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Explosive Diarrhea in Dogs: Causes & Remedies

by Dr. Pippa Elliott October 24, 2020 5 min read

Puppy squatting on grass

There's one thing worse than a dog with diarrhea, and that's a dog with explosive diarrhea.

When these dogs need to go, there's no stopping them, which is bad news for the living room carpet. But on a more serious note, explosive dog diarrhea may result in dehydration, which needs urgent treatment or it can lead to organ failure. With this in mind, if a dog has explosive diarrhea, watch them carefully and if they seem sick, contact the vet.

Why do dogs get explosive diarrhea?

The hallmark of explosive diarrhea, as the name suggests, is the dog suddenly passes a large volume of watery stool. Should this happen, the dog has little control and may have accidents in inconvenient places. Don't be cross with your pet pal because they can't help it!

When a dog has explosive diarrhea, this is down to a problem in the small intestine. This  part of the gut works to digest food and absorb fluid. Infection or inflammation of the small gut can stop it working properly, and water that normally passes into the bloodstream builds up inside the gut. It passes as explosive diarrhea.

Causes of explosive dog diarrhea

So your dog has explosive diarrhea — but why? In young dogs, the most common causes are parasites because they pick everything up in their mouth. Topping the list of likely causes are Giardia (a single-celled parasite present in soil) and internal parasites such as hookworms, tapeworms, or roundworms.

Beware the scavenging dog that chows down on rotting food, as their explosive diarrhea may be due to bacterial infection like salmonella, campylobacter, or clostridia. But more than this, any factor that causes the gut wall to swell and reduces its ability to absorb fluid can cause explosive diarrhea. In rare cases, lymphoma (a type of white blood cell cancer), inflammatory bowel disease, or pancreatitis may explain why a dog has explosive diarrhea.

Any dog diarrhea that goes on for a long time has the potential to change into something more explosive. This happens when the number of helpful bacteria in the gut become so low that it allows an overgrowth of unhelpful bacteria and low levels of B-vitamins in the gut wall (which are necessary for healthy digestion.)

What to do if your dog has explosive diarrhea

The big worry with explosive diarrhea is that losing all that liquid makes the dog dehydrated. Watch your best buddy and make sure they are drinking plenty of water and keeping fluids down. If you suspect they are losing more fluid than they are drinking, contact a vet immediately.

If the dog has explosive diarrhea but is otherwise bright and bouncy, watch them carefully for deterioration. Fast them for 24 hours, which gives their gut a rest. Always make sure they have constant access to clean drinking water.

After 24 hours, offer small amounts of bland food four to six times a day. Choose foods that are easy to digest such as cooked chicken breast or other white meats, along with some boiled white rice or potato (no dairy products, please!).

If all goes well, keep the dog on bland food until they are regularly producing a formed stool. Then take a few days to gradually transition back onto their normal food, and avoid any sudden changes of diet.

When to see the vet

If you're worried always listen to your gut instinct and contact the vet. Be aware that dehydration can cause serious, life-threatening complications such as kidney failure, so when in doubt seek professional advice. Those dogs at greatest risk of complications are pups, the elderly, or those with an underlying health condition—so again, for peace of mind call the vet.

Dogs become dehydrated when they lose more fluid than they take in. So, if a dog has explosive diarrhea but isn't drinking, or drinks but vomits, then see the vet. By the time dehydration is detectable (when you lift the dog's scruff, let it go, and the skin is slow to ping back), the dog is already at least 5% dehydrated.

Also, if the dog seems unwell or sick in other ways, this is a red flag signal to visit the vet. For example, if the dog is vomiting, feverish, lacking in energy, restless, or refusing food, these are all reasons to seek help. The biggest red flag of all is if the dog passes blood in its stool. Bloody diarrhea requires immediate attention.

And finally, if the dog is bright but the explosive diarrhea doesn't settle after 24 hours—you guessed it, see the vet.

What will the vet do?

A vet will check the dog over to work out if the cause is straightforward or not. They also assess if the dog is coping or requires supportive care with the patient hospitalized on intravenous fluids. For those dogs that are less sick, treatments to give at home include fluid replacement drinks, probiotics, vitamin supplements, and antibiotics.

 

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For more serious cases of explosive diarrhea, a diagnostic workup may be required. This may involve blood tests, faecal analysis, and an ultrasound scan or x-rays of the belly depending on the vet's suspicions. The idea is to identify the underlying cause since treating this is the key to settling the diarrhea.

Tips for avoiding future bouts of explosive diarrhea

Young dogs and scavengers are most at risk of explosive diarrhea. It's almost impossible to stop a puppy from rooting around in soil and swallowing stuff they shouldn't (which can certainly cause diarrhea), but do your best. Distraction tactics work well, such as squeaking a toy when they show an interest in something they shouldn't. The same can be helpful for scavengers.

If you know the dog has eaten something yucky, then offer a bland diet for a few days to nurse their gut along. Adding in a doggy probiotic supplement once a day may help, as it keeps the numbers of good bacteria on top of things.

Hygiene is also important. Many of the infectious causes of explosive diarrhea pass out in poop. Dogs kept in groups, such as in kennels, may spread infection when they walk on soiled ground. In the pack, if one dog has explosive diarrhea be sure to clean and disinfect straight away to reduce the risk of the other dogs becoming ill.


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The article is written by Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS on October 24 2020. Medically Reviewed by Joanne Istille.
Dr. Pippa Elliott
Dr. Pippa Elliott

Dr. Elliott graduated from the University of Glasgow, UK, with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. She has over three decades of experience working in companion animal practice and is the designated veterinarian for the Cats Protection rescue center, Harrow. In addition to hands-on work in the clinic, Dr. Elliott is an editor for small animal, veterinary textbooks from Improve International. She also writes a regular newsletter piece for the Webinar Vet and contributed to The Veterinary Times. Dr. Elliott is also qualified as an Official Veterinarian to oversee the export of animal products abroad.