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Understanding and Treating Diarrhea in Dogs

Understanding and Treating Diarrhea in Dogs

Critter Culture Staff



Your dog's stool can hold important clues about their overall health. Diarrhea is one of the most common ailments that dogs experience, and it usually can be safely and easily treated at home. However, it's important to recognize when dog diarrhea may be a sign of bigger health problems.


Common causes of diarrhea

Most of the time, the causes of canine diarrhea are minor. The most common cause is a simple dietary change. The canine digestive system is designed to eat a fairly consistent diet, so it takes a little bit of time to adapt to changes. New proteins or the addition of oils are common triggers for diarrhea.

Dogs are also prone to diarrhea if they eat spoiled food or other unhealthy items, such as after getting into a garbage can. Luckily, they usually recover quickly from this.

Dog getting into garbage can Ирина Мещерякова / Getty Images


Parasites and illnesses

Parasites, such as tapeworms and roundworms, can cause diarrhea in some dogs. This can be easily treated in most cases by administering a dewormer, but dogs with severe or long-term infections may require supportive care due to dehydration and malnutrition.

Certain types of illnesses can also cause diarrhea. Parvovirus is a major culprit, especially in puppies. Distemper is another common viral cause of diarrhea.

Sick dog damedeeso / Getty Images


Intestinal blockages

Sometimes, dogs eat something they really shouldn't have, such as a sock or part of a toy. If they can't digest the object, sometimes it becomes lodged in their intestines and causes a blockage. This can lead to diarrhea, since stool can't normally pass through the blocked area. If this happens, surgery might be required to remove the blockage.

Puppy chewing sock gollykim / Getty Images



If your dog gets diarrhea after munching on a houseplant, it's a good idea to identify the plant and call your vet. Diarrhea is an early symptom of many kinds of poisons. Houseplants and landscaping are a major cause of poisoning in dogs, but they can also get sick from eating certain types of human foods, medications, and household chemicals. If you suspect your dog may have eaten something poisonous, call your vet or an animal poison control hotline immediately.

Puppy chewing on plant fusaromike / Getty Images


Stress and anxiety

Sometimes there's no apparent physical cause of diarrhea; in those cases, it's a good idea to pay attention to your dog's behavior. Some dogs get diarrhea when they're scared or anxious, such as if they're left at an unfamiliar boarding kennel or just got back from the vet's office. Most of the time, these situations resolve on their own as the dog starts to relax and feel comfortable again. However, dogs with serious anxiety may benefit from training and anti-anxiety medication.

Scared dog hiding Capuski / Getty Images


The first line of treatment

If your dog has diarrhea, often the best way to resolve it is to do nothing at all. Offer your dog plenty of water to help avoid dehydration, but withhold food and treats for 12 to 24 hours. This may give your dog's digestive tract time to settle and get back to normal, which is all that is necessary in many cases of mild diarrhea.

Puppies drinking water chapin31 / Getty Images


Provide bland foods

Dogs who commonly get diarrhea may benefit from a bland diet. During active bouts of diarrhea, foods such as plain chicken, rice, potatoes without skin, and cottage cheese can help soothe the dog's stomach while still providing some nutrients and calories. Some foods are also known to have stomach-soothing properties, such as plain yogurt and pumpkin. Be sure to avoid foods with spices or flavors, however, as some of those flavors may exacerbate the problem.

Feeding bland food helps diarrhea LightFieldStudios / Getty Images


Dietary changes and medication

If your dog frequently gets diarrhea, it may be time to look at a specialized diet and other treatment options. Some dog food companies make food specifically designed for dogs with sensitive stomachs, which can help with chronic diarrhea. Many common human drugs for upset stomachs also are safe to give to dogs, although it's important to consult with your vet before giving your dog any kind of medication. The dosages are often different, and too much can be dangerous.

Medicines and special diets treat diarrhea bradleyhebdon / Getty Images


Recognize when it's an emergency

While most dog diarrhea is nothing to worry about, sometimes it can be a sign that something is very wrong. If your dog exhibits any other signs besides diarrhea, such as lethargy, heavy panting, pain, fever, or vomiting, call your vet immediately. Keep an eye on your dog's gums as well. If they become tacky or pale, your dog may be seriously dehydrated and need supportive care. If the stool has a tarry, black look, it's also time for a vet visit since that can indicate internal bleeding.

If the diarrhea is persistent and doesn't clear up quickly or if your dog has frequent bouts of diarrhea, it's also a good idea to call your vet and schedule an appointment.

Dog being treated by veterinarian shironosov / Getty Images


Dog poop basics

To correctly identify diarrhea and other ailments, it's important to know what healthy dog poop should look like. Normal dog stole is firm and shaped like a log, with a soft, dough-like consistency when picked up.

When dogs have diarrhea, their stool becomes softer and runnier. Sometimes it even becomes almost completely liquid. The dog may also have trouble holding it in and may need to go outside more frequently or show signs of discomfort, such as restlessness and panting.

Owner picking up dog poop MachineHeadz / Getty Images


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