A dog with diarrhea is an inconvenience. Simple cases of diarrhea may be treated at home, but certain signs mean the dog must see a vet right away. For those dogs that are otherwise bright and happy and are drinking well, diarrhea treatment at home is an option. But, if you are at all concerned about your pet pal, consider calling your vet for advice.
What causes diarrhea in dogs?
Diarrhea in dogs is a symptom, rather than a diagnosis. Just like a cough can be due to anything from dust to coronavirus, diarrhea has lots of causes—from garbage gut to cancer, from infection to inflammatory bowel disease. This matters, because some causes respond well to home dog diarrhea treatment while others need treatment from a vet.
Here’s an idea of some of the conditions linked with the symptom of diarrhea:
- Scavenging: Eating spoiled food
- Infection: Salmonella, campylobacter, and clostridia, among others
- Parasites: Roundworms, tapeworms, and hookworms irritate the bowel lining and cause diarrhea
- Viral infections: Some of these make a dog very unwell and can be life threatening (e.g., parvovirus, distemper, and leptospirosis)
- Inflammation: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) speaks for itself
- Lymphoma: This condition, or other forms of cancer, can stop the gut working properly
- Bodily illness: Sickness elsewhere in the body can trigger diarrhea (e.g., pancreatitis or severe heart failure)
Loose bowel movements vs. diarrhea
What’s the difference between a loose bowel movement and diarrhea? It’s a question of how runny the poop is. Diarrhea is a stool that passes so rapidly through the gut that it remains watery, whereas a loose bowel movement is a stool containing more water than usual. It’s all a matter of degree. As a rule of thumb, if you can’t pick up the dog’s droppings because it’s too runny, then this is diarrhea.
Dog diarrhea treatment methods
The dog is bright as a shiny new coin but has diarrhea. What options are available for home dog diarrhea treatment?
When a dog has diarrhea, what they put in at the top end passes out too quickly at the bottom. Not feeding the dog is a treatment because it rests the gut and lets bowel wall spasms calm down. In other words, starve the diarrhea. Of course, fluid intake is vital, so ensure fresh water is always available. For an otherwise healthy dog, fasting for 12–24 hours is sufficient.
Food and frequency
When it’s time to feed again, offer bland foods that are easy on the gut. The classics are white meats (such as chicken, turkey, rabbit, or white fish) with boiled white rice, pasta, or potato. Avoid adding dairy products.
Feeding little and often is also important. Smaller meals are gentler on the gut and cause it to spasm less. So act like your best buddy is a puppy again, and offer 4–6 small meals spaced over the day.
Some dogs do better with a hypoallergenic diet than a bland diet. This applies when it’s thought that food allergy might be triggering the diarrhea. By offering a food that’s low in food allergens, this may be just what the doctor ordered. Hypoallergenic diets are widely available to buy, but be aware that some are better than others. Also, if one of the ingredients happens to be what the dog reacts to, then that hypoallergenic diet isn’t going to help.
Dog probiotics are proven to speed up recovery from dodgy tummy upsets. Their main action is to overpower invading bacteria and to replace them with friendly bugs that help digestion. The clever thing is these bacteria have other actions such as promoting gut health by raising the level of B-vitamins in the bowel wall.
Most probiotic supplements are given once a day. Some probiotics are a powder to sprinkle on food, and others are a paste to squirt into the mouth; this type often comes with other ingredients such as kaolin.
But there’s a catch: don’t give human probiotics. We have different gut flora than dogs, so what’s good for one doesn’t help the other.
If the dog hasn’t been dewormed in a while, especially if they scavenge a lot, then deworming is a good idea. A product containing fenbendazole is recommended, as this is gentle on the stomach and works against many of the ‘usual suspects’ of parasite related diarrhea. Offer fenbendazole with food, as this helps it work better.
Treat the cause
Remember how diarrhea is just a symptom? If the home dog diarrhea treatment isn’t working, this can be a clue that the problem runs deeper than it appears. These dogs may need a helping paw to get better. In otherwise well pet pals with persistent diarrhea, the vet may prescribe a course of an antibiotic, such as metronidazole. This is used because it has an anti-inflammatory effect on the gut lining.
Alternatively, the vet may need to go on a hunt for the trigger. A typical workup involves analyzing a faecal sample and running blood tests. If further investigation is needed, then an ultrasound scan of the belly can be useful.
When to contact the vet
If you are worried about the dog or they show the signs listed below, don’t attempt home dog diarrhea treatment and instead contact the vet:
- Vomiting, especially if the dog can’t hold down water
- Blood of any sort
- The dog seems under the weather
- Simple diarrhea doesn’t improve after 24–48 hours
- The dog is a young pup, elderly, or is on medication
- Weight loss
- Other symptoms ahead of the diarrhea starting, such as drinking a lot or a poor appetite
Paws crossed your best buddy is back on form in a twinkle of an eye with these dog diarrhea treatments—but if they aren't, be sure to seek professional advice.
Read more about dog diarrhea