By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Most dogs will experience bouts of diarrhea or loose stools during their lifetime. In fact, diarrhea is one of the most common reasons pet parents bring their pups for a veterinary visit. Besides the messy cleanup, it can be worrisome when your dog’s gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) is not functioning correctly. Naturally, dog owners want to help alleviate their dog’s diarrhea as quickly as possible. Sometimes, it may resolve by itself without any intervention or treatment. Dogs with diarrhea whose mood is otherwise unchanged may benefit from natural home remedies to help firm their stools and get them back on their regular poop schedule. However, always consult your veterinarian before introducing new foods, changing your dog’s diet, or giving them any over-the-counter supplements to aid in their recovery.
Common Causes of Dog Diarrhea
Diarrhea can be a symptom of numerous things, such as health issues, food allergies, diseases, toxic food ingestions, or other underlying GI problems. The list of diarrhea-causing conditions is extensive, but some of the more common causes of diarrhea in dogs include:
- Bacteria. Ingestion of garbage, improperly-cooked foods, or other contaminated items can lead to GI upset and infections from bacteria, including salmonella, E. Coli, clostridium, leptospirosis, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). These infections generally require antibiotic treatment from your veterinarian.
- Viruses. Contagious dog viruses, like parvovirus, canine distemper, and adenovirus, can cause severe diarrhea. Young, partially-vaccinated, or unvaccinated dogs are most at risk for contracting these viruses.
- Intestinal parasites. Roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms, whipworms, giardia, and coccidia are common culprits for parasitic-induced diarrhea. Ensure your dog is receiving a veterinary-prescribed monthly parasite prevention medication.
- Metabolic disease. Some chronic health problems, like kidney disease, liver disease, and Addison’s (hypoadrenocorticism), can cause diarrhea. Bring your dog for a vet visit if they have chronic or recurring diarrhea, as it could be a clue of more severe health problems.
- Autoimmune disease. Like people, dogs can suffer from immune system diseases, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD/IBS), which can cause chronic GI problems, including diarrhea.
- Stress. Anxiety, fear, or sudden changes in your dog’s routine or environment can cause diarrhea or stress colitis.
- Dietary indiscretion. Dogs may develop diarrhea after ingesting table scraps or other difficult-to-digest foods. Additionally, any sudden diet change or introducing of a new treat or dog food can cause an upset stomach. Pet toxic foods, like chocolate, can also cause diarrhea.
When to Take Your Dog to the Vet for Diarrhea
In some cases, mild dog diarrhea may not be a cause to rush to your veterinarian. However, it’s never a bad idea to consult with your DVM for any concern, regardless of how mild it may seem. Dogs with weak or compromised immune systems, including puppies, senior pets, or dogs with underlying health problems, should see a DVM as soon as possible when they are suffering from diarrhea. Additionally, bring your dog for an immediate veterinary examination if they are showing diarrhea with any of the following signs:
- Bloody, dark, or tarry stool
- Vomiting more than one time
- Abdominal pain
- Bloated or distended abdomen
- Lack of appetite
- Diarrhea that lasts more than 24-48 hours after feeding a bland diet
- Diarrhea after vaccinations or medication
- Diarrhea after a potential toxin ingestion
Foods to Help Firm Up Your Dog’s Stool
Depending on the underlying cause of your dog’s diarrhea, food therapy may be an option to help firm up your dog’s stool. Your veterinarian may advise a bland or special GI diet for a short period while your dog’s GI system is recovering. Always consult your vet before making any dietary changes because sudden changes to your dog’s diet can exacerbate their diarrhea. If your dog is experiencing vomiting along with diarrhea, do not attempt to feed them a bland meal, and take them for immediate veterinary care. A bland diet can help pups with sensitive stomachs get their digestive systems back to normal. Your dog’s bland diet should be a 2:1 ratio of starches to protein and can include the following foods:
- Starches. Carbohydrates, including boiled white rice or brown rice, are easy to digest and help soothe your dog’s stomach. Cooked sweet potatoes or plain potatoes are also easily digestible starches. Never feed your dog raw potatoes, as they contain solanine, which is toxic to some dogs. Ensure that your pup’s starches do not have any added oil, salt, spices, or flavorings, and serve them at room temperature.
- Lean protein. Plain, broiled, boneless, skinless chicken breast, turkey, or ground hamburger are easily digestible, lean protein sources to include in your pup’s bland diet. Ensure the low-fat protein does not contain any bones, seasoning, or oils.
- Fiber. Fiber can help your pup absorb excess GI water, slow their bowel movements, and firm up their stool. Pumpkin is an excellent source of soluble fiber and potassium. Plain canned pumpkin is safe, but never give your dog pumpkin pie filling, as it contains pet-toxic ingredients. Always consult your veterinarian to determine how much fiber is safe for your dog.
Feeding your dog frequent, small amounts of bland food can help calm and reset their GI tract. Start by offering small dogs one tablespoon and large dogs two tablespoons every few hours to gauge their tolerance. Bland diets should only be given for a few days before returning to your dog’s regular food unless otherwise advised by your veterinarian.
How to Treat and Prevent Dog Diarrhea
Dogs with diarrhea may require a prebiotic or probiotic supplement to help reset their gut flora and support their digestive tract. Dogs with diarrhea have an increased risk for dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, so ensure they drink water and always have access to clean water. Water add-ins, like Bone Broth, can provide additional nutrients and hydration to aid your pup’s recovery.
Here are some additional tips to help prevent dog diarrhea:
- Pet-proof all garbage cans.
- Avoid feeding your dog table scraps, especially rich, fatty foods.
- Ensure your dog’s vaccinations are current and they receive veterinary-prescribed parasite control.
- Provide your dog with toys and enrichment, like a long-lasting chew, to prevent them from eating dangerous foods or objects out of boredom.
- Avoid sudden changes in your dog’s environment or routine to prevent an episode of stress-induced diarrhea.
- Feed your dog an AAFCO-approved complete and balanced diet.
- Bring your dog for yearly or more frequent veterinary exams to ensure they remain healthy and do not have any looming underlying health problems.
For more health information and tips on your dog’s health, check out the Native Pet blog.