Diarrhea in Dogs – What is it, what causes it and what to do about it

As dog owners, it's not uncommon for our pups to have occasional or even long-term bouts of diarrhea. The important thing is to find out what the cause is in order to figure out what to do about it.

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It might be said that if you haven’t seen diarrhea in your dog, you haven’t had them long enough. Diarrhea is a common occurrence in our canine companions that can be brought about by many different causes. So, whether your pup has infrequent diarrhea or it bothers them all too often, let’s find out some causes behind it, ways you can prevent it, and some at-home remedies.

What is Diarrhea in Dogs?

It’s important to properly define diarrhea as some pet owners may be mistakenly diagnosing it. Diarrhea is loose or unformed stools that often are greater in volume and come at an increased frequency. It is a symptom of a disease rather than a disease itself.

Color and consistency will help clue you in to the cause. Colors of diarrhea can range from streaked with blood, green, yellow, black or various shades of brown. Consistency can go from slightly squishy to so liquid-y it could paint the walls.

Common Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs

Loose stools, or diarrhea, occur because of an increased speed of feces through the intestine. Along with that, water and nutrient absorption is decreased, leading to lots of waterier stool at the end. The reason that fecal matter would move faster through the intestine could include:

  • Dietary indiscretion: All dogs do it. They eat stuff that they shouldn’t, including rotten meat, other animal feces, or garbage, that can lead to diarrhea. These offending substances may contain bacteria or other pathogens that can upset the digestive tract, or the product alone may cause irritation.
  • Intestinal infection: An overload of bacteria, virus, coccidia, or intestinal worms can all lead to diarrhea. Depending on the culprit, the diarrhea may contain blood and other symptoms, like vomiting, fever, or inappetence may also be present.
  • Stress: Stress on an animal can disrupt their normally harmonious balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut. Things like traveling, moving, a new baby or pet, or boarding can create diarrhea that is usually self-resolving once the stressor is gone.
  • Change in diet: Eating the same food day in and day out sets up a microbiome that can efficiently and effectively digest that food. If you throw a wrench in the microbiome in the form of a new diet, diarrhea can occur as the gut adjusts to this new food.
  • Underlying disease: Diarrhea can also be a symptom of more serious diseases, like inflammatory bowel disease, liver or kidney disease, cancer, or allergies. There will often be other symptoms present, such as vomiting, weight loss, increased urination, or itchiness as well.

What To Do If Your Dog Has Diarrhea

Since diarrhea can be the result of a mild disturbance or a serious illness, it’s important to consult your veterinarian. Most cases of mild diarrhea will resolve within a couple of days and your pup won’t really pay much attention.

When to see your vet

However, if your dog’s diarrhea is lasting longer than 48 hours or is accompanied by other signs, such as vomiting, fever, dehydration, weight loss, or lethargy, it’s time to see your vet. Often, dehydration can be a very severe result of having diarrhea, even following mild cases. The presence of other symptoms may also mean that your dog’s diarrhea is due to a more serious cause.

What your vet will do

Your veterinarian will be able to help determine the cause of the diarrhea by taking a thorough history and performing an examination. They may run tests that microscopically look at the feces or blood work to look at organ function. X-rays or ultrasound may also play a role.

How is Diarrhea in Dogs Treated?

In order to clear up diarrhea, the underlying cause needs to be addressed. For mild cases caused by eating something they shouldn’t, that often means waiting it out. Most “garbage gut” diarrhea will clear in a day or two without any trouble. Same goes for stress-caused diarrhea as long as the stressor is gone. Diarrhea due to a food change will be better if the gut is allowed a more gradual transition by mixing the old food with the new food in increasing amounts of new food for about a week.

Other types of diarrhea may require antibiotics, probiotics, fluids, anti-inflammatories, you name it. These more severe types will require some intervention to control the underlying disease and may require some additional treatments to help combat dehydration and discomfort as well.

Are There Any At-Home Treatments for Diarrhea in Dogs?

If your dog is a frequent garbage eater or tends to get stressed by the little things, you may be dealing with mild diarrhea on a regular basis. For these pups, at-home treatments may help.

Remove the cause

First of all, you’ll want to remove the cause. This may mean locking up the garbage, keeping them on a leash when outside, or trying to prevent stress. Often, feeding these dogs a bland diet of boiled chicken and rice may help ease the gut and let if get over it.

Probiotics

Probiotics may also be a benefit as they will help repopulate the gut with good bacteria. There are many probiotic supplements available but for a simple source, plain yogurt may do the trick.

Increase fiber

Increasing your dog’s fiber can also help bulk up those bowel movements. Fiber from green beans or pumpkin may be beneficial for short-term, mild cases. Always make sure to have plenty of fresh water available for a dog with diarrhea. If they aren’t drinking as they should, you can try flavoring the water with a little low-sodium chicken broth or low sugar electrolyte solution.

If your dog’s diarrhea fails to respond to at-home treatments, or if it’s lasting longer than a couple of days, or if it has any other symptoms associated, don’t hesitate to see your veterinarian. Mild diarrhea that occurs frequently with no obvious cause should also be checked out as it may be a result of an allergy or chronic infection or disease.

Final Thoughts

For most dogs, diarrhea is a part of life-at least mild cases of it. This is mostly because dogs have a hard time passing up a tantalizing treat, even it that treat is garbage or not meant to be eaten. Knowing the cause of your dog’s diarrhea will not only help determine how to treat and prevent it, it may also help you know when to see your veterinarian.