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Everything you need to know about diarrhea in dogs

Happy dog with his tongue out panting

It is a fact that most owners will encounter dog diarrhea. Happily, most cases of diarrhea in dogs are simple and clear up on their own. But it's important to know that diarrhea is just a symptom, not a diagnosis in its own right. To keep pets well, owners need to spot the difference between simple garbage gut and something more worrying. Avoid getting down in the dumps with this short guide to diarrhea in dogs.

Causes of diarrhea

We sneeze because of dust, hay fever, or the common cold. In the same way, there are many causes of diarrhea in our canine friends. The most common cause in our best buddies is the scavenger, the dog that eats tempting titbits they find on a walk. This dietary indiscretion leads to garbage gut, resulting in diarrhea (and sometimes vomiting) as the body rejects their ill-gotten gains as rotten or inedible. 

Another common cause of diarrhea is diet. Poor quality food is hard to digest and drives dog diarrhea. Also, some dogs have a food intolerance or even a food allergy, and the symptoms include diarrhea or sometimes itchy skin. And a sudden change of diet can also cause diarrhea in dogs, as the good gut-bacteria that help digestion don't get a chance to adapt.

Then there are infections that result in diarrhea. These range from the common parasites such as the dog roundworm through to viruses (like distemper or parvovirus)—or even bacterial infections that can also infect people, such as salmonella, campylobacter, and E.coli.

Explosive diarrhea in dogs

A quick word of warning about explosive diarrhea: this is the firehose diarrhea the dog has little control over. This carries  a special risk to the dog's health because of the amount of fluid lost. Explosive diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration, which is a serious complication. These dogs need to visit the vet, especially if they are vomiting or aren't drinking.

What to feed a dog with diarrhea

Straightforward diarrhea in dogs responds best to fasting for 12–24 hours, then introducing a bland diet—but make sure fresh water is always out to drink. Good food choices include white meats such as boiled chicken breast, turkey, rabbit, or white fish. Bulk this up with a little boiled white rice, pasta, or potato. Avoid dairy products such as milk and butter. 

Note that offering a chicken-flavored food won't work, as there are too many other ingredients. Also, feed little and often, like a little puppy, as this is gentler on the gut.

Treatment methods for dog diarrhea

How to treat dog diarrhea depends on what's driving it. Therapy may range from home management of simple garbage gut through to hospitalization for cases of pancreatitis or viral infections. 

For simple diarrhea, the aim is to rest the gut by fasting, so it gets a chance to repair itself. Also important are a bland diet, feeding little and often, and giving probiotics. If this doesn't do the trick, it means a trip to the vet. Don't delay hoping that it just needs more time, because the longer the tummy upset goes on the more out of balance the gut gets. Like a slow puncture on a car tire, get it sorted straight away and less damage is done. 

Your vet will likely give supportive care (such as fluids to prevent dehydration), and may need to investigate the reason behind the diarrhea. Some tummy upsets are a symptom of a wider conditions, such as liver disease or pancreatitis, and identifying and treating the trigger is the way ahead.

Home remedies

Dog diarrhea is a messy inconvenience. If the dog is bright, drinking well, and there's no blood in the diarrhea, then home remedies may help. The key to this is: 

  • Fasting: Withhold food for 12–24 hours
  • Bland food: Start feeding again and offer easy to digest foods such as boiled chicken and white rice, given in small quantities every few hours. 
  • Canned pumpkin: This is a great bowel regulator when mixed in food, which can help calm a diarrhea tummy or free up a constipated one.
  • Probiotics: These are an important and under-estimated aid to recovery. Dog probiotics (don't use human ones as the bugs are different) provide hero bacteria that aid digestion while elbowing out the bad bacteria that feed diarrhea in dogs.  
  • Cobalamin supplement: This B vitamin is vital for healthy digestion. Levels of cobalamin often fall when a dog has diarrhea, and giving a supplement is a quick way to get back on track.

Can you give your dog Imodium?

Imodium is a human medicine designed to stop  diarrhea and acts like putting a cork in a bottle. While Imodium is not toxic to dogs (at the correct dosage,) it's not a good idea to give Imodium to dogs. There are several reasons for this. The most important is that the diarrhea is better out than in. Plugging the diarrhea inside the gut means any toxins or bacteria are trapped in the body and risk making the dog sick. Also, stopping the diarrhea gives a false sense of security. Remember, diarrhea is just a symptom and removing this clue to ill health may delay getting much needed treatment.

Treating yellow stool in dogs

Normal dog poop is brown, and a yellow stool is unusual. This color can either be down to something the dog ate that was yellow in color and poorly digestible (for example, that missing wax crayon), or it may be due to the presence of bile. 

How to treat yellow dog poop in dogs depends on how well they are and how long the problem has been there. For waggy, happy dogs with yellow stools, the trick is to treat them for simple diarrhea. 

Treating yellow stool in dogs with a problem that has gone on for some time is slightly different. These dogs may have an underlying problem that needs veterinary help. By finding and treating this condition, this corrects the issue and makes for normal poop.

What to do if your dog has diarrhea and is losing weight

The only diarrhea to treat at home is simple diarrhea due to scavenging in an otherwise healthy dog. When other symptoms are present, such as weight loss or loss of appetite, this is a red flag that things are more worrying. Diarrhea and weight loss hints at the dog either having a problem with the small intestine or has a more general illness. Either way, it's time to see the vet.

When should a dog with diarrhea see the vet?

It is important to visit the vet for anything other than a simple diarrhea that clears up by itself after 24–48 hours. If the problem persists beyond this time, the dog needs help. Once the gut isn't working properly it gets more and more out of balance, so the problem is less and less likely to correct itself. 

Always see the vet if: 

  • Diarrhea lasts more than 24–48 hours
  • The dog seems unwell
  • Other symptoms are present such as sickness, fever, or pain
  • There is blood in the diarrhea
  • The dog is not drinking
  • The dog has other medical conditions
  • The dog is a young puppy or a senior
  • The dog is losing weight
  • You are worried

Oh, and a top tip is to take photos, as vets find it helpful to see the diarrhea firsthand!

The article was written by Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS on October 25, 2020.

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