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My Dog Has Diarrhea: What's Causing It and How Do I Make It Stop?

My Dog Has Diarrhea: What's Causing It and How Do I Make It Stop?

It's one of the most unpleasant aspects of your canine companion's health and care: Dog diarrhea. It's stinky, it's messy, and it's no fun for you or your dog.

Some minor diarrhea or loose stools can occur when your dog eats something he or she isn't used to, like a new type of dog treat or a bit of your leftover pizza crust. This isn't something to worry about right away. When diarrhea becomes severe or frequent, though, something isn't right.

Diarrhea is common among dogs. It's very likely that your pooch will experience an episode of diarrhea at one point or another. There are many possible reasons why diarrhea may occur, and not all diarrhea is created equal. Understanding why diarrhea might happen and what kind of diarrhea your dog is producing are the first steps toward getting your dog help if it's needed.

The Top Causes of Dog Diarrhea

There are many possible causes of dog diarrhea, and it can occur as a symptom of many underlying health issues. Let's take a look at some of the most common causes of diarrhea that veterinarians see.
  • Diet change: Your dog's digestive system can be slow to adapt to new foods. Diarrhea often happens when you switch your dog to a new kibble, which is why veterinarians recommend taking it slow when transitioning your dog's diet from one food to another.
  • Intestinal parasites: Most intestinal parasites will cause your dog to experience diarrhea. The list of possible culprits includes hookworms, roundworms, whipworms, tapeworms, giardia, and coccidia, among others.
  • Foreign objects: Swallowing foreign objects, like rocks, toys, or clothing items, can cause diarrhea. Dogs also tend to exhibit diarrhea if they ingest garbage or eat spoiled food (sometimes referred to as garbage toxicosis).
  • Allergies: Allergies to pollen, dust, dirt, mold, dander, ingredients in dog food, and other substances can cause diarrhea.
  • Viral infections: Some of the most common viruses that affect our canine friends, like distemper, parvovirus, and the coronavirus, cause diarrhea.
  • Illnesses: A wide variety of illnesses that don't have anything to do with the gastrointestinal tract, like inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, kidney disease, diabetes, liver disease, and even cancer, include diarrhea as a symptom.
  • Bacterial infections: Many types of bacteria can cause diarrhea, like Clostridium perfringens or salmonella.
  • Poisoning: Diarrhea can result when your dog ingests a toxic substance, like a poisonous plant, or harmful human foods like chocolate.
  • Reaction to medication: Some dogs react poorly to medications like antibiotics, and diarrhea can be one of the symptoms.
  • Stress or anxiety: In a similar fashion to some humans, dogs may experience diarrhea when they’re stressed or anxious.

Since there are so many possible causes, it may not be immediately clear why your dog is experiencing diarrhea. When loose stools do occur, it's important that you take note of the circumstances surrounding your dog's bout of diarrhea: Has their diet changed recently? Are they experiencing other health symptoms, like loss of appetite, vomiting, or weight loss? By keeping these factors in mind, you'll know what to tell your veterinarian if you have to take your furry friend in for an examination.

The next step, however unpleasant, is to examine your dog's stools to find out what kind of diarrhea they're experiencing.

Examining Your Dog's Diarrhea

My dog has diarrhea: Beagle running through grass

Taking a close look at your dog's poop probably isn't your favorite part of owning a furball, but it's important that you do. Knowing what’s normal and what’s cause for alarm tells you whether or not it's time to call the vet's office.

When it comes to your dog's diarrhea, judge it by the three Cs: color, consistency, and contents.

Color

One of the best indicators of your dog's gastrointestinal health is the color of your pup's poop. In general, doggie bowel movements should be chocolate brown in color. This indicates normal digestive function, a healthy digestive tract, and overall good health.

Yellow or orange stools typically indicate a liver, pancreas, or gallbladder issue. Green-colored poop could mean that your dog is eating a lot of grass, which also could indicate a problem with the gallbladder.

Waste with red streaks usually indicates bleeding in the lower gastrointestinal tract — those red streaks are blood. Equally serious are tarry black or dark-red stools, which is a sign of bleeding in the small intestine or stomach.

If you notice any colors in your dog’s waste besides the normal brown shades, it’s important that you call your vet. Your pet might need veterinary attention, and the sooner he or she gets it, the better.

Consistency

Of course, your dog's stools can range in consistency as well as color. Every pooch is a little different, and you know your dog's poop best. That's why you’re best qualified to gauge when your dog's waste doesn't look right.

A healthy dog should produce log-shaped stools that are firm but not hard. Very hard stools, especially if they are expelled as individual pellets, indicate constipation — you'll want to check with your veterinarian to see if your dog should be examined.

On the other end of the spectrum, dog's waste can become watery and have less of a shape, generally constituting diarrhea. At the far end of the scale is a watery puddle. When your dog is producing this, it's time to see the vet.

Contents

Make sure to check out the contents of your dog's waste because it can tell you a lot about why he or she may be experiencing diarrhea or other health symptoms. You might notice things like:
  • Small white bits: Small, white objects that resemble grains of rice are usually an indicator that your dog is suffering from a worm infestation. Your dog will need veterinary attention, so set up an appointment as soon as you can.
  • Green bits: Grass isn't digested well in your dog's gut, so you'll notice it in your dog's poop if your pup is eating a lot of grass. This could indicate a gallbladder issue, a nutritional deficiency, or other health concerns, so call your vet for a professional opinion.
  • Foreign objects: Bits of string, wood, or pebbles in your dog's stool means that your dog swallowed a foreign body, which their system couldn't digest properly. Let your vet know right away.

Now that you know a little bit about the kind of diarrhea your dog is exhibiting, you can decide whether it's serious enough to warrant a veterinary exam, or whether you can try a home remedy first.

Dealing With Diarrhea in Dogs

woman holding her puppy outside

When your dog is experiencing diarrhea, it's always a good idea to check with your veterinarian first to find out how to proceed. Since many cases of diarrhea are mild, your veterinarian may give you a course of treatment to try on your own at home. If that goes well, the issue is resolved. If the diarrhea continues, a veterinary checkup to evaluate your dog's health might be in order.

What Can I Give My Dog for Diarrhea?

When trying to resolve a case of dog diarrhea at home, several basic remedies might be used.

Simply withholding food for a time is often the first step. Keep your dog away from food for 12 to 24 hours, while offering plenty of fresh water for Rover to sip on throughout that period. This sometimes allows the gastrointestinal tract to settle. Make sure this process is cleared by your vet, though, because some dogs shouldn't go that long without eating.

When it's time to reintroduce food to your dog, your vet might recommend boiling some white rice and offering it to your pup. This kind of bland diet usually helps to solidify stool consistency. Sometimes, foods with beneficial probiotics and other healthy bacteria might be recommended. Slowly, your dog's normal food can be reintroduced if the diarrhea seems to be under control.

When Is It Time to See the Vet?

If home remedies don't work, if your dog suddenly develops acute diarrhea, or if your dog is exhibiting other serious symptoms along with diarrhea, pay a visit to the vet's office as soon as you can. Your dog could be suffering from a serious health issue, potentially even a life-threatening one. Once your veterinarian discovers the underlying cause of your dog's loose bowel movements, treatment can be administered.

The treatment itself will depend on what's causing the problem. A dog with a worm infestation will be given a dewormer medication. Bacterial infections will be treated with antibiotics. Cases of poisoning might require fluid therapy or induced vomiting. And ingestion of a foreign body might require emergency surgery in extreme cases.

What Do I Do If My Dog Has Diarrhea?

Dog diarrhea isn't the most glamorous topic when it comes to your pup's health and wellness, but it's one of the most important.

If your dog has a loose stool now and again, it's probably nothing to worry about. Any more than that, though, and it's time to call the vet. Remember to keep a close eye on the color, consistency, and content of your dog's waste so you know when something changes. After all, you know your dog's poop better than anyone.

 

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