How To Diagnose And Treat Dog Diarrhea

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Dog sick on bed (caption: How To Diagnose & Treat Dog Diarrhea)Since ancient times, physicians have looked to stool samples as a reference point for the health of their patients. For dogs, referencing stool samples is a more viable option than ever because of the rising costs of vet care.

Concerned pet parents and vets can learn a lot by looking at a pet’s stool samples. And when it comes to puppies, what you learn might even save their lives.


Article Overview

How To Diagnose

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If your dog has diarrhea, obviously he will want to go outside more. If your dog is house trained and has more frequent “accidents”, then he 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.


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.


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 dog’s stool, promptly take him or her to the vet so they can be treated accordingly.

Learn more about Worms In Dogs

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.

Infographic: What Does Your Dog’s Poop Color Mean

Dog Poop Color Chart Infographic

The Importance Of 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 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.

Maintain A Consistent Diet

Keep your dog on a consistent 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 Watchful Eye On Your Dog

Watch your pup closely, 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.


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.

And remember, vets are not cheap so consider getting pet insurance to help offset some of the bills. New to pet insurance? We created a video that breaks down what it is and what to look for when choosing a plan.

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.

Remember that diarrhea is the body’s way of ridding itself of something it doesn’t want, whether it is something the dog ate or a virus that’s working its way through the system. You cannot stop a virus; it will run its course (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. Unflavored Pedialyte and other electrolyte-filled liquids 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.

Learn More About Parvovirus

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.


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.


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.

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 It 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 This?

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 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 in 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 of 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

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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 into 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. Read our reviews of probiotics for dogs.

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. Imodium (loperamide) is commonly used to treat dogs and cats but if symptoms do not clear up quickly with use, recontact your vet to discuss other options.


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.

Find Out Which Over-the-Counter Drugs Are Dog-Safe


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.

And be sure to stay with food your dog and stick with it. Change brands gradually if your pet develops allergies, but try to stick with a healthy dog food — visit our review of various high-quality dog food delivery options — and do not feed your dog table scraps.

Has your dog experienced dog diarrhea?

About The Author:

Alex holds BS degrees in Management Science from the University of California at San Diego, and Computer Science from the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He is the co-founder of Canine Journal and his first dog was a Dalmatian named Domino. Alex and Domino quickly became best pals as dog walks, hikes, an uncanny sense of what Alex was going through at any particular time, and other canine adventures enhanced Alex's life and well-being.

Alex's experience as a parent to several dogs since then have given him over 15 years of canine insight and perspective that he brings to Canine Journal. While he's been versed in everything from basic dog training techniques, canine diet and health, to pet insurance, the takeaways he holds most dear are the inspiration to live every moment to the fullest, and start each day with gusto and a tail wag.

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