Diarrhea: We're all familiar with it, and it's not fun to talk about. But it happens. And it's a relatively common ailment for our canine friends to experience, too. It's a safe bet that at one point or another, your dog will have a bout of diarrhea.
As we'll learn, there are all sorts of potential causes of dog diarrhea. Some cases are quite serious, and some can be cleared up at home without much trouble. That's why it's important to be familiar with the common causes of diarrhea in dogs and when it's a problem. That way, you can let your vet know.
Let's examine some of the possible causes of diarrhea in dogs, what your dog's loose stools can tell you, and how to go about treating the problem.
Causes of Dog Diarrhea
First, it's important to understand that diarrhea is a symptom of a problem, not a disease in and of itself. Even if it's as simple as an upset stomach, there is something causing your dog's loose bowel movements.
Here are some of the most common causes of dog diarrhea:
- Dietary indiscretion: If your dog is like most, he or she will eat just about anything they can get their paws on. Your dog's gut isn't made to handle things like dirt, plastic, or garbage. These things cause irritation in the gastrointestinal tract, leading to diarrhea. And too much human food of any kind at once is also a bad idea, as it can upset your dog's stomach and result in loose stools or vomiting.
- Illness: A long list of illnesses include diarrhea as a symptom. From inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and colitis to liver disease and even tumors, diarrhea is a common symptom of dangerous illnesses.
- Food allergies: Plenty of our four-legged friends are allergic or intolerant to certain ingredients in dog food. Often, this results in diarrhea. Proteins like beef and chicken or elements of your dog's diet like soy, dairy, or wheat could be to blame.
- Viral or bacterial infections: Viruses like distemper and parvovirus, as well as bacterial infections like leptospirosis or salmonella, often cause diarrhea as a main symptom.
- Intestinal parasites: Diarrhea is one of the common symptoms of intestinal worms like whipworms, roundworms, and hookworms. There are also microorganisms like giardia and coccidia that cause diarrhea, too.
- Toxins: When your dog ingests a toxic substance (a poisonous human food like grapes, a painkiller meant for humans, or a household product like antifreeze, for example), the body tries to reject it. Diarrhea is one way that this might happen.
Decoding Your Dog's Diarrhea
Disgusting as it may be, examining your dog's poop during a bout of diarrhea is a good way to get a general idea of what may be wrong. Consider things like color, frequency, and content of the feces to help decode what your dog's diarrhea means.
Black, tarry stools indicate internal bleeding, because the dark color comes from digested blood. You should let your vet know if your dog's diarrhea is black or dark brown.
Bloody diarrhea that contains visible red blood indicates bleeding in the large intestine, which is also a cause for concern. Tell your vet about the issue and ask about next steps.
Yellow diarrhea usually occurs when a dog owner has fed their pet a bland diet, like one of plain boiled chicken and white rice. When these foods mix with the yellow bile of the gastrointestinal tract, it produces yellow stools. If you see this color after giving Fido a bland diet to soothe his diarrhea (more on that below), yellow stools aren't a cause for concern. Otherwise, let your vet know.
Cases of dog diarrhea are classified either as acute or chronic. Acute diarrhea means one or two episodes of diarrhea, which usually resolve on their own or with help from home remedies (discussed below). Acute diarrhea is usually caused by something like dietary indiscretion or too much human food at one time.
Chronic diarrhea is more concerning. Diarrhea is considered chronic when it keeps happening over two days or more, or when it persists despite treatment. Things like IBD, parasites in the intestinal tract, and illnesses or infections are usually to blame.
Do you see green strings in your dog's stool? It's probably grass. How about small white specks? These are probably bits of worms being excreted in your dog's poop. You might even see foreign objects — coins, rocks, etc. — in your dog's fecal matter. Taking a look at the contents of your dog's diarrhea (gross, we know) can clue you in to the cause.
Treatment of Dog Diarrhea
Regardless of what might be causing your dog's diarrhea, you want to get it resolved as quickly as possible. If your pooch is experiencing an acute case of diarrhea but you don't see any additional symptoms like vomiting, loss of appetite, or signs of abdominal pain, you can try to relieve your dog's discomfort at home.
Here are some common home remedies to try:
- Feed a bland diet. A bland diet of plain boiled white-meat chicken and white rice is a classic remedy for your dog's upset bowels. These foods are easily digestible, and the starch in the rice helps to bind water, solidifying your dog's poop a bit. Ask your vet for a recipe that's safe for your dog, and be sure to feed the bland diet in small portions (about a handful at a time) so as not to upset your dog's stomach.
- Feed canned pumpkin. Canned pumpkin is slowly absorbed in the digestive tract, which helps to regulate stool consistency. For this reason, canned pumpkin is often recommended both for diarrhea and constipation. Just make sure you're using plain, canned pumpkin with no added ingredients, and make sure you don't accidentally feed Fido canned pumpkin pie filling vs plain canned pumpkin. (Native Pet's Pumpkin Powder is also a great choice, and it's very easy to use.)
- Keep your pet hydrated. Your dog can lose a lot of moisture when they've been experiencing diarrhea. Be sure to offer your pet fresh water or try giving them a bone broth, which can hydrate your pet while replenishing lost electrolytes at the same time. Native Pet's Bone Broth Topper is a great choice.
- Try a probiotic. Probiotics are natural "good" bacteria that live in your dog's digestive system. They assist with the digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients. They're also good for strengthening dog poop and can both help resolve a case of diarrhea and prevent it ahead of time. Give Native Pet's all-natural Probiotic Powder a try to improve your dog's gut health.
If your dog's diarrhea is chronic or severe, or if home remedies like those described above don't work, it's time to see the vet.
If you notice symptoms like vomiting, appetite loss, weight loss, signs of pain like whimpering or sensitivity to touch, bloating, or lethargy, give your vet a call. A full diagnostic workup, possibly including things like blood work and X-rays, may be in order to diagnose the problem and get your dog proper treatment.
Medications like antacids and antidiarrheals could be prescribed to soothe your dog's digestive tract. Dewormers will be given in the case of an intestinal worm infestation, and antibiotics can clear up most bacterial infections and infections like giardia. A change in diet might be needed in the case of a food intolerance or allergy. In the case of a foreign body ingestion, induced vomiting or even surgery could be necessary.
Dog Diarrhea: How to Deal With Loose Stools
Most of the time, your dog's diarrhea is caused by dietary indiscretion: Your dog ate something they shouldn't have, or you fed them too many table scraps. In these acute cases of diarrhea, you can probably resolve the problem at home using remedies like a bland diet or canned pumpkin.
It's also possible for health problems like IBD, colitis, bacterial or viral infections, food allergies, parasites, toxins, and foreign body ingestion — among many others — to cause diarrhea in dogs. This is especially likely if the diarrhea is chronic in nature and you notice other symptoms. Call your vet's office as soon as you're concerned about your dog's diarrhea.For more information about your dog's health and wellness, visit the Native Pet blog.