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It’s not a topic anyone likes to discuss, but if you own a dog, chances are you have found yourself cleaning up a smelly mess of dog diarrhea (or, not-quite-politely put, doggie “runs”) more times than you’d care to think about. Diarrhea is a common dog condition and it varies in frequency, duration, and intensity from dog to dog.
You might not be able to totally prevent your dog’s diarrhea, but knowing why dogs get diarrhea might help limit the number times your dog has an unpleasant episode of “the runs,” and reduce the duration of dog diarrhea when it happens. Luckily, there are dog diarrhea medicine treatments and anti-diarrhea supplements for dogs that you can turn to to help make it stop.
How a Dog’s Digestive System Works
There are several differences between the way dogs and people digest food. First of all, your jaw shape and salivary enzymes will start breaking down food components while it’s still in your mouth. Dogs, on the other hand, have mouths and jaws made for tearing, crushing, and literally wolfing food down. A dog’s salivary enzymes are mostly designed to kill bacteria, which is why they can tolerate things in their mouths (food or otherwise) that would send their human companions to the hospital (and just about definitely give a person diarrhea).
Food travels rapidly down the dog’s esophagus and enters their stomach in chunks, where most digestion takes place. A dog’s stomach acids are about three times stronger than those of people, so they can digest food that is pretty much intact. Under normal circumstances, the time it takes for food to get from a dog’s mouth and through the small and large intestines should be under 10 hours, with the end result being a firm, well-formed poop.
Top Causes of Dog Diarrhea
Many things can disrupt this well-balanced canine digestive system, causing dogs to have diarrhea or—less frequently—constipation. Some causes, like eating too much grass, are not serious at all. (Some dogs really enjoy grazing on grass.) Others causes can be life-threatening problems, such as an indigestible object (like a rock) lodged in the stomach, or a disease like cancer.
When in doubt, always consult your veterinarian. There are many reasons why a dog may develop loose stools, but most of the time, dog diarrhea is caused by:
- Dietary indiscretion: Eating too much food, eating garbage, or eating spoiled food. There’s actually a name for it in veterinary circles—“garbage toxicosis” or “garbage gut.”
- Change in diet: It may take a few days for a dog’s digestive system to adapt to digesting new proteins. That’s why many dog-food manufacturers recommend that you go slow when you switch from one brand of food to another.
- Food intolerance
- Parasites: Most of these will cause illness in puppies or in adults with weak immune systems:
- Poisonous substances or plants
- Swallowing an indigestible foreign body, like a toy or socks
- Infections with common viruses such as:
- Canine coronavirus
- Bacterial infections, such as salmonella
- Illnesses, such as kidney and liver disease, colitis, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer
- Antibiotics and other medications
- Stress or emotional upset
What Poop Says About Your Dog’s Health
The consistency and color of diarrhea reveal a lot about the cause of the diarrhea and what is happening in your dog’s gut. Take careful note of the color, consistency, and anything else that might help you describe your dog’s symptoms to a vet. In many cases, dog diarrhea will resolve after a few days of home treatment, but it’s a good idea to give your vet a call if it continues any longer, or you have no hint toward an innocuous reason for why your dog has diarrhea (no knocked-over garbage can, no drinking from a puddle, etc.)
This infographic from Purina gives you an idea of what a “perfect” dog poop looks like, which is chocolate brown, shaped like a log, compact, and easy to scoop. Experts say it should feel like cookie dough or Play-Doh when pressed. Large volumes of poop, a pudding-like or watery consistency, signs of jelly-like mucus, or blood streaks are all not normal.
Color can also indicate a lot about what is going on inside your dog’s gut. Chocolate brown dog poop is normal, while dog poop colors like orange, green, or gray may signify issues with such organs as liver, gall bladder, or pancreas. Black tarry stool in dogs is very serious, and may point to internal bleeding. If you see black tarry poop or bright red blood in your dog’s poop, contact your vet as soon as possible. Purina has also provided a handy reference—a color wheel of dog poop.
Knowing the normal color, shape, and consistency of your dog’s poop will help you and your vet figure out what is wrong when your dog gets diarrhea. These factors will help your vet determine where the problem is originating along the dog’s digestive tract.
Other Ways to Decipher Dog Poop
But it doesn’t end there. Other common weird things to note about your dog’s poop, in addition to color, and what each might be telling you about why your dog has the runs:
- Small amounts of poop with straining, several times in an hour, can be a sign of inflammation of your dog’s large bowel.
- Three or four dog poops with large volume suggest small bowel disorder.
- Oddly shaped or colored solid objects can tell you what your dog has gotten into. Several small white rice-like shapes, for example, may signify a tapeworm infestation. Grass, wood, or string could tell you that your dog has eaten something that they couldn’t digest.
- Consistency: Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets developed this well-illustrated chart that shows how vets score canine fecal consistency on a scale of one to seven.
As gross as it may seem to look at your dog’s poop while you clean up your backyard or pick up after them on your evening walk, it’s important that you examine your dog’s poop regularly as a gauge for what their normal poop looks like. This way, when you notice something off, or if your dog has diarrhea, you can give your vet as many details as possible. (Trust us, they’ve heard it all and then some.) Armed with this knowledge of what’s normal and abnormal for your dog’s poop, the vet will be able to tell you whether to schedule and exam or whether you can treat your dog’s diarrhea at home.
Home Remedies for Dog Diarrhea
A great many cases of dog diarrhea are mild and, with your vet’s advice, can be treated at home without a trip to the vet’s office. Your dog’s diarrhea may respond to a regimen of very basic treatments, including:
Over-the-Counter Dog Diarrhea Treatments
An over-the-counter dog diarrhea treatment is good to have on hand, and can be ordered online for quick delivery for those occasional bouts of loose stools or diarrhea that every dog can experience.
Fasting Your Dog for Diarrhea Relief
Withholding food from your dog for 12 to 24 hours, and frequently providing fresh, clean water in small amounts can help clear the cause of the digestive upset and allow your dog’s gastrointestinal tract to settle. It’s usually the first line of attack for diarrhea. Before you decide to fast your dog for diarrhea, be sure that your dog is healthy enough to handle it—call your vet if you aren’t sure. Puppies and elderly dogs, for example, aren’t candidates for fasting. Also, a fast may not be appropriate for small dogs who do not have the physical reserves of their larger cousins. Always consult your vet if you have any doubt if fasting is right for your dog.
Diarrhea in dogs can lead to dehydration, so make sure to give your dog access to fresh, clean water at all times. You may also offer diluted unflavored Pedialyte to help maintain electrolyte balance, but only under a vet’s advice.
Home Remedies for Dog Diarrhea
After letting your dog fast for diarrhea relief, simple foods are usually slowly introduced to your dog’s diet. Many dog owners start with foods that act as binders, which can help normalize stool consistency. Some tried-and-true methods include:
- Rice water: Boil high-quality white rice in a lot of water, strain out the grains, and offer your dog the cooled-off creamy white, starchy broth that’s left. A splash of unsalted chicken broth or a spoon of meat baby food can make it more palatable.
- Plain, cooked white rice
- Pumpkin: Canned 100% pumpkin puree that you already have on the shelf, pet-safe pumpkin powder, or a pet-specific canned pumpkin for dogs has the odd distinction of being effective both for diarrhea and for constipation. If you purchase canned pumpkin in a grocery store, be sure to read the label to be sure it’s 100% pumpkin and not “pumpkin pie filling” which includes sugar and other ingredients in addition to pumpkin.
- Plain yogurt with active cultures can help dogs who can tolerate milk and milk products.
- Probiotics to promote live bacteria that aid digestion (these are also found in yogurt)
- Boiled potatoes without skin
- Plain, low-sodium, low-fat cottage cheese
- Plain protein sources such as egg (cooked with no butter or oil) or chicken (without skin)
- Herbs, such as fennel, may have gut-soothing properties
- Specially-formulated dog foods: Some manufacturers offer sensitive stomach dog foods that can soothe stomach problems. You may need to get sensitive digestion prescription dog food with a prescription from your vet.
- Medications for dog diarrhea may also be an option, but may require a prescription and should always be given under advice of your veterinarian
Methods that work for one dog’s diarrhea may not help another dog, so you might need to do a little experimentation to find the right formula when your dog gets the runs. It might also be helpful to write down what works to stop your dog’s diarrhea and what doesn’t, so you’ll know what to do if your dog gets diarrhea again.
Once you find a recovery diet that agrees with your dog’s digestion and doesn’t cause a diarrhea relapse, you can slowly increase the portions over a period of days, and then start to add small amounts of your dog’s regular food until your dog’s poop is back to normal.
When Dog Diarrhea Means a Trip to the Vet
The right time to contact a vet for dog diarrhea depends very much on what’s normal for your dog’s poop habits. Unfortunately, some dogs are more prone to digestive disorders than others, so it helps to be mindful of what is and isn’t out of the ordinary for your individual dog.
There are a few guidelines to help you know that you should at least contact your vet:
- Other physical symptoms, such as lethargy, fever, vomiting, dry, tacky or pale gums, or weakness
- Diarrhea that does not stop despite home remedies that worked in the past
- Long duration Some say a few days, others give more time—again, it helps to know what is normal for your dog
- Use of medication (a dog on antibiotics, for example)
- Existing conditions, such as advanced age, diabetes, Cushing’s, cancer, or any medical issue
- When things just don’t seem right with your dog You know your dog, and only you know the subtle signs that something is wrong. Trust your gut! Give your vet a call and explain what you’re seeing.