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Dog Diarrhea: Causes and How to Help

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Severity: i Medium - High

Like it or not, nearly all dog parents have to deal with the unfortunate reality of dog diarrhea at some point in their pet’s life. Though what’s causing your dog’s diarrhea could be any number of things—from something unpleasant they ate out of the trash can to serious underlying health issues—one thing is certain: dealing with your pup’s loose poop is unpleasant for both you and your dog, alike. 

Read on to learn more about diarrhea in dogs, what causes it, and how to treat it effectively.

Dog Diarrhea: An Overview

Dog laying down sad on the pavement

Diarrhea in dogs can range from a mild inconvenience to a serious, life-threatening condition. It’s not uncommon for dogs to have a bit of soft stool after eating a new food or a new treat; this is not usually a cause for concern. However, in some cases, severe diarrhea can lead to life-threatening dehydration

Diarrhea can be either an acute problem or a chronic issue. Acute diarrhea is defined as diarrhea that lasts for less than two weeks. In many cases, acute diarrhea is self-limiting; it may last only a day or two and then resolve without treatment. Chronic diarrhea, on the other hand, persists for longer than two weeks. Chronic diarrhea typically indicates the presence of an underlying medical condition. Dogs with chronic diarrhea often do not respond well to simple symptomatic treatment. Instead, these dogs need diagnostic testing to determine the underlying cause of their diarrhea, so that a targeted treatment plan can be developed.

Types of Diarrhea in Dogs

Dog panting from dehydration

There are many different types of diarrhea in dogs. The appearance of diarrhea can sometimes give some clues as to what could be causing the problem. Common diarrhea types include: 

  • Bloody diarrhea in dogs: If your dog’s diarrhea contains unmistakable signs of red blood, this may indicate a problem in the colon. While bloody diarrhea is relatively common in dogs, it does require prompt medical evaluation.
  • Dog diarrhea with mucus: The presence of mucus in the diarrhea is also associated with an issue in the colon. It is not uncommon to see both blood and mucus in your dog’s diarrhea at the same time.  
  • Dog diarrhea with worms: Although most dogs with intestinal worms will not pass visible worms in the stool, white specks in your dog’s diarrhea or a grainy appearance could indicate the presence of parasites.  
  • Watery diarrhea in dogs: Watery diarrhea can have many potential causes. Dogs with watery diarrhea should see a veterinarian as soon as possible, to prevent dehydration. 
  • Dark diarrhea in dogs (tarry): Dark, tarry stools may indicate the presence of digested blood in the stool. This is a serious condition that requires urgent treatment. 

If your dog has diarrhea, pay attention to the appearance of the diarrhea. Being able to describe it for your veterinarian can aid in your dog’s diagnosis and treatment.  

Causes of Diarrhea in Dogs

Dog eating something in the backyard

The most common cause of diarrhea in dogs is dietary indiscretion. Many dogs have a sensitive stomach, so a change in food, a new brand of treat, getting into the trash can, or eating something gross in the backyard can all cause a brief period of diarrhea. 

Some dogs may also develop diarrhea secondary to stress or a change in their routine. This may occur if your dog is boarded at a kennel, goes on a road trip with you, or if you add a new human or animal family member to your home. These cases of diarrhea usually resolve quickly, with simple treatments or even without treatment. 

Dog looking sad outdoors

Infectious diseases can also cause diarrhea in dogs. Intestinal worms, such as hookworms and roundworms, are a common cause of puppy diarrhea. Whipworms are less common in puppies, but they can cause diarrhea in adult dogs. Protozoal parasites, such as giardia and coccidia, can cause diarrhea in dogs of all ages. Parvovirus, a serious viral infection, is preventable with appropriate vaccinations, but it can cause life-threatening diarrhea in unvaccinated dogs. 

Less commonly, dogs may develop chronic diarrhea due to an underlying chronic disease. Conditions such as food intolerance, inflammatory bowel disease, lymphangiectasia (a disorder of the lymphatic vessels), exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, and even intestinal cancer can all cause chronic diarrhea in dogs. 

Symptoms of Diarrhea in Dogs

Yorkshire Terrier Relieving himself

Diarrhea refers to an increase in the fluidity, frequency, or volume of stool that a dog passes. Dogs with diarrhea could have stools that range from slightly softer than usual to completely watery. If your dog has diarrhea, they might have accidents in the home or ask to go out more often, yet some still strain to defecate. In some cases, diarrhea may be accompanied by other signs, such as lethargy, abdominal discomfort, decreased appetite, and/or vomiting. 

Here’s a checklist of behavioral and health changes to help you recognize when your dog may be dealing with a case of diarrhea. Signs of diarrhea in dogs include:

  • Soft stool (ranging from slightly soft to watery)
  • Increased frequency of defecation
  • Fecal accidents in the house
  • Straining to defecate
  • Larger volumes of feces than usual 
  • Lethargy
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Flatulence (gas)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting

Diagnosing Dog Diarrhea

Dog having an exam at the vet

If your dog shows signs of diarrhea, it’s important to contact your veterinarian for guidance right away. To identify severe cases of diarrhea or rule out serious underlying health issues, your veterinarian may perform a thorough physical exam on your dog, including a nose-to-tail evaluation and weight check. 

Next, your veterinarian will likely perform a fecal parasite examination. This test involves collecting a small sample of stool and examining it under a microscope for the presence of parasite eggs. This test is used to diagnose intestinal worms. Your veterinarian may also recommend more specialized infectious disease testing, such as parvovirus and giardia tests, if your dog is at risk. These tests can typically be run at your veterinarian’s office while you wait, although some veterinarians may send samples to an outside laboratory. 

Depending on the results of fecal testing and your dog’s overall condition, your veterinarian may recommend further diagnostics. Further testing is especially important if your dog has chronic diarrhea. Additional testing may include blood tests (complete blood cell count, serum biochemistry profile, and/or specialized gastrointestinal blood tests), urinalysis, abdominal radiographs (X-rays), and/or abdominal ultrasound. 

Dog Diarrhea Treatment

Dog sad laying down

When determining how to stop diarrhea in dogs, it is important to consider the severity of the diarrhea. Mild cases of diarrhea occurring in a dog without an underlying medical condition can often be managed with home care. However, if your dog’s diarrhea is severe or your dog has underlying medical conditions (such as diabetes, Cushing’s disease, cancer, or other known medical issues), your dog should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure proper medical treatment. 

Dog Diarrhea Home Remedy

Dog eating chicken and rice from bowl

For mild cases of diarrhea, withhold food for 12-24 hours to rest your dog’s gastrointestinal tract, but allow access to water to prevent dehydration. When you reintroduce food, it’s important to know what to feed a dog with diarrhea to ensure the food doesn’t trigger additional bouts of diarrhea. In general, you should offer a bland diet, such as boneless, skinless boiled chicken breast mixed with white rice. Feed your recovering patient small, bland meals for two to three days, then gradually transition back to your dog’s regular diet. 

Do not give dogs with diarrhea any human over-the-counter medications, as these can be harmful to dogs. If your dog’s diarrhea does not resolve with a bland diet or recurs once regular food is reintroduced, consult your veterinarian as soon as possible for further evaluation and testing.  

Veterinary Treatments

Dog getting medicine from owner's hand

If your veterinarian identifies an underlying health issue that’s causing your dog’s diarrhea, treatment will focus on addressing the underlying cause. If no underlying cause is found, your veterinarian will treat your dog’s diarrhea symptomatically. Treatments may include anti-diarrheal medication (dog diarrhea medicine), prescription diets, and fluids (if your dog is dehydrated). 

General Cost to Treat Diarrhea in Dogs 

If your dog sees the veterinarian for a mild case of diarrhea, you will likely pay $100-$200 for an exam, fecal parasite testing, and anti-diarrheal medications. Chronic or severe diarrhea, however, will be far more expensive to treat. Diagnostic testing for chronic diarrhea or hospitalization for severe cases of diarrhea (such as those caused by parvovirus) can cost as much as several thousand dollars. 

How to Prevent Dog Diarrhea

Dog eating from food bowl

The best way to prevent diarrhea is to regulate your dog’s food intake. Avoid making dramatic changes in your dog’s diet; if you must change your dog’s food, transition your dog gradually over the course of a week. Limit the number of treats you give your dog, avoid feeding your dog table scraps, and block your dog’s access to the trash can. Ensure that your dog is up to date on preventive care, including vaccines and monthly parasite prevention.  

If your dog experiences frequent episodes of diarrhea, your veterinarian may recommend probiotics to help regulate your dog’s gastrointestinal tract. Probiotics can aid in the treatment or prevention of diarrhea. Talk to your veterinarian about probiotics if your dog is prone to developing diarrhea. 

Related Conditions

  • Hookworms
  • Roundworms
  • Whipworms
  • Giardia
  • Colitis
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Parvovirus
  • Lymphangiectasia
  • Gastrointestinal lymphoma
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

If your dog experiences frequent episodes of diarrhea, your veterinarian may recommend probiotics or other supportive products to aid in the treatment or prevention of diarrhea. These may be helpful for dogs with one episode of diarrhea who otherwise seem fine, or those who usually recover without incident. But if your dog continues to have loose stool or diarrhea episodes, always seek veterinary care.