It's a terrible feeling to know your pup isn't feeling well. On top of that, dog diarrhea can be indicative of so many things, it's hard to know what the root cause is. Read this article to learn why dog diarrhea happens, what you can do to stop it, and how to know when to seek help from your veterinarian.
In this article, we'll cover the topic of dog diarrhea. We will address how you can stop it and, perhaps most importantly, why your dog is having diarrhea.
All dog diarrhea cases have one thing in common – an upset stomach. Considering how common an upset stomach is, it is easy to assume how common diarrhea is. Therefore, let's dive into the hidden dangers of loose stool in dogs – the causes, the red flags, and some diarrhea first aid tips.
The Canine Digestive System
The dog's digestive system is a complex apparatus specifically designed to process food –from the mechanical grounding in the mouth through nutrient absorption in the intestines to eliminating non-digestible items via the anal opening.
To simplify the canine GI tract, imagine a long pipe with two opening points – the mouth as entrance and the anus as an exit. Digestion occurs alongside the entire pipe, but different processes take place at different points within the pipe.
Why do Dogs get Diarrhea?
Based on studies, "acute, self-limiting diarrhea is relatively common and usually requires minimal diagnostic testing and therapy," while "chronic diarrhea can be particularly challenging to diagnose and does not respond to empirical therapies."
The official diarrhea definition is "frequent evacuation of watery stools," or according to the American Gastroenterology Association (AGA), "an increase in the frequency, fluidity, or volume of feces".
Regardless of the terminology, diarrhea is the main sign of intestinal dysfunction, and it can be classified as acute (if it lasts less than 14 days) or chronic (if it lasts over 14 days).
What is the Most Common Cause of Diarrhea in Dogs?
The cause of diarrhea can be something as simple as an upset tummy or as severe as cancer. Before reviewing the most common causes, we should emphasize that diarrhea is not a disease but a sign of intestinal dysfunction.
Sudden Diet Change
The dog's GI tract needs several days to adjust to a new food. Sudden changes in the diet are almost always accompanied by diarrhea.
Understandably, a dog who has eaten dry kibble its whole life will experience quite a shock if served wet dog food with meat and veggie chunks. It should be noted that puppies are more sensitive to sudden diet changes than adults.
Dietary indiscretion is a fancy term for saying dogs would eat just about anything – a toy, a sock, dirt, wood, cat poop, or even table scraps from the garbage.
Since the dog's gut is not designed to handle these (non)edible items, their presence will cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal lining and disrupt the normal digestion processes, eventually triggering diarrhea.
Food Allergies and Intolerances
Dogs can be either allergic or intolerant to various food groups and ingredients – specific proteins, gluten, or lactose. Although the mechanisms behind allergies and intolerances are different, the clinical manifestation is similar and includes diarrhea.
Intestinal parasites like hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, Giardia, and Coccidia can cause severe damages that are not always limited to the GI tract.
Typically, dogs contract intestinal parasites by drinking contaminated water, or otherwise ingesting contaminated soil or stool. Puppies and dogs with compromised immune systems are at higher risk.
Viral or Bacterial Infection
The dog's gut is a common target for various viruses and bacteria. Viruses like parvovirus, distemper, coronavirus, and bacterial infections such as salmonella are accompanied by severe (explosive and often bloody) diarrhea.
Illness or Intoxication
Diarrhea can be one of the symptoms in dogs with severe health issues like:
Liver, pancrea, or kidney tumors
Gastrointestinal inflammations or cancers
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Consuming toxic substances is a life-threatening problem with complex manifestation that usually starts with diarrhea. Toxic substances can include human foods (chocolate, grapes, avocado), medications, household products (detergents, antifreeze), and plants.
What Stools can Tell You About Your Dog’s Health
Poop can tell you a lot about your dog's overall health. When judging the stool appearance, you need to consider the four C's of stool examination – color, consistency, content, and coating.
Although the "normal" stool appearance depends on several factors (age, diet, lifestyle), the general rule of thumb is that the healthy poop should be brown and neither too soft nor too hard.
Small Intestine vs. Large Intestine Diarrhea
Obviously, in diarrhea cases, the main issue is the consistency change. However, analyzing the other C's can help locate the source of the problem.
Small intestine diarrhea is usually larger in volume but with less frequent bowel movements and rarely speckled with blood or mucus. On the other hand, large intestine diarrhea is smaller in volume, more frequent, and commonly accompanied by blood and/or mucus flecks.
Another differentiating factor is the presence of vomiting. In general, dogs with small intestine diarrhea are more likely to vomit than dogs with large intestine diarrhea.
Home Remedies for Dog Diarrhea
Dogs with acute diarrhea can safely be treated at home as long as they do not exhibit additional signs and symptoms and the situation is managed within a day or two.
What do You Give a Dog for Diarrhea?
When dealing with non-complicated acute diarrhea bouts in dogs, there are two options – let the loose stool run its course (and clean after your dog) or be proactive and use diarrhea medications combined with a bland diet to speed up the recovery.
Regardless of the approach you choose, it would be best if you prevent dehydration. Dehydration is commonly associated with diarrhea – so much is coming out, and nothing is going in. Severe dehydration is considered a life-threatening emergency.
How can I Stop My Dog's Diarrhea Fast?
If your dog has diarrhea, the first thing you need to do is determine the underlying cause. Once the culprit is identified and eliminated, you can craft a quick management strategy using some of the following tips.
Medication for Dog Diarrhea
Many vets and pet parents rave about the results of the Vets Preferred Advanced Anti Diarrhea supplement. It aims to not only relieve diarrhea but also ease stomach cramps and abdominal pain.
This is just one of the many anti-diarrhea products on the market. It is important to discuss with your vet what will work best for your dog.
Sometimes, simplicity is key – one of the oldest anti-diarrhea tricks in the book is feeding your dog a bland diet of boiled chicken (or turkey) and white rice (or potatoes).
The meat to starch ratio needs to be 1:2 – one cup meat to two cups rice. It is also recommended to offer small amounts several times per day (you do not want to burden the GI tract).
Probiotics for Dogs
Probiotics are naturally occurring "good" bacteria that live in the dog's gut and assist with digestion and absorption processes.
Probiotics are extremely efficient in managing diarrhea – they strengthen the dog's stool and decrease the length of the diarrhea episode. Probiotics can also be used to help prevent stress-related diarrhea when expected (traveling, boarding, new pets).
Canned Pumpkin and Ginger
Canned pumpkin is great for soothing upset stomachs. Once digested, canned pumpkin is slowly absorbed, making an excellent modifier for stool consistency – it is a remedy for both constipation and diarrhea.
Your dog might not be fond of the taste, but ginger is very effective in promoting and maintaining a healthy GI tract. Ginger has potent anti-inflammatory properties, which can also help with non-GI-related issues like arthritis.
Bone broth is another great option for easing an upset stomach while simultaneously hydrating your dog. To make bone broth, simply simmer a whole chicken in a mixture of water and apple cider vinegar in a crockpot until the meat falls off the bone.
If using bought bone broth, we recommend purchasing a specially formulated brand for dogs – certain ingredients in human broth can cause further irritation and prolong diarrhea episodes.
When to go to the Vet for Dog Diarrhea
Every dog will experience diarrhea at least once at some point in its life. What every dog parent must not do is panic.
If you have recently changed your dog's diet or have been offering treats from the dinner table – you are looking at the culprits. The good news is – the diarrhea situation is transient and usually self-limiting.
However, dog diarrhea that lasts for more than 48 hours or is accompanied by vomiting, blood, or mucus is a red flag indicating more critical conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, liver disease, or pancreatitis.
When Should I be Concerned About My Dog's Diarrhea?
Generally speaking, you should be concerned in two situations – if your dog's clinical picture includes various signs and symptoms or you have tried the above described first aid tips, but diarrhea persists for over 48 hours.
A trip to the vet's office is warranted if your dog is exhibiting one or more of these signs and symptoms:
Loss of appetite
In these cases, the vet will perform a full physical examination and diagnostics (blood works, ultrasound, x-rays, endoscopy) to determine the exact culprit and develop an individually-tailored treatment plan.
Our Final Thoughts on Dog Diarrhea
Dog diarrhea or dog poop, in general, is an unpopular and messy topic. However, it is quite common and sometimes indicative of a more serious health issue.
Therefore, as a responsible parent, you need to be familiar with the basics of dog diarrhea – understanding that diarrhea is a symptom, not a disease. Therefore, simply putting a "band-aid" on the external signs will often worsen the underlying problem.
Make sure to take the necessary steps to prevent or alleviate diarrhea in the early stages. If it continues for more than a day or two, or your dog is in obvious distress, do not hesitate to call or visit the vet.