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How To Diagnose and Treat Dog Diarrhea

Dog Sick in BedSince ancient times, physicians have looked to stool samples as a reference point for the health of their patients. For animals, such as dogs, referencing stool samples is a more viable option than ever because of the rising costs in healthcare. Those concerned about the health of their animals can learn a lot about them by looking to their stool samples. And when it comes to puppies, what you learn from their stool might even save their lives.

How to Diagnose Dog Diarrhea

If your dog has diarrhea, obviously he or she will want to go outside more. If your dog is house trained and has more frequent “accidents” than he or she normally does, this is a sign that he may have uncontrollable diarrhea. If your pup is not having accidents, but is going outside more often, you may need to check his or her feces to inspect the consistency. It can often be hard to tell if puppies have diarrhea since pups generally have a soft stool to begin with. However, if the diarrhea is almost liquid, this is a sign that something is wrong.

Types of Dog Diarrhea

Believe it or not, there are several types of diarrhea. It’s important to know the normal state of your dog’s stool so that you can accurately determine if it’s any different than normal. You should also be aware of the normal condition of their gums and eyes for a more accurate assessment.

Soft Stool with No Blood or Mucous

If your dog has soft feces, it may be something as simple as having eaten a new food or an object that wasn’t meant for consumption. However, it may also be a sign of parasites or stress. Monitor your dog closely and seek medical attention if the condition persists or worsens.

Greasy Gray Stool

When dogs have this type of diarrhea, it is usually a sign that they have eaten a greasy food or too much fat. Reduce the fat content of the food your pup consumes to see if this solves the problem.

Black Stool with a Tar Type Texture

When your pup has a black, tarry look to his feces, it’s a sign that there is old blood in his or her system. This may be a sign that the pup ate something that caused internal damage, or that he or she has a serious disease such as cancer, or a tumor. Seek medical attention immediately.

Liquid Diarrhea

Dogs that have liquid diarrhea may have a viral or intestinal infection. Since dogs are at high risk for dehydration in these situations, be sure to monitor the pup closely and use preventative methods of treatment. If the condition persists, seek medical attention.

Mucous

Dogs who develop a stool with a mucous-type membrane or stringy substance may be at serious risk for diseases such as Parvo. It may also be an indication of the presence of parasites. Seek medical attention immediately.

Worms or Other Living Things

If you notice that there are worms or other living things present in your dogs stool, promptly take him or her to the vet so they can be treated accordingly.

Solid Stool with Fresh Blood

When your pup has any type of blood in their stool, he or she is experiencing a serious health problem. If the blood is fresh, it is a sign that there is currently bleeding inside of your pup. It may be in the large intestine or the anal glands. Your pup may have eaten something that perforated his or her intestinal wall or this may be a sign of the eruption of a tumor or an ulcer. Seek emergency medical attention immediately.

Soft or Runny Stool with Blood or Blood Clots

Bloody diarrhea can be an indication of a serious health problem. That problem can range from something the dog has eaten to more serious conditions like parasites or Parvo. The fact that your pup not only has diarrhea but also has blood in the diarrhea should be taken seriously. The condition may pass with a day or two if the pup has eaten something unhealthy, but if the pup has a disease such as Parvo, the pup can quickly dehydrate and die within a day or two. Seek medical attention immediately.

Diet

With puppies, it can be difficult to assess the true cause of diarrhea because they are very much like human babies: Their system is young enough to have difficulty processing new foods, so any change in diet can cause diarrhea. A few things you can control through their diet to ensure their stomach stays at ease:

Avoid giving your pup table scraps.

Not only can table scraps cause bad habits such as begging during dinner, but the constant change in food will make it difficult to assess if the pup is having if any health problems.

Keep your pup on the same diet

At least until they are old enough to begin eating adult food. By then, you’ll have seen enough of your pup’s stool samples to be able to establish a baseline of what their stool looks like. If you constantly change his or her diet, there will be no baseline and you will have problems trying to establish whether your pup is actually sick or if the change in stool is due to a change in diet.

Keep a keen eye on your puppy

Especially until they outgrow the chewing stage. Before this stage is over, they will swallow more unhealthy items than you ever thought of and keeping a close watch can save you a lot of worry in the long run.

Treatments for Diarrhea in Dogs

Though most of the cases of diarrhea listed above suggest that you seek medical attention immediately, it’s not uncommon to try to treat a dog’s diarrhea at home before seeking medical attention. If you plan to treat your dog at home, be prepared to be diligent and ready to seek emergency medical attention should your efforts fail. You should also be aware that diarrhea is the body’s way of ridding itself of some sort of matter, whether it is something the dog ate or a virus that’s working its way through the system. You should also be aware that a virus cannot be stopped, but will run its course; the diarrhea is only a symptom.

Your Primary Goal

The most important thing to remember when it comes to treating the diarrhea is that your primary goal should be to let the body do what it must while preventing any further damage. Many people assume that you must feed the dog something that normally slows down the digestive process, such as cheese. In truth, you don’t want to stop the diarrhea. You do, however, want to prevent the dehydration that diarrhea can cause.

Keeping your dog hydrated

To keep your dog hydrated, you need to make sure he or she has plenty of liquids and electrolytes. Pedialyte and other liquids filled with electrolytes are a wonderful way to help your pup, but you have to get the liquid into the pup’s system. This can be difficult if your pup is not interested in eating or drinking. To force the pup to ingest the liquid, use a syringe:

Place the syringe at the back of the pup’s mouth, near the top of the throat. If the pup has trouble swallowing, massage the throat. This will cause a natural reaction of swallowing. (You can also put the syringe in the back of the pup’s cheek.) If the dog has no problems swallowing, this method may be more comfortable for him or her. Repeat this process every couple of hours.

If the dog is able to eat, give him or her broth to eat. When the dog is able to eat the broth, add boiled chicken and/or rice to the broth. This type of food is easy for the dog to digest and does not have the fat that is often found in beef products. You want to avoid fatty foods that may make the diarrhea worse. Continue upon this course of action until the dog is behaving normally and has solid stool.

Health Risks

The biggest risk associated with diarrhea in pups is dehydration. However, there are other risks to be concerned about. Continuous diarrhea can cause problems with the digestive tract in general. Something else to consider is contagion. If your pup has uncontrollable diarrhea, they may pass their illness along to other members of your household. Even humans can be infected by some of the illnesses that pups carry, though they will react differently than a dog.

The Parvo virus is an especially contagious virus. Not only can the dog spread it other canine members of your household, but the virus can also be transported through your shoes and clothes to other households and thereby infect other dogs.

Parvo is a virus that is found in the ground and is transmitted through feces. The contagion can last for years and is deadly to puppies under six months old as well as animals that may have problems fighting disease. The only sure way to kill the virus is with household bleach. To be safe, you even need to disinfect your yard where the pup has been. The diarrhea that comes with the Parvo virus can be so watery that you may not even see it in the yard. Spray the entire area to be safe and avoid exposing young pups to the infected area.

For more information on Parvovirus, visit our article on Parvo In Dogs.

Dehydration Due to Diarrhea

Dehydration is one of the worst potential results of diarrhea. Every dog owner should learn how to check for dehydration. To do this, you first need to assess how your dog normally is.

Gums

Check the gums of your dog. They should be solid and shiny with wetness. If you push on the gums, the area that you push on should automatically fill back up with blood. Check your dog’s gums before he or she gets sick so that you have something to compare the results to if he or she does get sick.

Elasticity

Much like humans, the liquids in your pup’s body helps his or her skin to maintain elasticity. If you pinch the skin on your hand, it should go back to its original shape as soon as you let go of the skin. The same is true of your pup, but can be hard to see because of the fur. Grasp the skin on your dog’s neck. When you let go of the skin, it should immediately fall back in its place on the dog’s neck. If the skin maintains a tent-like shape after you let go of it, your pup is dehydrated and needs immediate emergency medical assistance. If you are unable to get to the vet immediately, you can use the treatment method listed above to help with the dehydration. However, you should get to the vet as soon as possible for intravenous assistance. A dehydrated dog can die within a matter of hours.

Prevention

The best thing that you can do to prevent diarrhea in your dog is to treat it as you would a human. Keep your dog away from stray dogs as much as possible and administer vaccines as scheduled. Be sure to take your dog to the vet for a wellness visit to stave off any issues as soon as possible.

Pick a food for your dog and stick with it. Change brands if your pet develops allergies, but try to stick with a quality dog food — visit our review on Taste of The Wild vs. Blue Buffalo for two top options — and do not feed your dog table scraps.

Antibiotic Induced Diarrhea

When referring to diarrhea in dogs it is important to distinguish between diarrhea induced by antibiotics and diarrhea caused by illness. Diarrhea that is caused by antibiotics is often referred to as acute diarrhea since it is sudden in onset and tends to last from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. As with any incidence of diarrhea, antibiotic-induced diarrhea is a symptom of something else happening inside your dog’s system. In the case of antibiotic induced diarrhea though, the cause of system upset is known.

Why Does Antibiotic Induced Diarrhea Occur?

When dogs (just like people) take antibiotics they can experience side effects including diarrhea. This type of diarrhea occurs because, while antibiotics are designed to kill off bacteria causing the infection (or prevent infection in the case of post-surgery antibiotics,) they can also kill off the beneficial bacteria in your dog’s digestive tract. As the beneficial bacteria numbers in your dog’s intestines declines, the balance of bacteria in the intestines is thrown off and diarrhea results.

Do All Dogs Experience Antibiotic Induced Diarrhea?

Not all dogs will experience antibiotic-induced diarrhea and there are a number of factors that will determine whether your dog does.

Overall Health

One of the biggest factors influencing whether or not your dog will experience antibiotic induced diarrhea is their overall health. Some dogs – just like some people – tend to have weaker immune systems and “weaker stomachs.” These dogs are more likely to experience diarrhea as a result of antibiotic use.

Type and Strength of Antibiotic Used

Another major player in determining whether or not your dog will experience diarrhea on antibiotics is the brand of antibiotic used and the strength or dosage of that medication. Certain types of antibiotics are simply stronger in terms of being able to kill off bacteria in a shorter time period, and these antibiotics can quite quickly result in an upset stomach. Additionally, the dosing amount and dosing schedule of antibiotics will play a role in antibiotic-induced diarrhea as well. Dogs that are taking antibiotics three times daily are going to be more prone to side effects from that antibiotic than dogs that are taking that same antibiotic at the same dosage once daily.

Length of Antibiotic Treatment

The longer a dog is exposed to antibiotics the higher the risk that they will experience the dying of beneficial bacteria in their digestive tract that results diarrhea.

Should I stop my Dog’s Antibiotic Course if it’s Causing Diarrhea?

Patients are always recommended to finish their recommended course of antibiotics in order for the treatment to be fully effective in killing harmful infection causing bacteria. There is question however, as to whether antibiotic therapy should be continued even if it is resulting in severe diarrhea. The problem in this case is that stopping antibiotics runs the risk of recurring infection; however, continuing the antibiotic may result in severe dehydration and malnutrition.

If your dog is experiencing severe diarrhea as a result of antibiotics it is always best to consult your veterinarian before stopping your dog’s medication. Your vet may recommend an anti-diarrheal to be taken in conjunction with the current antibiotic so that the current treatment course may continue. Your vet may also recommend switching to another type of antibiotic that has a lesser occurrence of diarrhea. There are a number of antibiotics that are known for being gentler on the stomach and a handful that are known for being particularly harsh. If your dog has had trouble with antibiotic-induced diarrhea before this is worth mentioning to your veterinarian. This type of information can help your vet to select a medication that will be gentle on your dog’s stomach.

Unfortunately in some circumstances there is no other option than treatment with the current diarrhea-causing antibiotic. This type of situation does not occur too often but when it does it occurs as the result of targeted medications that lack alternative treatment methods. When this occurs your veterinarian will assess your overall situation and suggest a course of treatment that is right for you. This course may consist of continuation of the antibiotic and management of the diarrhea or cessation of the antibiotic and pursuit of another treatment course.

What Can I Do to Prepare My Dog For Antibiotics?

In many instances when pet owners know that their dog has a prevalence to antibiotic-induced diarrhea they can begin preparing their dog for antibiotic treatment as soon as they receive a diagnosis. This preparation includes stocking up on a number of items:

Dog Probiotics

The use of probiotics for dogs has been questioned since little research exists to support its benefit; however, many dog owners that have dogs with a prevalence toward antibiotic-induced diarrhea find that probiotics are very helpful. Probiotics are sold in most pet stores as supplements that can be added to food or ingested in pill form. This supplement introduces tiny living organisms in to your dog’s gut by boosting the production of digestive enzymes and improving overall immune functions. One of the most popular canine probiotics currently is made by Purina.

Chicken and Rice or Prescription Food

As with people, maintaining a bland diet is important when gut health is compromised. Most veterinarians will suggest feeding a diet of boiled chicken and white rice in order to keep your dog’s diet as bland as possible. The ratio of chicken to rice in this combination should be 1:3 respectively.

Anti-diarrheal Medication

Always check with your veterinarian before implementing a course of anti-diarrheal medication to your dog. If your vet approves this treatment then make sure that you have the appropriate medication on hand when your dog is prescribed antibiotics.

Pedialyte

Unflavored Pedialyte is a good tool to have on hand for a dog that is prone to antibiotic-induced diarrhea. Anytime your dog suffers from multiple incidences or prolonged incidences of diarrhea they run the risk of electrolyte imbalance. Offer your dog unflavored Pedialyte to keep their electrolyte levels healthy. If your dog refuses talk to your veterinarian about other methods for maintaining healthy electrolyte levels in your dog with antibiotic-induced diarrhea.

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About Alex Schenker

Alex's first dog was a dalmatian named Domino, who at the time belonged to his girlfriend (now wife) Michelle. Alex first met Domino in Redondo Beach, California and they quickly became best pals. In North Carolina, a black lab mix, Storm, was added to the family. Domino lived to be 14 years old, and Storm 9, and Alex looks back fondly at all the love and happiness these pups added to his life over the years. Alex now lives happily in Winston-Salem, NC with his wife Michelle and their two dogs Bella (yellow lab mix) and Lily (Brown Carolina dog), and he doesn't take for granted for a second how much meaning canines add to his life, and how many lessons he learns from their love, happiness, and eagerness to live life to the fullest.
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  • nicki

    hi
    my 7 months old puppy had diarrhea, we think after eating sheep poo after a walk. it was watery and he was not himself, we saw the vet who gave him electrolyte sachets, and the diarrhea stopped, and he picked up. he saw the vet for a check over and they said he wasn’t dehydrated. My question is, how long should it be until he has a poo? it has been 24 hours, and he has been having 4 small meals of chicken and rice since his last soft but not loose bowel movement? he is well, drinking and peeing.

  • Jack

    We are seeing a huge uptick in cases of dogs sick with Porcine Diarrhea Virus which may be connected to pet food that has been made in China. Stop buying dog food (or people food) from China. The US has plenty of safe and delicious foods. Read more about US pet retailers ban on dog treats from China. http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/06/18/fda-cant-say-treats-arent-from-china.html

  • Wendy

    My one year old Chihuahua is pregnant and is due in about two weeks and has diarrhea that has mucous and looks bloody. What can it be?

    • Sara

      Hi Wendy, we recommend taking your dog to the vet as soon as possible. Blood in the stool is a sign of a serious health problem, and we are not in a position to diagnose the cause. Good luck!

  • cali2013

    I have a 5 year old Chihuahua and she is sick with diarrhea. It's real watery and she isn't eating or drinking any water and I don't know what to do. I very concerned about her what should I do please help.

  • Amber

    My husband and I have an eight year old female yellow Lab who is having some diarrhea with blood in it. We have her on Eukenuba Senior Maintenance and she has been on that food for just over a year. She has never had a problem with it before. Her energy level is the same as she's always been (a lab that even at eight acts like a hyper puppy), she is still eating well, and she is drinking her water. Nothing is different except that she is having the diarrhea. It's only been a day so I'm just going to keep watching her, but I do have some concern.

  • Judy

    My dog has been on antibiotics for eight days. On our walk this afternoon her poop started out solid and the last half was very soft. I would like to hear some comments about giving her some plain yogurt. It also seems I have heard of using pumpkin for diarrhea.

  • Maureen

    I have a rescued Foxhound/Lab mix about a year old. He just had his neutering done and with this all his innoculations. One day post-op he developed watery diarrhea. I mean it was like a tap. Now, I have given him a natural supplement to calm him as he has some abandonment issues. I have d/c his kibble and put him on a diet of rice and hamburger; this seemed to help but this is the third day and he still is quite loose. Not sick…at all. Playing, water taken readily! No temp…nothing.

     

  • Michelle R.

    Our nine year old sheltie spaniel cross has had diarrhea three times in the last five weeks. The vet gave us something to settle her stomach but it doesn't seem to help. Also her stools have blood in them and instead of bright red it's dark red. What do we do? What could it be? Help.

     

  • Pom mommy

    My husband had a wolf hybrid that got Parvo and we were able to save the pup through the help of our vet, tireless work night and day by our daughter to keep giving him Pedialyte every 2 hours around the clock, and lots of paper towels and bleach for cleanup.

    But afterwards he still wasn't eating well or gaining weight. The antibiotics had destroyed all the flora in his intestinal tract. A breeder at a dog show told us about Fastrack made by the Conklin Company and boy did it do the trick. It was in a syringe so measuring the right amount was easy and he loved the taste. I use it for my Pomeranians whenever they have an upset tummy and it works like a charm.

  • Anonymous

    It's never fun to deal with a dog that has diarrhea. Not only does it break your heart to see your baby in such distress, but it's certainly not fun to clean up if there's an accident. Even if your dog still lets you know that it's time to go out, you may not make it out in time. However, you still need to pay close attention to the movements the dog is having. Diarrhea is serious because it can be caused by an underlying condition and can cause dehydration if left untreated.

    I've been around dogs my entire life and had no idea that there were so many causes of diarrhea. I thought it was just the sign of an upset stomach or the result of eating something that shouldn't be eaten. It's actually quite scary to consider that there are so many different causes. This is just another reason why it should never be overlooked.

    If diarrhea persists for any length of time, you need to take your dog to the vet immediately. However, it's important to remember that a loose movement isn't necessarily diarrhea. It could just be the cause of poor quality food. Make sure your dog is eating a quality food that is right for her breed.

    • Anonymous

      My dog is sick with diarrhea and it is gross. I am trying to keep him outside until he is feeling better but will have to let him in tonight when it gets cold. Anyone have any suggestions for how to make him better? I left a bowl of water out there in hopes that might help…

  • Anonymous

    I was not in the habit of paying attention to dog poop, but when I got a request from a family friend to dog sit while she went on vacation, I remembered this article. As un-appealing as it may be to have to monitor dog poop, it is kind of necessary. For one, you need to know if your dog is having a bout of diarrhea, because the dog cannot tell you himself that he is sick. Second of all, you need to be able to know what is causing the diarrhea because, again, the dog cannot tell you that he thinks the dead squirrel or the piece of fish he nibbled on may have had parasites. And you know, the presence of diarrhea can mean serious problems, as with a black stool, mucous, or worms. So although having to focus on dog poop may seem like a totally gross thing, it is actually a necessary evil and may make the difference in your dog going on to have a healthier life. My advice is to pay attention and to follow the article’s advice on preventing dehydration while letting nature take its course.

  • Anonymous

    I've been really lucky, I think.  I have never had an experience with one of my dogs having diarrhea.  A few times, they have had looser stools and like a gelatin substance in their stool (well, the gelatin substance was only my female dog).  However, I always connected the loose stools with what they have eaten, but at that time, I was feeding them human food every once in awhile.  Nowadays, my dog's stool, (I only have the girl, the boy went with his owner, my ex), doesn't really change or waiver.  I would think that doggy diarrhea would cause a lot of issues with clean up around the home.  Maybe a doggy diaper would work if this is the case, but unfortunately your dog might get used to having a diaper on and start to use the bathroom all the time even after the diarrhea has subsided. 

    I think it's interesting that stool samples are indicators of both good and bad health.  I've also heard before that disease starts in the colon.  I know dogs and humans have different systems, but unhealthy stool is probably a bad sign in both.

  • Anonymous

    I admit that I've owned dogs for several years and been around family dogs my entire life. However, I have never read so much about dog diarrhea. I have to admit it was fascinated to learn that there were so many causes and types. I don't currently own a dog, but this is definitely a resource I will use when I get my next pup. I can't imagine a more thorough guide.

    It's a relief to know that some of these types of diarrhea are easy to fix and not something to cause alarm. However, it was just as scary to learn that some types may be the result of something very serious. I really had no idea that there could be so many problems associated with diarrhea.

    I know with my last pup, she had to go out quite a bit when I brought her home and switched her food. I didn't know it would be that big of an issue – I just wanted to feed her a healthier food. Unfortunately, her system didn't adjust immediately and it led to many days of frequent outdoor trips. Thankfully, it was something that cleared up quickly as her stomach adjusted.