Diarrhea in Dogs: Causes, Treatment & Prevention

 

After a long day at work, you open the front door to a happy, energetic dog  --- and the distinctive smell of an accident somewhere in the house. While you grab the rubber gloves, paper towels and the pet stain remover, keep in mind that diarrhea in dogs is a common canine health problem. It’s part of life as a pet parent.  

Just as people rarely go to the doctor for diarrhea, dogs don’t always need a trip to the veterinarian when they have an upset stomach. Diarrhea is not a disease, but if often a symptom of an issue in your dog’s gastrointestinal system. 

A dog with diarrhea is one who is uncomfortable, and as a pet parent, you want the quickest solution to make your dog feel better. Often, treatment at home can remedy your pup's tummy woes. Read on to learn about the causes and treatment for diarrhea in dogs, and when it's serious enough to take your canine friend to the veterinarian’s office.

sad bulldog on a leash

 

What causes diarrhea in dogs?

While you are cleaning up the kitchen floor, you may think, “My dog has diarrhea. How did that happen?” The truth is that there are a variety of reasons why your dog might develop acute diarrhea or loose stool. Acute diarrhea appears suddenly in a dog who is otherwise healthy and lasts for less than 14 days. Here are some of the most common reasons for acute diarrhea in dogs:

  • Viral or bacterial infection - Whether your pup is dealing with a viral infection or fighting off a bacterial one, she is likely to have diarrhea as a symptom.
  • Diet changes  - If you switch your dog from her old food to a new one, or if she ingests something that doesn’t agree with her stomach, diarrhea is the common result.
  • Stress and exercise intolerance - Stressful situations, high anxiety, overexcitement or intense exercise can cause diarrhea in your dog.
  • Medications and toxins - The introduction of new medications can often upset a dog’s stomach with diarrhea as a common symptom of that irritation.

Chronic diarrhea is a long-term condition that may frequently reoccur due to any of these possible causes:

  • Parasites - Parasitic infestations, specifically worms within the large intestine, often upset a dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Their presence causes diarrhea in both the large and small intestines.
  • Inflammatory bowel disorders - Inflammatory diseases and disorders of the intestines typically cause diarrhea.
  • Colon ulcers and cancers - Dogs with serious medical conditions such as ulcers and tumors within the colon generally suffer from frequent diarrhea.
  • Metabolic diseases - Illnesses such as diabetes or hypothyroidism can wreak havoc on a dog’s gastrointestinal system, and diarrhea is typically present.

In some cases, such as stress, bacterial or viral infections and bowel disorders, diarrhea may be acute or chronic. 

 

How can you stop diarrhea in dogs?

For cases of acute diarrhea, there are some simple home remedies and basic veterinary solutions to try to alleviate your dog’s discomfort and prevent more carpet-destroying incidents. Even if your dog has diarrhea but acts fine, you will want to do what you can to get your dog back to her normal state. Here is how to stop diarrhea in dogs at home:

  1. Put your dog on a rice fast. For 24-hours, feed your dog white rice balls and water only; white rice with added active probiotic cultures is ideal in a watery state. Do not stop feeding your dog as research shows dogs need nutrition to heal irritated bowels. Rice is easy to digest and lets your dog’s gastrointestinal system recover without being overworked.
  2. Keep your dog hydrated. Make sure your pup is drinking lots of water to avoid further dehydration. Add beef or chicken broth to the water to encourage her to drink.
  3. Reintroduce bland foods.  You may wonder, “What can I give to my dog with diarrhea?” You can give your dog small meals of boiled, white-meat chicken with white rice. Substitute pure canned pumpkin or sweet potato for the rice to increase fiber intake. Continue to feed this diet to your dog until her stool returns to normal. 
  4. Contact your veterinarian about over-the-counter medications. Some OTC medications, such as intestinal protectants like Kaopectate, can be given to dogs. Be sure to talk with your veterinarian first to know the right kind of medicine and the exact serving size (based on your dog’s age and weight) to give her. Never give your dog OTC medications without a veterinarian's guidance. 

If your dog still suffers from diarrhea after two days, take her to your veterinarian for a further diagnosis on how to provide dog diarrhea treatment.

 

Prevention for canine diarrhea

Dogs commonly develop diarrhea, but what can you do to limit how much it happens to your pup? These steps can help prevent many episodes of diarrhea from affecting your dog’s quality of life:

  • Feed a balanced, nutritious diet. 
  • Don’t change food suddenly; if you change your dog’s diet, do so gradually.
  • Make sure your dog is checked and treated for parasites.
  • Exercise your dog regularly.
  • Minimize any stressors in your dog’s environment.
  • Keep garbage, spoiled food, or ingestible objects out of your dog’s reach.
  • Vaccinate your dog on a regular schedule.

 

Alternative reasons your dog has diarrhea

There are alternative reasons that your dog could develop diarrhea, aside from the previous examples provided above. Many of these reasons are associated with situations that can be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. Alternative causes of diarrhea include:

  • Swallowed objects such as sticks and bones are prone to get stuck and lodged in the stomach and intestines. Sometimes, these items cause both vomiting and diarrhea. Also, if the objects pass through the intestinal tract, they may damage the lining, resulting in diarrhea.
  • Food allergies can sometimes lead to diarrhea, as well as itchiness and vomiting.
  • Systemic fungal infections can spread throughout the body’s organs via spores, causing intermittent acute diarrhea.
  • Toxins, like insecticides and lead, often cause diarrhea and vomiting if dogs ingest them.

 

When should you take your dog to the vet?

While most instances of doggy diarrhea are short-lived, some signs and symptoms indicate a trip to the veterinarian may be necessary. If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian and take your pup into the office:

  • Depression or lethargy
  • Pain and discomfort
  • Loss of appetite
  • Loss of thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Reduced urination
  • Blood in the stool (blackish, dark, or red)
  • Mucus in the stool

A dog who has diarrhea for more than 48-hours should go to the veterinarian; if you have a puppy under nine months of age, take her to the veterinarian immediately. While most instances of diarrhea in dogs are acute and short-lived, diarrhea is sometimes a sign of a life-threatening condition. If you have any concerns about your dog and diarrhea, contact your veterinarian for professional advice. 

Just like humans, dogs can suffer from diarrhea and its uncomfortable effects. Sometimes, acute diarrhea passes quickly; at other times, diarrhea, especially chronic varieties, can be challenging to resolve. Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior and habits, and direct further questions or concerns about doggy diarrhea to your local veterinarian. 

 

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For information on other common dog health problems, read our article 31 Most Common Dog Health Problems.

 

References:

  1. Armstrong, P. (2020). GI Intervention: Approach to Diagnosis & Therapy of the Patient With Acute Diarrhea. Retrieved from https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/gi-intervention-approach-to-diagnosis-and-therapy-of-the-patient-with-acute-diarrhea/
  2. Volkman, M., Steiner, J., Fosgate, G., Zentek, J., S. Hartmann, & Kohn, B. (2017). Chronic Diarrhea in Dogs --- Retrospective Study in 136 Cases. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5508351/
  3. Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. (n.d.). Diarrhea. Retrieved from https://www.vetmed.wsu.edu/outreach/Pet-Health-Topics/categories/common-problems/diarrhea
  4. Kennedy, E. (2015). DIY with Probiotics. Retrieved from https://thebark.com/content/diy-probiotics
  5. Paul, M. (2015). Dog Diarrhea: When is It Serious and How Do I Stop It? Retrieved from http://www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/dog-diarrhea-when-it-serious-and-how-do-i-stop-it
  6. DogTime. (2019). Diarrhea In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatments. Retrieved from https://dogtime.com/dog-health/1878-dog-diarrhea-wsu
  7. Tabadoa, J. (2020). Fungal Infections in Dogs. Retrieved from https://www.merckvetmanual.com/en-ca/dog-owners/disorders-affecting-multiple-body-systems-of-dogs/fungal-infections-in-dogs
  8. McKee, D. (2019). 5 Proven Home Remedies for Your Dog With Diarrhea. Retrieved from https://www.rescuedogs101.com/5-best-home-remedies-dog-diarrhea/