By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Whether you are a new dog parent or an old pro, you've likely had to clean up the mess after your pet's upset tummy. Diarrhea is a common dog ailment and the reason many pet parents bring their pups for a veterinary visit. However, diarrhea is not a disease, but a symptom of a malfunction in your pet's gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) that occurs when there is an increase in the frequency, fluidity, or volume of their feces.
It may be tempting to rush to your veterinarian at the first sign of a problem. However, sometimes, a single diarrhea episode when your dog is otherwise acting normal may not be a cause for concern. Understanding why your dog may have diarrhea and when you should be concerned will ensure you take the proper steps to restore your pup's sour tummy to a happy, healthy gut.
Acute Diarrhea versus Chronic Diarrhea in Dogs
Like people, your dog can experience the occasional GI problems that result in an episode or two of loose stool or diarrhea. While it's never wrong to bring your dog to the veterinarian when you are worried, there are some cases when monitoring them is all that's necessary. Acute or short-term diarrhea lasts for less than 14 days. Acute forms of diarrhea are common in pets; in most cases, they resolve quickly with conservative treatment.
Chronic or long-term diarrhea occurs when your pup has multiple bouts of diarrhea lasting more than 14 days and is often not resolved with standard therapies. Chronic diarrhea can be life-threatening without treatment because of electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, and the underlying cause. Conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) (not to be confused with IBS) or food allergies can be the culprit for chronic diarrhea and require a veterinary examination and diagnostic workup to diagnose correctly.
Dogs who experience diarrhea are at risk for dehydration, so ensure your pet always has access to plenty of fresh, clean water.
Dog Diarrhea: Signs to Watch Out For
Spotting diarrhea isn't tricky, but some more subtle signs could indicate a more serious health problem for your pup. Generally, unformed, soft, or watery stools indicate your dog may have an intestinal problem. It is not uncommon for dogs to have diarrhea without any other symptoms or apparent issues. If your dog is acting fine but has an episode of loose stool, it could be from a sudden diet change, stress colitis, or an intestinal parasite infection. However, additional symptoms can occur if your dog has a more serious underlying health issue.
Bring your dog for immediate veterinary care if you notice any of the following signs associated with their diarrhea:
- Appetite changes
- Straining to defecate or small amounts of watery stool while straining (this may indicate an intestinal blockage from a foreign object in their gut)
- Increased gut sounds
- Distended or bloated abdomen
- Bloody diarrhea or dark, tarry stool
- Increased mucous on the feces
- Changes in stool color
- Weight loss
- Increased thirst
- Abdominal pain, or vocalizing when touched
- Increased panting
Common Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs
It may seem like your furry friend's diarrhea appeared out of nowhere, especially when it leaves a lasting stain on your new carpet. But diarrhea can be caused by numerous ailments, some of which may not be immediately obvious. Severity, duration, and frequency depend on the underlying problem. Common causes of acute diarrhea include the following:
- Intestinal parasites (e.g., roundworms)
- Ingestion of garbage or table scraps
- Sudden changes to your dog’s diet
- New drinking water (if you’ve moved or are traveling)
- Stress or anxiety
Chronic or more severe diarrhea is often associated with other clinical signs; it may be the first sign of a more serious underlying health problem. Common causes of chronic diarrhea include:
- Viral infections (e.g., parvovirus or distemper)
- Bacterial infections (e.g., salmonella)
- Food allergies
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Kidney or liver disease
How to Treat Doggy Diarrhea
It may be tempting to reach for an over-the-counter (OTC) human medication for your doggy's diarrhea, but never give your dog any medicines unless your veterinarian advises. Some human medications can have severe side effects and may cause more severe problems or death in some cases. However, you can take steps to help your pup's poop return to normal.
If your dog has come down with diarrhea but is otherwise behaving normally, you can support them with the following:
- Closely monitor your dog for 24 hours, and take note of the frequency and consistency of their bowel movements.
- Collect a sample of your dog's poop to provide to your veterinarian for testing.
- Offer your pup a bland diet, like plain, boiled chicken with white rice or cottage cheese, and feed them small amounts every few hours.
- Add a fiber supplement to their food, like Pumpkin Powder, to help firm up their stools.
- Give your pup a Probiotic to help rebalance their gut.
- Offer plenty of fresh water. Try adding Bone Broth to encourage them to drink and prevent dehydration.
When to Take Your Dog to the Vet for Diarrhea
If your pup does not improve after 24 hours of a bland diet, or if they have secondary symptoms, like vomiting or bloody stool, bring them for immediate veterinary attention. Without treatment, diarrhea can lead to dehydration or more severe health problems.
If your pup is prone to GI problems, follow these tips to support their gut and help prevent a more serious health problem:
- Bring your pet for annual or more frequent veterinary examinations to rule out underlying health problems and ensure they are current on their vaccinations.
- Give your pup veterinary-prescribed parasite prevention medication.
- Never abruptly change your dog's food; discuss with your veterinarian the best diet option for your pet's breed, age, and health.
- Exercise your pet regularly to help maintain a healthy weight, which is essential for overall health.
Alt Text: “Louie the dog sniffs a bowl containing bland foods.”
For more health information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.