Scientific Services Nutritionist Russ Kelley answers common breeder questions
Even if you follow all the recommended steps to a successful weaning, puppies can still experience weaning diarrhea. Russ Kelley, Scientific Services Nutritionist – Royal Canin U.S., answers some common questions about weaning diarrhea to help breeders better understand its causes, along with tips for reducing its likelihood of occurrence.
Q: How worried should I be if my dog or puppy has diarrhea?
A: Acute diarrhea (which subsides in a few days) in dogs of any age is difficult on the owner, but it is generally not a huge concern in an otherwise healthy dog. Diarrhea that persists for more than a few days often signals more concerning health issues and warrants a visit to the veterinarian. Acute cases in puppies can be worrisome, as diarrhea can increase the risk of dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. In more persistent cases, diarrhea can also contribute to decreased nutrient absorption and increased localized inflammatory responses.
Q: What causes diarrhea in puppies?
A: The origin of most diarrhea cases is idiopathic (of unknown origin). However, many cases in young puppies are osmotic or secretory in origin.
Osmotic diarrhea is typically associated with poor digestion or reduced absorption of food materials. It can be triggered by overfeeding or by feeding a diet that is too high in a specific macronutrient, such as protein.
Secretory diarrhea occurs when there’s an imbalance of electrolytes between the lumen (inside) of the intestine and the body itself. Here, electrolytes are secreted from the body into the lumen of the intestine. Secretory diarrhea is often triggered by mucosal damage to the inside lining of the intestines from bacteria, viruses or parasites.
Q: What’s the link between weaning and diarrhea, and how can I decrease the likelihood that my puppies will experience it?
A: During weaning, puppies must adapt to a changing diet — from maternal milk to solid food — and many environmental changes. This transition plus a change in digestive enzymes can increase the likelihood of a puppy developing diarrhea. Fortunately, there are some management tips to help decrease the likelihood of weaning diarrhea.
- Begin weaning around 4 weeks of age. The goal is to introduce puppies to a different source of nutrition before the bitch’s milk production decreases.
- Feed small, frequent meals. At least four meals per day will help to increase nutrient absorption, which decreases the amount of undigested material that enters the puppy’s lower gastrointestinal tract, thus reducing the likelihood of diarrhea.
- Be patient. Weaning is a process that prepares the puppy for the next stage of life, and it should not be rushed. The complete process should take about 4 weeks of age, beginning with a soft, complete and balanced diet like Royal Canin® Starter Mother and Babydog Ultra Soft Mousse in Sauce exclusively. As puppies become accustomed to eating, small amounts of an appropriate dry puppy food can be added to introduce another texture. (You can slowly increase the amount of dry puppy food in the mixture with a goal of puppies consuming the puppy food exclusively by 8 weeks of age.) It’s important to provide access to water during the weaning process. As puppies grow less reliant on the bitch for nutrition, their source of hydration (milk) is reduced; therefore, water intake should be monitored to ensure that they do not become dehydrated.