My dog was fine yesterday, but now he's frequently running outside and has loose, watery stools. These are signs of diarrhea, an all too common problem many owners deal with in their dogs. So, what causes this, and what can you do about it?
The causes of diarrhea in our canine patients are vast. Not all reasons should be a big concern, and it may even resolve on its own, without medical treatment. Other times, diarrhea can be a sign of a deeper problem and can even signal life-threatening diseases.
Diarrhea in dogs is a common gastrointestinal issue that varies in duration, frequency, and intensity from one dog to another. It frequently occurs all of a sudden and generally lasts for at least a couple of days. A dog's diarrhea can be caused by a variety of factors — ranging from stress and anxiety to parasites and antibiotics. The color of diarrhea serves as a helpful cue toward uncovering the cause.
Dog Diarrhea Causes
Diarrhea in dogs can occur from numerous causes, one more common than the other. That is why identifying the true culprit behind your dog's gastrointestinal distress is sometimes challenging. You'll need to go back a couple of days and search for clues: Has your dog indulged in a new food? Have they been under constant stress? Have they taken a new medicine? Answering questions like these will help identify the cause of your dog's diarrhea.
1. Something Didn't Sit Well With Your Dog's Gastrointestinal Tract
Dogs have an unconventional approach to food consumption. Unlike cats, who decide beforehand whether they will eat something or not, dogs prefer an "eat first, ask questions later" approach: once they eat, the dog decides whether to dispose of the food they don't like through vomiting or stools.
Dietary indiscretion is a common culprit behind diarrhea in dogs. Maybe your dog has eaten something unpleasant (e.g., spoiled food) or something in the yard? You are now seeing the rewards of that decision with a bout of diarrhea.
2. You've Put Your Furry Friend on a New Dog Food or Supplement
Any change in your dog's diet, whether significant or minor, will trigger soft stools. There could be ingredients your dog's body has not seen before or an ingredient that is not being tolerated well. This has a habit of upsetting the digestive process and causing the food to move too quickly through the digestive tract.
3. Your Dog Suffers From Leaky Gut Syndrome
Next, we have poor gut health — for example, leaky gut syndrome — as a cause of diarrhea in dogs. In a healthy dog, the gut lining serves as an impenetrable wall keeping large nutrients that are not broken down completely, bacteria, and toxins from crossing into the GI tract.
In a dog with leaky gut syndrome, the gut lining breaks down, allowing space in between cells, which in turn allows foreign bacteria to enter the GI tract and certain substances to enter the body's circulation, not the intestines. Also, the gut lining no longer breaks down the nutrient molecules. Therefore, the body sees them as foreign, triggering inflammation.
4. Diarrhea Caused by Parasites
Parasites, such as Coccidia, Giardia, hookworms, roundworms, and whipworms, enter the canine system through contaminated food, soil, and water sources (e.g., puddles or stagnant water). Once they dwell in the intestines, parasites will cause greasy, odorous diarrhea with consistent mucus presence. Also, you will notice the parasites themselves in your dog's stool. In this case, it is time to visit the vet to identify which parasite is present and the best way to deworm.
5. Your Dog is Taking Antibiotics
Has your dog been taking medications prescribed by your vet lately? Just like in humans, antibiotics will disrupt your dog's normal gut flora. Good bacteria are wiped out alongside the bad bacteria creating a deficit of workers to break down food. Some antibiotics have side effects of loose stool. The food is now moving way too quickly through the GI tract or not getting digested as it normally would, resulting in watery diarrhea. Diarrhea-causing medications include:
- NMDA receptor blockers
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories drugs, often used for pain relief)
6. Stress-Induced Diarrhea
Some dogs respond to stressful situations through diarrhea. Any stressful experience can trigger your dog's fight-or-flight instinctive behavior. The danger is all around, and the dog must be swift enough to escape it. The result: dogs empty their bowels so they can move faster. That is why the food is quickly pushed through the GI tract and eliminated through diarrhea.
7. Your Dog Has Had Food Before Physical Exercise
Dogs tend to get very excited while playing or exercising. That can decrease the transit time of food going through the large and small bowels. As a result, water from the intestinal tract is not absorbed, which can result in diarrhea.
8. Anxiety Caused by an Impending Car Trip
The anxiety surrounding an unpleasant experience can translate into diarrhea in dogs. For example, dogs who dislike their regular vet visits learn to associate car trips with this unwanted experience. Therefore, it is best not to feed your dog before a vet visit — you might have to deal with an unwanted situation on the way there!
9. Diarrhea Caused by Colitis
Another frequently seen cause of diarrhea in dogs is a condition called stress colitis. Stress can take on many different appearances in dogs. It can be as simple as the excitement of boarding or doggie daycare or stressful situations like fireworks or out-of-town guests in the house.
The added stress upsets the gut microbiome's balance, tilting the balance between helpful and harmful bacteria toward the latter. This imbalance gradually transfers into the digestive system, leading to bloody diarrhea with a mucus discharge.
The most obvious signs of stress colitis in dogs are noticeable in your dog's feces: a soft or loose stool with mucus discharge or blood present. Other symptoms include vomiting and weight loss.
10. Dealing With Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, occurs when the canine intestines are invaded by inflammatory cells. Although the cause of IBS is unknown, its telltale signs are diarrhea and weight loss. Be sure to bring these symptoms to your vet's attention if there's no other cause of diarrhea in your dog.
My Dog Has Bloody Diarrhea: Should I Be Alarmed?
It is only normal for pet owners to become alarmed when noticing blood traces in their dog's feces. Luckily, it's seldom something to be nervous about. This condition, also known as hematochezia, occurs when dogs deal with large bowel diarrhea, which forces them to strain too much. The added pressure causes a couple of anal blood vessels to break, leading to minimal bleeding in the stool. Small quantities of bright red blood are rarely a cause for concern; however, any dark blood in the stool points toward a blood clot or other serious medical issues. In that case, veterinary care becomes imperative.
What Does Stool Color Say About My Dog's Health?
Dog stools come in different colors, each with particular causes and remedies. Paying closer attention to the color of your dog's bowel movements will bring you closer to the culprit and help you and your vet put together an effective treatment plan:
- Black diarrhea: A black or very dark brown color signifies the presence of old blood in the stool. Black stools might mean kidney disease, pancreatitis, or bleeding in the upper GI tract.
- Blue diarrhea: Any sort of blue stool calls for an emergency trip to the vet since your dog might have ingested rat poison or foreign objects. Be sure to put the stool in a bag and show it to your vet.
- Gray diarrhea: Gray or greasy-looking stools is usually connected with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency or EPI. When dealing with this condition, the pancreas doesn't release enough enzymes to break down the food. Therefore, the fat remains undigested, giving the stool a greasy look. Gallbladder issues and parasites can also cause gray stools.
- Green diarrhea: Points toward gallbladder issues or gastrointestinal hypermotility (i.e., the food moves through the digestive tract too fast). It is possible that your dog went out and ate a significant amount of grass that didn't get digested properly.
- Yellow diarrhea: A sign of feeding a bland diet composed mainly of rice and chicken. The yellow color comes from the bile found in the gastrointestinal tract. Yellow diarrhea could point toward liver issues, bacterial infections, or Coccidia.
- White diarrhea: White stools mean an excess of bone in the diet and the possible presence of tapeworms in the GI tract.
Is Diarrhea in Dogs a Serious Health Issue?
The positive aspect of diarrhea in dogs is that it's seldom a very serious health issue. Most cases of diarrhea resolve themselves within a day or two. Likewise, there's rarely a need to treat diarrhea with medication. As long as you play your cards right and follow a simple set of ground rules, your dog will be back to normal in no time.
How Do I Get Rid of My Dog's Diarrhea?
The first mistake most pet owners make when treating diarrhea is feeding the dog. Diarrhea is a self-limiting health issue: the more food enters the GI tract, the longer it will last. You have to give your dog's body a chance to stabilize; that means fasting for 12 hours. Even if you think it's heartless to force fasting upon your dog, prolonging the discomfort caused by diarrhea is ten times worse. Resort to fasting only if you have an adult dog, as puppies require veterinary attention.
Next, we must ensure that your dog stays hydrated during recovery. Dehydration is an ever-present danger for dogs with diarrhea, considering the amount of fluid constantly leaving the body. One way to be sure that your dog's fluid intake is adequate is by performing a test for dehydration. All you have to do is pinch the skin at the back of the neck, then let it go. If your dog is not dehydrated, the skin will bounce right back again. If the skin takes a second or more to return to normal, then your dog could be dehydrated. Dehydration is very hard on the dog's heart and kidneys, so if your dog fails the pinch test, it may be time to take your dog to the vet.
The best at-home remedies for diarrhea in dogs are:
- Using the right protein: Beef and turkeyare easily digested.
- Broth: Check out our tried-and-true homemade bone broth recipe for dogs!
- Marshmallow root: Excellent at soothing the gastrointestinal tract and decreasing inflammation. Feed 1.5 milliliters per 20 pounds of body weight twice per day.
- Probiotics: The Lactobacillus acidophilus probiotic will help replenish the helpful bacteria in your gut microbiome and strengthen your dog's compromised immune system.
- Slippery Elm bark powder: 1/4 teaspoon of powder for every 10 pounds of body weight.
- White rice: Be sure to add plenty of water and cook the rice until it becomes porridge-like; feed in moderation. White rice has no nutritional benefit, but it can be binding.
- Pumpkin: Pumpkin is an excellent source of fiber, and its flesh is particularly rich in the soluble kind. Soluble fiber is unique in that it can improve both constipation and diarrhea, normalizing bowel function overall. Soluble fiber holds onto the water in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, forming a viscous gel.
Keep feeding these foods to your dog until the stool comes back to normal, and then reintroduce your dog's regular food. For more advice on dog nutrition, health, and training, make sure that you contact us and check out our blog!
Volhard Dog Nutrition and its expert nutritionists are now offering online consultations to help more dog parents discover why, what, and how to feed their dogs the healthiest of foods! Speaking to a Volhard nutritionist will help you understand the inseparable relationship between healthy food, a healthy body, and a healthy mind. If you're interested in contacting one of our Volhard nutritionists, don't hesitate to access our consultation page!