (**If your dog is experiencing black tarry stool, please contact your vet immediately!)
Judging the consistency and color of your pup’s poop isn’t the greatest past time, but it’s important information to know if your dog starts having stomach issues. If and when you take your dog to the vet, they will need to know what exactly you see when you look at their stools. In many cases, vets can determine the cause of your dog’s diarrhea, simply by paying attention to the duration and severity of their symptoms.
When is it time to panic?
There are mild and complex cases. Mild bouts of diarrhea are common and aren’t a major source of concern. Often caused by bad dietary habits or eating something they shouldn’t, this type of diarrhea can be easily treated with rest and temporary changes in their diet.
However, diarrhea accompanied by vomiting, blood or mucus can be precursors to more a critical condition. These symptoms, if left untreated could lead to dehydration and health issues down the line.
Major Warning Signs:
- Diarrhea lasting for more than 48 hours
- Black or bloody stool
- Loss of appetite
- Increased sleepiness
- Abdominal pain and/or increased sensitivity in their belly region (bloating, whining, panting)
The use of medication and the other existing conditions could further complicate your dog’s health. If they are experiencing diarrhea in addition to these issues (i.e. antibiotics, diabetes, cancer, or old age), it is best to consult a veterinarian to discuss the best course of action. As a responsible owner, you know when something does not seem right with your pet. Noticing subtle changes in their behavior can help you determine whether or not your pet needs medical attention.
The bottom line is—when in doubt, consult your veterinarian.
Understanding the Canine Digestive System
Dogs will put almost anything in their mouth, from that old worn out chew toy to the spoiled meat from the garbage. Pet owners must not only pay attention to –but understand– how their dog’s digestive system works to know what steps to take the next time your dog starts experiencing diarrhea.
Conditions originating from the large intestine and small intestines can result in the similar symptoms but have very different causes. To determine the severity of your dog’s symptoms, it may be helpful to determine what part of the digestive system is being disrupted. Localizing the source of the diarrhea symptoms to either the small or large intestines can help narrow down the underlying cause of their loose stools. Your veterinarian will ask you for details such as frequency, volume, and additional symptoms when diagnosing your pup.
For example, diarrhea as a result of small intestine issues typically sees an increase in the volume and frequency of their stools, with little-to-no blood and mucus present in the stool. Nausea and gas are also common side effects of conditions associated with the small intestine. In comparison, diarrhea that comes from the large intestine is known to shown signs of blood and mucus in the stool, with a much higher frequency in their bathroom trips. Additional vomiting and gas are uncommon with large intestine diarrhea.
Diarrhea is not an illness; it is a symptom of poor digestive health. When a dog ingests something bad, diarrhea is the body’s natural response to remove the bad substances from their gastrointestinal tract before they can cause more damage to their systems.
Dog Diarrhea Treatments
Some dogs with minor symptoms can be safely and effectively treated at home with a number of at-home remedies. At the first sign of diarrhea, dog owners should withhold food for 12-24 hours to give them a chance to rest their disgruntled stomach and relieve some of the discomfort. This will not be difficult to do because dogs typically do not have big appetites during this time anyways.
After withholding food for 24 hours, you can start giving your dog small meals of bland, easily digestible food. Some great meal examples are rice with chicken broth, rice water, pureed pumpkin, or unseasoned boiled chicken. Adding a probiotic such as yogurt or an over-the-counter culture supplement to their diet may help them replenish the “good” bacteria needed to re-balance their digestive system.
During the first few hours, be sure to have plenty of water available for your dog to help avoid dehydration. Frequent diarrhea and vomiting can deplete your dog’s of essential nutrients and contribute to excessive loss of bodily fluids. Some pet owners may offer Pedialyte in addition to water to maintain their electrolyte balance.
Once 48 hours have passed since their last diarrhetic episode, you can gradually introduce regular food back into their diets. Make sure that they avoid any rich human food or treats that could upset their stomach again. When they are recuperating, keep your walks nice and easy. Your dog will not be up for high-intensity hikes or any rigorous activities until they are fully healed.
The dog’s digestive system is an important indicator of what is going on inside their body. Being familiar with your pup’s eating and pooping habits can help alert you to any irregularities or possible illnesses your canine may have.
So next time your dog has diarrhea, don’t freak out! Make sure to pay attention to all their symptoms and try some of these at-home remedies. Your pup will be back to normal in no time!