Learn How to Take Care of Puppies Experiencing Diarrhea

Boxer Puppy in Rear Seat of Car
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Puppies with diarrhea rank at the top when it comes to common puppy problems, so being familiar with dog diarrhea treatments is important for pet owners. Mild cases can be treated at home, but dangerous cases of diarrhea can be deadly for puppies. While diarrhea isn’t a disease, it is a sign of illness, caused by many different conditions.

Diarrhea can be associated with viruses like parvovirus and distemper. It can also be caused by intestinal parasites like whipworms and hookworms, protozoa like giardia, and bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. Some types of intestinal parasites can even be difficult for veterinary tests to detect, or require several tests (over weeks) to obtain a diagnosis.

Puppies can also develop diarrhea from a sudden new change, like diet, the stress of coming to a new home, being overfed, or from eating out of the garbage. Without knowing the cause, the right treatment solution can be a toss-up.

Help Puppies Who Have Diarrhea

Diarrhea can point to conditions that could kill your puppy. Don’t wait—the resulting dehydration can make puppies even sicker. There are certain signs of diarrhea that require an immediate veterinarian, like waste looking black with a tar-like consistency, smelling extremely foul, containing large amounts of red blood, or being accompanied by symptoms like vomiting, severe pain, fever, appetite loss, or lethargy.

It’s always best to get a vet check first, but he or she may recommend that milder forms of diarrhea are treated at home. For instance, if it’s been less than three days, your puppy still feels and acts well, and diarrhea has a pudding-like appearance, home care is usually OK.

Until you see the vet, however, withhold food for 12 to 24 hours. This allows the gut to rest and gives the irritation a chance to heal. However, don’t withhold food any longer than 24 hours without direction from your veterinarian.

illustration of how to treat a puppy with diarrhea
Illustration: Vin Ganapathy. © The Spruce, 2018

Nurse Your Puppy Back to Health

Make sure that water is always available for your puppy, as it’s very easy to quickly become dehydrated. Plus, a sudden watery diarrhea can spill large amounts of fluid and important minerals out of the body. If your pet acts reluctant to drink, offer ice cubes to lick on. Pedialyte or Gatorade half diluted with water can counter the dehydration as well.

Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate may also help your pup. Use a needleless syringe or a turkey baster to squirt the medicine into his or her mouth. If appropriate for your pup's situation, your vet will know the proper dosage.

It usually takes a couple of days for your puppy’s tummy to calm down, so a bland diet is suggested. Offer plain white rice or plain, soft, and cooked macaroni in a no-salt chicken broth. For more flavor, you can stir in a tablespoon of low-fat cottage cheese or plain yogurt. Yogurt contains beneficial bacteria that can help rebalance the disruption caused by diarrhea in your puppy. You can also try adding a little pumpkin flavor, as its high fiber content can assist with constipation or diarrhea, allowing the stool to normalize.

Keep Your Puppy From Getting Diarrhea

The best thing you can do for your puppy is to make sure there is plenty of healthy and balanced food and exercise provided daily. New diets should be transitioned into slowly when puppies are young. It's possible that your puppy is getting into some spoiled food through the garbage can, so keeping those out of reach and being strict about not feeding your puppy any human food scraps is key. You will also want to stay current on vaccinations, and check for any lingering parasites.

When it comes to your puppy's environment, make sure that it's stress-free. If your puppy is in a kennel with other pets, you'll want to ensure that's it's clean and disinfected. Puppies are sensitive to their surroundings, so it's helpful to stay on a regular routine for sleep, food, exercise, and walks. Another thing that can help is providing some weekly obedience training. On walks, you'll want to keep an eye out for any plant or puddle consumption, as feces can be present which can lead to diarrhea. When you're unable to supervise your puppy, you may want to keep it kenneled to prevent any accidents.