There's a pretty good chance your dog has experienced diarrhea at one time or another. Diarrhea is characterized by the passing of watery or very soft stools and is one of the most common signs of illness reported by dog owners. It's important for dog owners to understand why dogs have diarrhea and also know how to respond to it. Diarrhea may or may not accompany vomiting, loss of appetite, and lethargy. Flatulence often occurs with diarrhea.
Why Do Dogs Get Diarrhea?
In dogs, diarrhea is common and may be caused by a variety of things. It may be the result of something as simple as dietary indiscretion (we all know some dogs get into the trash or eat table scraps). Diarrhea may also be related to something more serious, such as toxicity, infectious disease, intestinal parasites, and more.
Occasional diarrhea is not considered normal. If your dog has diarrhea "off and on" for more than a week or two, you should schedule an appointment with your vet. Bring a stool sample, as checking for intestinal parasites is one of the first steps. Your vet may discuss medications, supplements, and dietary changes. Other diagnostics may be necessary, such as blood testing or radiographs (x-rays).
Treatment and Prevention
First, try to get past the "yucky" part of things. Everyone poops. As your dog's caregiver, you should be able to evaluate the stool so you can discuss it with your vet. Of course, you should always wear gloves or use a plastic bag to handle the stool. Be sure to wash your hands well after handling your dog or the stool.
If your dog has diarrhea, try to collect a sample. You might need to bring it to the vet later. Take a look at the stool's consistency and color. Is it watery? Pudding-like? Formed but soft? Is there blood present? Mucus? Is it black and/or tarry? Are there pieces of toys, clothing, or other inedible material? Make a note of this, because your vet's office will ask. If lethargy, vomiting, or other signs of illness accompany the vomiting, make a note of this too. If you cannot bring the stool sample to the vet right away, store it in the fridge in a sealed bag or container. Many people prefer to double-bag or double container seal it because it is poop after all.
One or two episodes of diarrhea are not necessarily reasons to become alarmed. Some cases of diarrhea are self-limiting (meaning they resolve on their own). Make sure your dog is still eating and drinking. Never give over-the-counter or prescription medications without your vet's advice. If you are that worried, it's best just to take your dog to the vet.
Continued diarrhea can lead to dehydration and weight loss. It may also be a sign of another illness. It is important not to ignore the signs when your dog is sick. Dogs often hide their illnesses as long as possible, acting like they feel normal when there is really something more serious going on.
If any of the following circumstances apply, you should contact your vet immediately:
- Diarrhea is frequently repeated for several hours in a row.
- Your dog shows extreme lethargy or unresponsiveness.
- You suspect your dog has ingested a toxin.
- Excessive amounts of blood are seen in the stool (mild blood spotting is not an emergency, but call the vet if it continues).
- Stools are black and/or have a tarry appearance.
- Your dog is on medication that may cause diarrhea (stop giving the medication and call your vet).
- You suspect your dog ingested a foreign body, such as a toy or clothing.
- Your dog's gums are pale, white, bluish, or gray in color.
- Your dog's abdomen seems painful and/or enlarged.
- You see worms in the stool (not an emergency, but a dewormer will be needed).
- Diarrhea occurs for more than 24 hours.
- If you are in doubt, just call the vet.
If your dog has diarrhea one time and otherwise acts completely normal, you can probably continue the normal food and routine. Just keep watching for diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and signs of illness. Note that dogs with diarrhea may strain to defecate with little or no stool production. This is not necessarily a cause for concern unless it continues for more than a day.
If your dog has diarrhea again at the next bowel movement, try changing to a bland diet temporarily. To prepare a bland diet, boil unseasoned chicken breast with plain white rice OR ground low-fat meat with plain white rice. Drain off any residual fat after cooking. Do not add salt or seasoning. Feed the bland diet until the next day. If diarrhea begins to improve, your dog has a good appetite, and there is no vomiting, you can start to gradually add back your dog's normal food to the bland diet mixture. Call your vet if diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours.
As you likely know, diarrhea cannot be entirely prevented. Preventive measures related to your dog's diet is your best bet to guard against diarrhea. Avoid table scraps, human food, and letting your dog eat foreign objects or materials outdoors. All of these can wreak havoc on a dog's stomach and cause digestive issues.