Diarrhea in Dogs
Reviewed for accuracy on January 13, 2020 by JoAnna Pendergrass, DVM
If you’ve been up all night with a dog who needs to go to the bathroom urgently, you know how frustrating a case of diarrhea is. While most cases of diarrhea in adult dogs are not emergencies, the following scenarios need medical attention:
- If the condition continues for more than 24 hours, or is accompanied by vomiting, see your vet.
- If you notice your dog’s diarrhea contains blood – which may appear as black, brownish-red or bright red – this may be an indication of internal bleeding, a serious condition.
- If your dog is a young puppy, go to the vet; puppies are very vulnerable to dehydration and it can be fatal.
Possible Causes of Diarrhea
Diarrhea in dogs can be caused by many factors, ranging from serious to relatively minor.
- Diet changes or eating human food: A big culprit of diarrhea in dogs and puppies is whatever they’ve eaten, whether it was garbage, a foreign body, a poison, or a food allergy. Eating garbage or consuming a large amount of human food can also cause dog diarrhea. Some dogs and puppies have minor reactions to changes in diet, which is normal, but can also contribute to diarrhea.
- Parasites: Diarrhea often can be caused by intestinal parasites like roundworms or coccidia. It’s actually very common for dogs to eat poop, which often contains the larvae of parasites. Eating small wild mammals is another way that dogs catch parasites.
- Medication: Diarrhea is a common side effect of medications.
- Stress and anxiety: Emotional distress can be accompanied by physical side effects including diarrhea.
- Side effect of a health condition: Infections, cancers, viruses and diseases of the gastrointestinal system – like colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis and gastroenteritis – may also be responsible for diarrhea in dogs.
As mentioned above, be sure to seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible for severe cases of diarrhea, such as bloody diarrhea, diarrhea in young puppies, or if the condition lasts longer than 24 hours.
Treating diarrhea usually involves rehydration, withholding food to ensure the digestive irritant has fully worked its way out, and medication.
Rehydration: Make sure your pet is fully hydrated by giving him fresh, clean water. If your dog seems healthy and alert (other than the diarrhea), you can try feeding a bite or two of watermelon – the sweet summer fruit is 92 percent water and very hydrating. Make sure that the watermelon is free of seeds because the seeds can block the intestines.
A bland diet: While most veterinarians will recommend withholding food from a dog who has diarrhea for 24 to 48 hours, they also advise giving dogs plain, boiled chicken and rice. Arlington Animal Hospital says, “Since bland diets are low in fiber, stool production slows and defecation is less frequent. Bland diets are fed to rest the gastric system and to help promote normal stool formation.” Pumpkin is another vet-approved food that can help ease stomach conditions. The recommended dose of pumpkin for dogs is 1 to 4 tablespoons per meal; check with your vet on how much pumpkin you can safely give your dog.
Elimination diet: Pets being tested for a food allergy or intolerance may need to go on a bland elimination diet to determine the cause of their symptoms. These diets have to be very exact—absolutely no other foods are allowed (even treats) except for the elimination diet. Ask your vet for the exact route your pup needs to take and expect to try all sorts of new proteins in the future (kangaroo, alligator, and more!).
Medication: Because diarrhea in dogs can have so many causes, the type of medication that you give will depend on the diarrhea’s underlying cause. If the stool sample that you bring to the vet’s office tests positive for parasites, your dog will need an anti-parasitic medication, often called a dewormer, every day for about 7 to 10 days. If the stool is negative for parasites, your vet will probably take a blood sample to check for elevated enzyme levels in the liver to determine the cause of tummy upset, which can be a foreign body issue, pancreatitis, or chronic condition. They might also perform diagnostic tests like abdominal x-rays, fecal cultures to look for bacteria, and biopsies of different parts of the digestive tract. Results of these diagnostic tests will determine what medications your dog will need. Give medicines like Pepto Bismol only under a vet’s supervision or with their recommendation.
For dogs who love to eat from the trash or scraps from the table, the first step is to dog-proof your home, especially the kitchen, and stop feeding human snacks to your pup. For example, use a trash can that is difficult for dogs to get into. Dogs eating people food is a common cause of diarrhea and pancreatitis, a very serious digestive disease.
Prevent your pet from eating foreign objects and other unsavory treats like animal feces, small mammals and even gravel. Keep your backyard tidy and dog-friendly by regularly scooping waste, which attracts parasites, insects and carrion birds. If you hit the dog park regularly, make sure your pet has all the proper vaccines and watch them while you’re there.
Finally, paying attention to your pet’s poop is integral to their daily health. By noticing changes that can coincide with stress or diet, you’ll know what’s normal and what isn’t. Normal dog poop is firm and chocolate-brown, while diarrhea is watery and may have specks of red, indicating blood. Knowing the difference between normal and abnormal is especially helpful when your dog may be suffering from a serious illness that you simply can’t prevent.
Taken together, diarrhea is an unpleasant but treatable condition in dogs. Pay attention to your dog’s poop and contact your vet if your dog has diarrhea for more than 24 hours.