THE SCOOP ON DOGGIE DIARRHEA
It’s not a topic anyone likes to discuss, but if you own a dog, chances are you have found yourself cleaning up a stinky brown puddle (or as I call it “The Big D”) more than you’d care to think about. Diarrhea is a common canine affliction and it varies in frequency, duration, and intensity from dog to dog.
You may not be able to totally prevent diarrhea, but knowing as much as possible about it might help limit the number times your dog has one of these unpleasant episodes and reduce the duration when the runs do come. Luckily, there are even a number of over-the-counter diarrhea treatments for dogs.
WHAT IS IT?
Diarrhea is the term used when your dog passes non-formed loose or watery stool more often and in larger amounts than they would normally. It is a common condition that is a sign or symptom of other diseases or issues rather than a disease itself.
It can be the result of a minor condition, such as a dietary indiscretion, that only requires simple treatment for its resolution, or it can be the result of a serious illness, such as cancer, that requires more involved treatments.
Diarrhea is one of the most common problems that bring dogs into the vet. Even a mild case can become serious if not treated early enough.
Dogs can become dehydrated and develop electrolyte imbalances. Therefore knowing why your dog may have diarrhea and the possible cause helps you know when it is critical to seek medical care versus treating your dog at home.
Diarrhea can result from a variety of causes:
- Eating rich or indigestible food (table scraps, sticks, toys, trash)
- Sudden change in food or treats
- Food allergy or intolerance
- Stress (boarding in kennel, travel or separation anxiety)
- Viral or bacterial infection
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Medications (antibiotics can often be a cause)
- Non-gastrointestinal diseases, such as kidney or liver disorders or pancreatitis
WHEN IT’S OK TO TREAT AT HOME
If your dog has diarrhea one time and otherwise acts completely normal, you can probably continue with its normal routine and feeding. 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 is acting normally (normal energy, normal appetite, no vomiting) and your dog is up–to–date on their vaccines (such as vaccines for parvovirus or distemper virus) and if your dog is a young adult (not very young or old) and there are no pre-existing health issues such as Addison’s disease, kidney failure, cancer, etc. then it’s probably OK to treat your dog at home.
WHEN TO CALL THE VET ASAP
If any of the following circumstances apply, contact your vet immediately:
- Episodes of diarrhea are frequently repeated over several hours.
- Your dog shows extreme lethargy or lack of responsiveness.
- You suspect your dog has ingested a toxin.
- You see excessive amounts of blood in the stool (light spotting isn't necessarily an emergency, but call the vet if it continues).
- Stool is black and/or has 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 and/or distended.
- You see worms in the stool (not an emergency, but a dewormer will be needed).
- Diarrhea occurs for more than 24 hours.
- If you're in doubt, just call the vet.
MANAGE IT AT HOME
When it comes to managing diarrhea at home, it's best to follow your vet’s advice carefully. Sometimes your vet will want you to avoid feeding your dog for 12-24 hours to allow the digestive system to rest. However, fresh water should always be made available. Waiting twelve to twenty-four hours before giving your dog anything to eat allows the inflamed intestines time to rest and recover and minimizes the water lost from the body. It is critical to provide your dog with fresh water and to encourage them to drink to prevent dehydration.
Over-the-Counter dog diarrhea treatments are good to have on hand and can be ordered online for quick delivery. They soothe an upset stomach and stop diarrhea. Kaolin, an adsorbent, increases the bulk and slows down passage of feces. Give directly or add to food.
Rest: Just like with us, rest is important. Give your dog a quiet and comfortable place for them to recover. It is likely best to be a place close to a door to go outside and that has an easy-to-clean floor for those unfortunate poop accidents.
Fasting: Ideally, fast your dog for 12 hours to allow their gastrointestinal tract to rest and recover. This means NO treats, regular meals, snacks – food of any kind.
Hydration: It is critical that you maintain your dog’s hydration. During this period of time, you can give your dog rice water. The benefit of rice water over plain water is that it may help improve digestion, help alleviate gas and bloating, provides some beneficial minerals and the carbohydrates provide some energy.
How to make rice water: Ingredients: 1 cup of White Rice (not Minute Rice) and 4 Cups of Water. Instructions: Boil 1 cup of white rice in 4 cups of water for 20 to 30 minutes (or longer) until the water turns a creamy white color. Remove the liquid and allow it to cool. Save the cooked rice for later use. Once cooled, give it to your dog as often as they will consume it. Discontinue if your dog starts vomiting and contact your veterinarian. For those dogs not interested, you can add a couple of teaspoons of low sodium chicken broth powder or pet-safe bone broth (be sure it does not contain any onions or garlic).
Alternatives to rice water: electrolyte solutions made specifically for pets.
After Fasting: Once you are past the first 12 hours of fasting, you can begin offering your dog small amounts of a bland, low-fat, and easily digestible diet.
Bland Diet Options:
- Plain, boiled, boneless, skinless chicken and rice (the leftover from the rice water).
- Chicken or turkey baby food (be sure it does not contain onions or garlic)
There are also several other human foods that are safe for your pet and act as natural binding agents to solidify stools:
- Yogurt (plain)
- Boiled potatoes (no skin)
- Cottage cheese
- Eggs (no oil or butter)
Specially-formulated dog foods: Some manufacturers offer sensitive stomach dog foods that can soothe stomach problems. You may need to obtain some of these from your vet.
Under the Weather Pets makes a freeze dried bland diet for recovering dogs. This pet food contains potassium and sodium, which are essential to keeping proper muscle function and energy levels. When your pet gets sick, its body tends to become depleted of these important electrolytes. The freeze-drying process retains the natural nutritional value of 100% human-grade meat as well as flavor and color. Simple to use, just add water.
Use caution with human over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as Kaopectate®, Pepto Bismol®, or Imodium®, for your pet. Depending on the cause of the diarrhea, these medications can do more harm than good. They should only be given if recommended by your dog’s veterinarian and only at the dose they advise.
There are multiple steps you can take to prevent diarrhea in your pet.
Give your dog a healthy, balanced diet. Choose food that is GMO-free, gluten-free, and has no artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Stick with a diet that is high protein and grain-free, if possible.
Exercise him regularly. Regular exercise helps your dog maintain overall good health, including regular bowel movements
Always take care of vaccinations. Vaccinations are the key way to avoid illnesses and prevent infections
Check for parasites. You should have your pet’s stool checked annually for any worms or other parasites
Keep your dog away from garbage. Make sure you have secure trash cans or rooms with closed doors where you can place garbage cans
No table scraps. Lots of human food is full of chemicals and preservatives that could upset your dog’s gastrointestinal system
Don’t let your dog eat plants or feces or drink from puddles. Each of these has its own danger. Some plants are poisonous to dogs, eating the feces of other dogs can introduce parasites to your dog’s system, and standing water is a breeding ground for bacteria.
Maintain a stress-free environment. When the home is stressful, the dog becomes stressed out. Keep a loving, happy home for your pet’s health.
It is important to regularly (several times per week) monitor your dog’s elimination habits – even if they are shy about it! This helps you know what is normal and abnormal for them. It will alert you to problems sooner – which may avoid a vet visit. These key pieces of information – change in pooping habits, changes in poop color, firmness, amount, etc. – are very valuable when providing information to your dog’s veterinarian. It may save you a lot of time and possibly eliminate a lot of extra testing. You know your dog, and only you know the subtle signs that something is wrong. Respect your instincts and if you think you need veterinary guidance, pick up the phone.