Diarrhea is characterized by the passing of watery or very soft stools. In dogs, diarrhea is not uncommon and may have a variety of causes. It may be the result of something as simple as dietary indiscretion (we all know some dogs get into the trash or eat table scraps). However, diarrhea may also be related to something more serious, such as toxicity, infectious disease, intestinal parasites and more.
Diarrhea is one of the most common signs of illness reported by dog owners. It is not only important for dog owners to understand why dogs have diarrhea; they should also know how to respond. Diarrhea may or may not accompany vomiting, loss of appetite and lethargy. Flatulence often occurs with diarrhea.
How to Deal With Diarrhea in Dogs
First, try to get past the "gross-out" factor. Everyone poops. As your dog's caregiver, you should be able to evaluate the stool so you can discuss it with your vet. Just wear gloves or use a plastic bag to handle the stool. Wash your hands well after handling your dog or the stool.
If your dog has diarrhea, try to collect a sample (you might need to bring it to the vet later). Take a look at the stool's consistency and color. Is it watery? Pudding-like? Formed but soft? Is there blood present? Mucus? Is it black and/or tarry? Are there pieces of toys, clothing or other inedible material?
Make a note of this, because your vet's office will ask. If lethargy, vomiting or other signs of illness accompany the vomiting, make a note of this too.
Never give over-the-counter or prescription medications without your vet's advice.
One or two episodes of diarrhea are not necessarily reasons to become alarmed.
Some cases of diarrhea are self-limiting (meaning they resolve on their own). However, continued diarrhea can lead to dehydration and weight loss. It may also be a sign of another illness. It is important not to ignore the signs when a dog is sick. Dogs often hide their illnesses as long as possible, acting like they feel normal when there is really something more serious going on.
If any of the following circumstances apply, you should contact your vet immediately:
- Diarrhea is frequently repeated for several hours in a row.
- You suspect your dog ingested a toxin.
- Your dog shows extreme lethargy or unresponsiveness.
- Excessive amounts of blood are seen in the stool (mild blood spotting is not an emergency, but call the vet if it continues).
- Stools are black and/or have a tarry appearance.
- Your dog is on medication that may cause diarrhea (stop giving the medication and call your vet).
- You suspect your dog ingested a foreign body, such as a toy or clothing.
- Your dog's gums are pale, white, bluish or gray in color.
- Your dog's abdomen seems painful.
- You see worms in the stool (not an emergency, but a dewormer will be needed).
- Diarrhea occurs for more than 24 hours.
- If you are in doubt, just call the vet!
If your dog has diarrhea one time and otherwise acts completely normal, you can probably continue the normal food and routine. Just keep watching for diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite and signs of illness. Note that dogs with diarrhea may strain to defecate with little or no stool production. This is not necessarily a cause for concern unless it continues for more than a day.
If your dog has diarrhea again at the next bowel movement, try changing to a bland diet temporarily. For a bland diet is generally defined by vets as boiled chicken with plain white rice or boiled ground meat with plain white rice. Feed this until the next day. If diarrhea begins resolving, your dog's appetite is good, and there is no vomiting, you can start to gradually add back your dog's normal food to the bland diet mixture.
Important: Be sure to call your vet if diarrhea continues for more than 24 hours.
Occasional diarrhea (less that once a day) is not considered normal either. If your dog has diarrhea "off and on" for more than a week or two, you should schedule an appointment with your vet. Bring a stool sample, as checking for intestinal parasites is one of the first steps.
As always, communication with your veterinarian is an essential part of keeping your dog healthy. When in doubt, call the vet!