Diarrhea in Dogs
Diarrhea in dogs ranges from abnormally soft to watery stool. Other signs may be present including gas, straining while defecating, abnormal odor or bloody stool. Most cases of dog diarrhea will pass with time but others require treatment.
For example, if your dog has bloody diarrhea with severe straining you need to seek emergency veterinary care immediately. And diarrhea with vomiting can be signs of serious intestinal obstruction that may need surgery. Additionally, weakness, pain or agitation are serious signs that the dog needs medical attention.
Diarrhea is one of the most common digestive health issues suffered by dog’s, along with constipation.
Diarrhea is not a subject many want to talk about. Unfortunately, it does happen sometimes, and not just to humans. Any animal with a digestive system can potentially suffer from diarrhea, including our beloved dogs. So, what’s going on when your fur-baby has an upset stomach? How do you know when to see your veterinarian? How do you treat it?
What is Diarrhea?
The simple definition for diarrhea is a frequent discharge of stool from the bowels and in a liquid form. In dogs, diarrhea itself is not considered a disease but is instead classified as a symptom of problems within the gastrointestinal tract. In order to treat the symptom, discerning the underlying cause is necessary.
Vomiting may or may not accompany gastrointestinal disturbances in dogs. A dog’s diagnosis will usually be enteritis when there is diarrhea without vomiting. If your fur-baby is vomiting and having diarrhea, the vet will probably diagnosis his condition as gastroenteritis.
Diarrhea can develop into a serious problem for your dog if it goes on unchecked for long. The rapid movement of fecal material through the dog’s digestive tract means he is not absorbing water, nutrients, and electrolytes. This can lead to dehydration, poor nutrition, and electrolyte imbalances.
Symptoms of Diarrhea
Diarrhea in dogs is usually a minor ailment that resolves itself without any special treatment. It’s generally of short duration and doesn’t leave any lasting effects. It can, however, also be a sign of a serious illness that needs a trip to the vet’s office. Some such illnesses can even be fatal, so it pays to be observant anytime your dog is experiencing diarrhea.
Diarrhea tends to come on suddenly in most cases, and it can last for 24 to 48 hours. After this time, your dog’s elimination habits should revert to his normal routine. Your dog may feel a bit out of sorts for a while, with a lack of enthusiasm for play and usual activities. He may or may not lose interest in food.
As long as your dog doesn’t show any additional symptoms and starts to feel normal again within a day or two, there’s probably no need for a visit to the vet. If your dog is very young or old, pregnant, or has a condition that compromises his immune system, then you should discuss the symptoms with your vet.
If your fur-baby is already dealing with other health problems, or diarrhea continues for longer than a few days, you need to consider a trip to the vet’s office. If your dog is showing any of the following symptoms in addition to the diarrhea, a trip to the vet’s office is a good idea.
- Lethargy (lack of energy, listless, excess drowsiness or sleeping)
- Fever (normal temp is between 100 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Maybe lethargic, refuse to eat, sleep more, hide from the family. Skin feels warmer than usual, nose dry and warm, and back of the ears warmer than normal)
- Dry gums
- Obvious Pain
The color of your dog’s feces can be an indicator of what type of problem he’s having. Feces that’s a nice chocolate-brown color is normal and says everything in your dog’s gut is working as it should. If your fur-baby is passing stools of different colors, you’ll need to contact your vet.
Here are some colors and characteristics that you need to look for when observing your pet’s feces:
- Chocolate Brown, Formed Stool means your dog is happy and healthy with a gut that’s producing normal stools.
- Red Streaks in the Stool may be an indication of bleeding somewhere in the lower segment of the gastrointestinal tract.
- Black Stools that Resemble Tar may mean your dog is bleeding in his stomach or in his small intestine.
- Maroon Colored Stools can also be indicative of bleeding in the upper gastrointestinal tract, such as in the stomach or small intestine.
- Yellow to Orange Stools may mean your dog is experiencing problems with his liver, gallbladder or pancreas.
- Green Stool can be a sign your dog is eating a lot of grass, probably due to a gastrointestinal upset.
- White Spots in your dog’s feces may indicate your fur-baby has a parasitic infestation of worms.
If your dog is passing stools of the color listed, get him to your vet and take a sample of the oddly colored stool if you can (zip-lock baggie works fine).
Common Causes of Doggie Diarrhea
Myriad conditions can result in diarrhea. There are some causes that rank high on the list of the most common reasons a dog is suffering from diarrhea.
- Parasites: an infestation of worms in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract can definitely be a source of irritation. They can cause diarrhea, from a mild case to an extremely serious, life-threatening illness. Young puppies are far more likely to suffer from diarrhea-causing parasites.
- Infections: if your fur-baby is suffering from a viral or bacterial infection, diarrhea may be the result. This is also more likely to occur in younger dogs.
- Stress: Stress, anxiety, and excitement can cause an upset in your dog’s gastrointestinal tract.
- Dietary Change or Dietary Indiscretion: a change in your pet’s dog food from one type to another can trigger a bout of diarrhea. This will usually resolve itself. If your dog is eating things he shouldn’t, such as rocks or a lot of grass, or if he’s getting into the garbage, all of this can cause irritation or trauma to his gastrointestinal tract. The result can be diarrhea.
- Inflammatory Disorders: if your dog suffers with an inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea may be a symptom.
- Metabolic Diseases: disorders of the liver, pancreas, or thyroid, or any other problem that upsets the motility or environment in the gastrointestinal tract may result in diarrhea.
- Medications or Toxins: just as in people, antibiotics can upset your dog’s stomach, causing diarrhea. Other medications and some toxins can also result in diarrhea. If you’re uncertain about any medication or possible toxin, talk to your veterinarian.
When to See the Vet
Remember that you know your dog better than anyone. If you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to contact your vet or make a trip to the clinic. Some aspects of doggie diarrhea can be alarming and some consequences can be downright frightening.
In general, if your dog has one somewhat soft, loose stool but still is his usual happy, playful, loving self and eating normally, you’re probably safe to wait to see if he has any more episodes of diarrhea.
There are some red flags that deserve serious attention:
- loss of appetite or thirst (a refusal to drink water)
- lethargy or depression
- pain or discomfort anywhere
- blood in the stool, or black tar-like stools
- vomiting associated with diarrhea
- reduced or absent urination
Dogs that are very young, or those who are naturally small, such as some teacup breeds, can quickly become compromised by ongoing diarrhea. Dogs that are up there in years or are battling some other medical problems are also at greater risk for complications stemming from bouts of diarrhea.
Often times, a case of diarrhea in dogs clears itself up within 24 hours, especially in a young and healthy dog. There are some home remedies that you can use which will support your fur-baby while he’s under the weather.
- Withhold food: when you observe your dog having a bout of diarrhea, you can give his gastrointestinal tract a rest by withholding food for 12 hours.
- Bland diet: after the period of fasting, replace his normal food with boiled chicken and rice, or boiled hamburger and rice. The rice should be the bulky part of the meal. Keep your fur-baby on this diet until his stools are better formed.
- Plenty of water: encourage your dog to drink freshwater, but don’t over-indulge in it. If the diarrhea is severe, he’ll need as much water as you can get into him. The goal is to keep him hydrated.
- Yogurt: Replenish the good bacteria in your dog’s gut by feeding him plain yogurt or cottage cheese. He can eat it straight if he wants, or you can add a dollop or two to his bland diet.
There are some over-the-counter medications that are safe for dogs to take when they’re having issues with diarrhea. Because dogs, just like people, may harbor allergies of which you’re not aware, it’s just a smart idea to check with your vet before giving your fur-baby any type of medication.
Caveats aside, there are some medications you can give orally. An intestinal protectant such as kaolin clay and pectin – KaoPectate – is okay to give to dogs. Canine fur-babies can also tolerate a suspension such as Pepto Bismol, or a generic that contains bismuth subsalicylate. If diarrhea doesn’t resolve easily, you can try Imodium or its generic Loperamide.
Use caution when giving Imodium or Loperamide to Collies; they may not react well to it. Check with your vet before administering to your Collie.
At the End of the Day
When it’s all said and done, the bottom line is this: you know your fur-baby and you know when there’s something wrong. Go with your instincts and make a trip to the vet whenever you feel it’s needed.
Doggie diarrhea is usually a temporary condition that rectifies itself. In those cases where it doesn’t, your fur-baby is counting on you to get him to the care he needs. If you’re concerned about the cost of veterinarian care, give yourself some peace of mind knowing your pet has medical insurance coverage.